What is Washboard Express?

Washboard Express is a way for me to express my own opinions, to be a provocative gadfly, by writing a "letter a day" to the President. I may miss a day here and there, because sometimes my family with be my first priority, but my goal is to write a total of 365 letters, representing one full year. To say I have opinions about most things would be to understate the obvious. Those of you that know me, know this is true, those who don't know me, will learn that it's true. The Washboard is a reference to going back to basics and "keeping it clean," so if you would like me to post your comments or opinions on this blog, I only ask that you be respectful. So go ahead, express yourself, and I look forward to an exchange of ideas and opinions.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Letter #147... Dear Mr. President... The Loss of a Child... and Mothers

Dear Mr. President:

It’s appropriate that this is my 147th letter, because this is about my son Jeff, who passed away on 4/7 at the age of 47 from pancreatic/liver cancer. I told you about Jeff in letter #138 written on Saturday, February 4, 2012.

This is also about mothers, working mothers, single mothers, and yes, mothers like Ann Romney. You were quite right to say that all mothers are incredibly hard working, and there is no more important, nor difficult job than being a mother. With that said I think that you’ll agree there are vast differences between working class mothers like yours and mine, and mothers like Ann Romney. That’s not to say that she doesn’t love her children just as much, nor does it mean that she wouldn’t sacrifice just as much as any other mother… what it does mean is that she doesn’t have to work as hard, or worry about the same things as single moms or working moms. It means like everything else in life… not all things are equal, nor will they ever be… not even moms.

When Jeff was born in 1965, I was just 19 years old and had another son Dennis, who was barely a year old. Every day was a struggle for all of us… a struggle to make enough money to put food on the table, keep cloths on our backs, and keep a roof over our heads, and yes, I was a stay at home mom. Did I work hard? You bet I did, and when the kids were just 2 and 3 I was divorced, and I became a single working mom. I had to lie about Jeff being potty trained to get him and his brother into a state run child care facility that charged on a sliding scale according to what you made. They charged me a dime for every pair of pants he wet during the day, questioning if he was really potty trained.

Do you think Ann Romney had to worry about those things while she was ‘raising’ her five boys? I think not. Do you think she waited all year for the ‘sidewalk sale days’ to come, just so she could buy enough cheap cloths for the next year?  I think not. Do you think she spent her Saturdays at the Laundromat washing cloths for the next week, or using iron on patches to extend the life of a pair of jeans for one more month? I think not. Those are just a few of the differences between Ann and me.

After an uneventful childhood, both of Jeff’s kidneys failed and at the age of 19 he needed a kidney transplant. Luckily I was an excellent match, so on August 14, 1984 we shared an operating room and a special bond that all donors and recipients have forever. In little more than two years Jeff needed lens implants for cataracts caused by the immunosuppressant drugs he took, and he needed  bi-lateral hip replacements because his hipbones were disintegrating, and he could no longer walk without pain.

Would Ann Romney have donated a kidney to save the life of her child? No doubt in my mind, she would have.  Would she have had to take time off of a job, arrange for someone to take her place at work, and find a sitter for her other children while she was hospitalized and recuperating… I think not. Would she have had to worry about how much insurance was going to pay vs. what she would owe the hospital and doctors... I think not.

Do you see where I’m going with this Mr. President… not all moms have the same struggles, not all moms have the luxury of knowing that they can have the absolute best health care money can buy, not all moms have the same resources at their disposal as the Ann Romney’s of the world, and not all moms have horses to ride as a means of handling the stresses of everyday life… some moms can only afford to take a walk around the block to relieve their stress.

Jeff catches the first of three fish that day
In January when Jeff came to live with us after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we didn’t know how much time we’d have, or what he’d be able to do in the time he did have… so we took one day at a time. If Jeff was feeling good we’d take a walk around the lake, or do every day things like shopping or just sitting and talking. In the three months he had with us, he celebrated his 47th birthday with family, he went to Lake Tahoe to see the snow, he dropped a few coins in the slots, and had calamari in the bar at the Hyatt overlooking the lake. His sister took him to see his first 3D movie, even though he admitted to sleeping through most of it. He got to see his brothers home in Redwood City, and got to ride in his dads restored 48 Ford. He got to ride in the GTO he owned as a teenager before selling it to is brother, and treated everyone to lunch at a downtown restaurant. He bought a fishing pole and caught three fish just a few days before he died… he was the happiest man on earth that day. And together we planned for an Easter dinner celebration and egg hunt for his nieces and nephews. And although he died the day before Easter, we still had our celebration in his honor… he would have had a great time.

Jeff at right, getting ready for a ride in his brothers GTO
We lived each day as if there would always be a tomorrow… we made plans like we had all the time in the world, and we never treated him like he was going to die, but that he was living. We planned a trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon, but like Easter, it was not to be… his sudden decline and death came just three months to the day after his arrival. Even as we mourn his passing, we remember his strength and courage, we remember his sense of humor, and his genuine love for all of us, his friends, his music, his animals, and all living things… but we also remember that those who live in our hearts… will never die.

We were lucky to have the past three months together, Mr. President… yes, he struggled to find things he could eat and keep down, even as he lost more and more weight, but he never gave up or gave in to self-pity. Yes, there were times we cried together at the random unfairness of his eminent demise, but not because he would have wished it on another person, but because he knew he’d never be around to see his nieces and nephews marry and have children of their own. He knew he’d never celebrate another 4th of July, Thanksgiving, or Christmas… he knew he’d miss the next election and the opportunity to vote for you Mr. President.

I know there are many other mothers who have endured much worse than me, have struggled harder and longer than me, who have lost children like me, wept like me, and will go on like me… because that is what mothers do, we go on and we endure through the heartache, the pain, and the loss, because we must, but there will always be a hole in my heart, that small missing piece that was Jeff.

Jeff's Uncle Shannon, Brother Colt (w/toy gun) Sister Eden, Jeff and his Brother Dennis

Those are the things that all mothers have in common… we make sacrifices for our children because we love them. When we bring them into the world, we hope that the world will be their oyster, that we can keep them safe, comfort them when they are hurt or sad, teach them to be contributing members of society, and to treat others as they would like to be treated. We suffer when the cruel realities of life affect them in ways we cannot change… realizing that we cannot protect them from everything, and knowing that life is at times hard and unforgiving. I’m quite sure your mother and your grandmother felt the same way while raising you… and my mother about raising me, and my five siblings… it’s what we mothers do.

But to say all mothers are hard working in the same sense as your mother and my mother is not accurate. Ann Romney has never had to worry about whether she could afford to send her children to college, or if she could afford piano lessons, or dance classes. She never had to shop for bargains, or see how far she could stretch the beans and rice, or how many meals she could get out of a single chicken. She has in fact not had the same worries as ordinary working mothers.

So the faux anger the Republicans are claiming over the inarticulate comment made by Hilary Rosen saying Mrs. Romney has never worked a day in her life, rings very hollow with me and other ‘working’ moms. Let’s be honest, Ann Romney doesn’t work as hard as other moms, what she works hard at is organizing the hired help to do the work that other moms do by themselves… cooking, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, shopping, etc… etc…

So to say that all moms work equally hard is like saying that all the passengers on the Titanic had equal access to a lifeboat… it’s just not true. Of the 536 third class passengers that died, most were women and children, almost double that of first and second-class passengers put together.

And so it is the world over… life is random, death is random, health is random, being born into wealth is random, and living in poverty is random, and having to work hard, or not, is random. It’s not about fairness, or being more or less deserving than anyone else… it is, in fact… just random.  

Hold your daughters tight Mr. President, love them unconditionally, and hope and pray that you never have to hold their hand and watch them die, as I did with my dear sweet boy... Jeff.

Most Respectfully,

Marcia Reimers,
Your Gadfly Granny

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