What Eighty Years Means to Me

Over eight decades ago today, on June 10th 1940, my mother Nancy was born.

A sensitive, kind and creative soul who lived to help others. Growing up the oldest of four siblings, she became a caretaker early on. Her religious upbringing constrained her early with an ironclad list of appropriate behaviors and thoughts. Finding love and partnering in the 1960s had extreme highs and lows for her and she did it in both conventional and unconventional ways. Married at twenty-three, she stayed married for the rest of her life, although two husbands were required to do so. Her passion project in the 1960s was to be a mother and she dedicated herself sincerely to becoming one. Creative means were needed but she eventually had three children spaced two years apart, two sons and daughter.

A child of the 70s, I would spend countless hours playing under the kitchen table while my mother chatted with her best friend over coffee about all kinds of subjects, including women’s rights. ‘Show me a clean house and I’ll show you a dull woman’ and ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ were the mantras proudly posted on our refrigerator for years. Yet despite being a business owner, a scientist, a dressmaker, a mother, a sister, a daughter and a friend, she was never able to carve out the life she desperately desired: a life filled with kindness, creative pursuits, and like minded people to grow with. However, her upbringing combined with the roles of women were expected to have in society constricted her autonomy.

I had both the fortune and misfortune of being her daughter. Her gentle upbringing allowed me to exercise kindness in my own life. Her creativity helped expand my own mind and heart. Over the years I paid attention to what needs went unfulfilled in her life and did my best to fill them. I noticed that the path she so desperately wanted required financial independence -- an elusive object for her. In one excruciating year, the financial security of marriage came tumbling down and she was faced with the possibility of making hard, new choices. She so longed for a simpler life, one that provided mutual care and compassion. I watched her sew, knit and weave but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stitch together a new life that let her live peacefully as her most authentic self.

In 1997, life became simply too hard too fast. Her emotional and physical pain was too great and her relationships too strained to bear the weight of her complex physical and mental health needs. She chose her own end and left me a motherless daughter. In the years since, I have found exceptionally kind and brilliant people to fill the hole that losing a parent does to a child. I picked my life-long partner within three months of knowing him and we’ve been married for over 25 years. I learned to trust my intuition about people and set out to build a life that had value to me and did not harm others. I helped my community and built a business that allowed me to mother my children and exercise my own independence and creativity. 

I am Nancy’s daughter and I am a witness to her story and the countless stories that make up the complex lives of the women I’ve met and those I will never have the opportunity to. What I have learned over the past fifty years is that every woman is the protagonist in her own story and every life takes courage. Each day we wake up and have the chance to start over again. 

I created Dare Heart for all of you.