One of the best mothers I have the privilege of knowing is a lovely lady named Tina.
In fact, let me put motherhood aside for just a moment and say Tina is one of the loveliest people I know, period. Anything she touches is automatically made prettier, whether it be a classroom display or a table setting — she even makes the giving and receiving of a simple greeting card an EVENT. Tina possesses the kind of throaty laughter that people crave like sunlight, its melody rendering any bad mood an exercise in futility. Even if you don’t know Tina yourself, if you’re lucky, you know someone like her — a person who is your friend the instant you meet her. If only there were more Tinas in the world.
Lest I paint the picture of a saint, let me point out what some may consider to be somewhat of a flaw, although it’s one of the things I love the most about Tina: She’s a feisty Mama Bear. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of her when it comes to her children, and to some degree, that is certainly true of most parents. But here’s where moms like Tina get it right: She is the best advocate her children could ever ask for, while at the same time, she holds her kids to an uncompromising standard. As mother to Erin, Emily and Evan, Tina knows the greatness her children are capable of, and she regards her role in seeing that achievement realized with the importance it deserves and the humility it requires. More than once over the years, I’ve asked myself: What would Tina do?
Last year, my lovely friends Tina and Tom lost their beloved 13-year-old son Evan.
They are the most heartbreaking words I’ve ever strung together. Evan’s face perfectly depicted the straddling of two worlds I imagine is common of boys on the verge of becoming young men: One half still innocently sweet, with a mischievous twinkle, the other half a growing maturity that I am sure is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking for a parent to witness. Any loss of any child is indeed a tragedy, but something about the death of a kid just discovering who he could become seems especially unfair.
In the days after Evan’s passing, our community was consumed by grief, and I was no exception. I wept for Evan, but I cried just as hard for Tina. How would she survive this? She was the Alpha Mom, after all — so entrenched in motherhood that I was sure this would break her. I kept trying to put myself in her shoes, and I couldn’t conjure up a single scenario in which I would be able to put one foot in front of the other, much less return to being the kind of person from whom so many found light.
But I should have at least considered the possibility that even in her darkest hour, Tina, Mama Bear, would get it right. You see, Tina is still Evan’s mother; his death could never change that. And as his mother, she regards her role with the importance it deserves, and the humility it requires. Even in the face of incredible grief, Tina is the loving caretaker of her son’s memory, finding whatever it takes for her footsteps to go one after the other because to do otherwise would be a disservice to the gifts Evan brought to the world. Not doing everything she possibly can for her children has never been, nor will it ever be, an option.
Soon, it will have been a year since Evan’s passing. When I see Tina, I’m always afraid I’ll say something wrong, thereby upsetting her, and in my cowardice, I’ve sometimes said little. I’m ashamed of that. But I’m trying to be better. When I ran into her unexpectedly last week, I fought the instinct to immediately look at my shoes. I met her glance as she made her way over to me — her bright blue eyes certainly more cloud-filled, her face more drawn that it ever was before last February. But she still offered me a smile -- my friend in an instant -- and after less than a minute into a funny story about her dog, a familiar, throaty laugh.
Around her neck, Tina wears a chain holding a gold heart with simple script: EVAN. She’s one of the best moms, indeed one of the loveliest people, I know. And I suspect she will always be someone who reminds me how to do it right.
Jennifer is a mom of two and WRAL-TV assignment editor in Fayetteville. Her food obsession memoir, “Designated Fat Girl,” came out in 2010. Read more about Jennifer and her book on her website. Find her here on Go Ask Mom on Tuesdays.