Grieving is a Rocky Road
Sometimes grieving can be eating ice cream…and even THAT can get emotional.
I've avoided talking much about my mom for most of my life because it's just too damn painful. And when I do talk about her, the conversation quickly flips to how she died. But today, I want to tell you a little about how she lived – on what would've been her 73rd birthday.
My mom loved rocky road ice cream. I eat it every year on her birthday.
She was tall, like my grandfather.
Her friends describe her as poised, but with a wacky, even irreverent, sense of humor.
My father's nickname for her was Moose because of the way she sometimes wore her hair in high pigtails in the 1960s.
Mom was creative: she loved to paint, make collages and ink stamps, and even sew her own clothing. I look at her art every day on my walls.
She flourished in a robust career in library science as a leader in this brand new thing called the internet.
My mom didn't think she wanted to become a mom – but when she lost her sister suddenly, she changed her mind. My mom had children at age 38 and 40.
Here's a little bit more about the life of Susan Goldman Feinglos:
My mother was a Canadian force of nature. She was funny, whip smart, and stunningly beautiful. She was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, the eldest of two sisters. She earned a bachelor's and master's degree at McGill University in Montreal, where she met my father her freshman year at the library. They were two cute nerds in love who got married when they were just 22 and 23.
My mama moved down to Durham, North Carolina to be with my father when they had both finished their graduate studies and he was starting his residency at Duke. Mom had studied library science, focusing on health sciences. In Canada, she worked first at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal Children's Hospital, but it was at Duke where she made her mark at the Medical Center Library.
In 1973, at the age of 24, my mother was named librarian for the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. She became known in those early years as the “aging librarian,” an ironic nickname that stayed with her throughout her decades at the university. Over the next decade as online searching became a critical new tool, she became recognized as a national expert in teaching database searching through MEDLINE. After teaching a successful course at the University of North Carolina's library school and at national conferences, she turned her expertise into a book, one of my mom's proudest achievements: MEDLINE: A Basic Guide to Searching was so important to early internet searching that her book was even translated into Japanese!
But in the middle of all of this, a rising career and a happy marriage, my mom lost her little sister very suddenly. It shook her to her core, and made my mom reevaluate so much about her life, including reconsidering her plan to never have children. In old letters back and forth with her sister, mom had shared how excited she was to be the fun, childless aunt someday. I remember once just a few years ago I asked my dad about when he and mom decided to have children. He described it as something like, "One day she told me she wanted to have kids, and I shrugged and said 'okay.' The rest is history!" (My dad loved to say over the years that having children was the best decision he ever made, but clearly my mom actually made that choice and he was pretty ambivalent about it at first.)
So, things pivoted a bit, but Mom's career continued to rise at the same time she was raising two small children. Just three years after I, her second child, was born, Mom became the Director of the Duke Medical Center Library at the age of 43. Over the next six years, my mother led the library in its continued move into the digital era, including the design and construction of its first computer lab and digital classroom. Mom was at the helm of the library and on the national stage to set up library sciences for a successful future.
And it turned out that she loved being a mother. In speaking to friends and family for this piece, it's a question I asked: was she happy that she had kids? Because truly I didn't know– I'd never asked my father that question about my mom before he passed. Apparently, according to my Godmother, my mom thought me and my brother were the greatest children who had ever walked this earth, more advanced and cuter than anyone else's, for sure.
I'm making the choice not to end my mom's story with her death. Her life was cut off, but boy did she fill it with an abundance of personality, impact, and love.
But I have to be honest with you: Taking the time to write down more about my mom's story for the first time in my life has been an intense experience for me, and I feel like I've only begun to dip my toes into the grief I feel for her. I've been planning on writing this piece for months, knowing I wanted write Mom's story for her birthday. But, frankly, I've procrastinated doing it…every time I speak to someone about my mom's life and whenever I've started to write, I sob the entire time. I'm crying as I write these words right now. I'm unpacking feelings I've quite literally never explored because they've hurt too much, and it is not only emotionally but physically exhausting to do it.
And I think that's exactly why it's time to air these feelings out. I want to grieve for my mom. But I'm going to be patient with myself this year and beyond.
I'm sending a Rocky Road cheers to my mama today.