Early Saturday morning, I lost the strongest person I know, finally made weak by illness but still fighting.
I lost the best friend I’ve ever had, and the best mom anyone could have. Though I got my sense of humor from her, I think she’ll understand that I can’t really be funny this week, so any laughs you get from this will be all her.
Lillie Looper, born Feb. 23, 1942, was, like me, the baby of the family, and for the first few years of her life, she lived mostly in California while her dad served in the Pacific as a fireman on the USS Hope during World War II. The family eventually came back to Arkansas, and she met Daddy. They married in late 1960 and had four of us little heathens, and she loved all of us, no matter how many stupid things we did (it was a lot, believe me … and some of us continue).
Mom served many roles throughout her life—caregiver, factory worker, laundry worker, but most importantly, mom—all to make sure that her kids and anyone in need got what would serve them best at that moment. When disaster struck our community, she’d be one of the first to gather clothes, blankets, food and other supplies for those who lost their homes, and she never asked for praise or anything in return. She never met a stranger, and made it her mission to help those less fortunate.
She always believed in treating others as she wanted to be treated, and she instilled that in everyone who would listen. All through our childhoods, our house was open to everyone, and many of our friends called our mom “Mama,” and still do. She always wanted to make sure everyone was happy, and would comfort them or crack some jokes when they weren’t.
Even though Mom was kind, she was also fiercely protective of those she loved, and most people knew better than to risk her stinkeye and what followed. Mom wrath is a terrifying thing.
When I was a teen, Mom and I had a ritual of going to Fort Smith for a Saturday lunch, or having spaghetti and garlic bread on weekends Daddy went fishing (he couldn’t stand the smell; sadly, I’m now allergic to garlic and can’t process beef or tomatoes). We often went to see Disney movies, even through adulthood, because we always wanted to stay young at heart. Sometimes we’d go shopping (or at least look since we didn’t have a lot of money). You haven’t lived until you’ve been in a store with your mom flipping through clothes on the rack and singing along with the music playing on the store speakers. Just pray the song isn’t “Bitch,” because you’ll never stop laughing and/or cringing.
Daddy didn’t really tell “dad jokes,” but Mom did. When we’d drive, especially during the summer, and a bug hit the windshield, she’d always pipe up: “Well, I bet he doesn’t have the guts to do that again.” On a trip to my college orientation with Mom and my paternal grandma, I thought Nanny was going to turn the car around several times because Mom and I couldn’t stop laughing at exit signs that said “Gas Lodging.” Some of us do that on our own with every meal.
She never lost her wicked sense of humor or her essential “momness,” even at the end (she kept telling me not to cry, and saying I needed a haircut, for Pete’s sake), nor did she lose her love for dark chocolate, insisting that she wanted to at least see some dark chocolate even if she couldn’t eat it (she was obliged, of course … you can’t tell Mom “no”). If only her hospital gown had been purple, the color of her amethyst birthstone, her favorite color and mine.
She loved all of us and was proud of us for some reason, and even considered herself my cat Luke’s grandma. His antics always cracked her up in person and on the phone, and when he died nearly two years ago, she was as heartbroken as I was … and yes, she insisted that her grandkitty be in her obit. Now, at least, they’re back together and maybe he’s letting her give him some belly rubs (which he secretly liked) and cuddles.
Mom was funny and sweet and sometimes cranky (but humorously so, usually), but she was also eminently practical. After her mom died a few years back, she made her own arrangements and planned everything but the date for the memorial service; as you read this, I’m on my way there. We had hoped it would be a much longer time before she had to use those arrangements, but here we are.
As funny, kind and practical as she was, she was also ferociously stubborn, refusing to believe she needed to go to the hospital until it was too late to do much for her. While it was flu that sent her there in the first place (get your flu shots, please), she had suffered for 15 years or so from congestive heart failure, then was diagnosed with renal cancer that had metastasized to her lungs eight years ago. She had beaten the odds for survival, but finally had to give up.
She wouldn’t want flowers (unless they’re purple roses or lilacs), but she would want donations to groups researching treatments and cures for heart disease and cancer.
So please, if you want to pay tribute to my mom or anyone else you know who has suffered with these diseases, go to the American Cancer Society website or call (800) 227-2345; or head to the American Heart Association website or call (800) 242-8721.
She would also want to leave everyone with some words of wisdom: Tell those you love every day that you love them. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don’t waste worry on the things you can’t change. Laugh every day, including at yourself. Apologize. Tell the truth. Be a little (or a lot) weird. Wear purple. Eat dark chocolate. Play in the dirt. Eat some more chocolate.