61 Days…

Sixty-one days… two months… at times a seemingly unbelievable blink of an eye, at other times, an eternity. Today marks two calendar months, sixty-one days, since she left me an orphan in my late 30’s. Those who really know me, and maybe even some who haven’t known me that long, know how close we were and how much her loss has affected me. Still, that sounds so strange… an orphan… but that’s what I am, alone in the world now, at least where parents are concerned. But if 21 years with my incredible man of a father and just shy of 39 years with my (words really cannot describe) mom and best friend is what was pre-determined for me, then I will accept it, though not quietly. Which brings me to today, and a desire to share a bit of what has shaped me into who I am and also in a (somewhat feeble) attempt to honor the two people who (although they never really thought they would have more children), not only brought me into this world, but against all societal judgements, raised me with the beliefs that THEY held sacred, regardless of what those around them thought. This post is for you mom and dad… I love you beyond words.

First a little background so you can understand the dynamics… my dad, James Norman, was born in a town on the FL/ AL border that was so small his birth certificate doesn’t have a city name, just a county, in 1924. In a year that saw the foundation of IBM, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the birth of not just my dad but also future US President Jimmy Carter, Lee Iacocca and Marlon Brando, our country was going through some incredible changes. The Immigration Act was signed, limiting the number of immigrants allowed to enter the US and sadly, though in legal jargon, “slavery” was abolished years before, the practice was still very much alive in the South.

Five years later, in a small town in Michigan, a beautiful baby girl was born to French Immigrant parents on June 19, 1929. She would be the sixth child in a family that ultimately bore seven children, two of who would die before the age of 13. A child of the Great Depression, she grew up with a bunch of brothers and sisters, first on a farm in rural Western MI, then as a city kid who followed her brothers into mischief in the “big city” of Detroit. In a time when to be German was not admitted in the US, and to admit being Jewish was not far behind, her parents continued to share with her the culture they brought with them from France, Catholicism included, and taught her that no one, despite their circumstances, was to be judged by anyone here on this earth.

Fast forward to 1970… My father, a few years out of the Navy, honorably discharged as an officer and veteran of two wars, and my mother, two children in tow, both ended up relocating to a quiet FL beach town on the south side of Tampa Bay.  Her oldest had decided to stay with relatives in MI, ultimately making the decision to join the Marines rather than facing the possibility of being drafted; a decision that would cost his life and become a defining moment in my mother’s life. Fleeing an abusive marriage and now excommunicated from the church she had grown up in, she and my father ultimately came together in a local beach bar in Holmes Beach, FL. Both had lost children in 1967, one the oldest daughter, the other the oldest son, though under different circumstances. Neither believing they would ever marry again, let alone have another child. Fate intervened, helped no doubt by my mom’s cute little dimples, and my dad was smitten. They married the next year and in July of 1972, six months or so after mom was convinced she had the flu, I made my entrance into the world.

Growing up we had a modest home on a beautiful island… paradise, although I would not come to really appreciate that for many years. Growing up on that island, I was really very much removed from the notions of prejudice and words like slavery and injustice. I had friends of all races and religions, including my first “best friends”; twins whose father was black and mother was white. I recall as a young child having my mother talk to me about the news of Dr King’s assassination. Of course, I really had no clue what it really meant aside from that it made my parents sad, which in turn, made me sad. Or the occasional under-the-breath talk of Vietnam and “what it did to our family” or why President Kennedy’s death was significant. It would be many years before I came to understand how deeply those events were woven into our family’s story. Once I got to college, I was on track to be a “big time attorney”, had learned so much (or so I thought) about what “injustice” really meant and why this stuff was important to my family and my future path. At one point I was convinced I would be the first female US President (no kidding… just ask Nancy Gibbons or Lainie Frayer if you doubt this!) However, fate intervened and my amazing father, who despite growing up in that small FL/ AL town in the 1920s raised me to believe that prejudice was not just wrong, but a sin against your fellow-man and maybe even more importantly your own soul, was taken from me in a matter of 15 short days. The first loss that I had ever really faced was impossible to digest at 21. It still seems surreal sometimes.

Since that day I have suffered many losses of people close to me. I’ve been in love and had it end through no choice of my own, my heart-broken. Old age, disease, tragic accident, pure fate and suicide have all taken people who I love and that will always have a place in my heart. And yet, through all that, I don’t think I ever really suffered true heart-break until June 23rd of this year. Mom went to the hospital 10 days prior, complaining that she just “really felt bad”. We had been to her Dr and he said he thought she was ok and sent her home with an antibiotic and a cough syrup to help her sleep. 10 days later, she told me she was scared and did not want to die but she felt so tired. We talked about options she would like to try to we tried them all. In the end, she fought till the very end but she was really just so tired… One of the last conversations she had was with one of my younger female family, who after a couple long-term but unhealthy romances, is dating a black man. Kind of afraid to tell some of her family (who still live in the “South”), she talked to mom about it. And in the way only that an 82 year young, worldly and beautiful woman (with incredible dimples) can do, she said “How does he treat you? And how do you feel when you are with him? That’s all that matters, honey. Life is over before you know it. Just be happy.”

Which brings me to today… I really did not want to be in the house alone today, knowing I would just be sad. So a friend, that I can only believe was sent to me by mom, came over and we went out for the day. After a quick trip to what turned out to be a museum that I would never suggest, we went to the MLK Jr Memorial Site. I suggested this as a “free place to go in Atlanta”, though it meant so much more to me. Walking through those galleries, listening to Dr King’s voice and reading the exhibit panels that expounded everything that my parents taught me from the earliest possible age, meant so much to me. The fact that we were the only two white people in there (other than some who worked there) in the year 2011, was like a little reminder from two amazing parents that there is still so much work to do, that they are still with me each day, in the most unexpected places, and that how I choose to live my life cannot just honor them, but also the human spirit, and most importantly, my soul.

Sixty-one days after she went to be with my dad in Heaven… I miss her so much. I’ve cried more tears in 61 days that I have in 39 years, I think, but I will carry them with me each day, in each action, and know they are looking down on me… hopefully with a father’s pride and a mother’s beautiful smile, complete with those cute little dimples.

6 Responses to “61 Days…”
  1. Margi says:

    That was beautiful, Jenn….

  2. Nancy says:

    Simply beautiful words…love you xo

  3. Thank you for sharing all this. I love all the life details, things I had wanted to know. I have often thought that I can not fathom how deep the loss has been for you and then I say a prayer for you. Very few words could even make a drop in the bucket of this loss, but know that someone is seeing, someone is reading, someone is praying and hoping and loving. Take it one breath at a time. Love you.

    • My Thurmond says:

      BEAUTIFUL. Your parents have done a great job shaping you into the positive a caring person that you are today. I know it may feel like your feet have been swept from under you now but I know that in time GOD will give you the strength to move forward with your dreams. I pray for you often and hope to see you again soon.

      Hugs and Kisses My!

  4. Kristen says:

    Pretty insightful. Thanks!

    My site:
    Rachat de credit http://www.rachatdecredit.net

  5. Amazing post Jenn. I haven’t known you very long, but I’m so glad we met. You are a wonderfully strong woman and I know you will continue to be. I’ll miss you–please keep in touch.

    I wouldn’t be where I am without you. Thanks for training me ; )

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