July 5: 20 Years is a Long Time. Thinking of You Mom

Mom - Memorial

It has been 20 years since my mom’s death. Exactly. On July 5, 1993 I received a call (from my ex-brother-in-law of all people) telling me that she had been found dead that morning, in bed. She apparently had died peacefully from a heart attack in the night. Sadly, my nine year old niece was the only one there with her at the time, but she was wise enough to call her father when she was unable to wake Grandma up.

I’m not writing this post to rehash sad memories. I just want to take a few moments to remember my mom and to share a little about what made her so special. To that end, I’m reprinting a post from Mother’s Day several years ago.

It also seems appropriate to mention that women need to take their symptoms seriously. Yes, we can and do have heart attacks, and sometimes our symptoms are different that men’s. When we got to my mom’s house that morning, we found a medical book she’d apparently been reading the night before…about indigestion and stomach problems. Maybe if she’d taken her symptoms seriously I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Here now, my post. To my mom:


I realized today, as I planned to write this, that I didn’t have a single digital picture of my mother, who died in 1993. This is a photo of a large picture that hangs in my hall. The color didn’t come out very good, but I still think it is a beautiful photo. I’m not sure how old she is there, probably a few years older than I am now. Anyway, on Mother’s Day, here are a few memories about my mom.

My mom won a Shirley Temple lookalike contest when she was about eight years old (she was the same age, born only five days after Ms. Temple).

When my mom experienced her first kiss, it was with the man who would be my father. She was 21 years old and it was love at first sight.

My dad, who was raised in a male-dominated Danish household, tried a “white glove” test early in their marriage. My mom responded by going on strike, until my dad realized that it wouldn’t play in the USA. He never tried that again!

When my mom visited Denmark for a couple months, before we were born, she managed to learn Danish (not an easy language to learn!). When she lived in Southern California, she learned to speak Spanish. She learned so easily because she was not afraid of failure and didn’t care if anyone laughed at her if she made mistakes. I hope she passed a little bit of those traits on to me.

When my parents realized that they were unable to conceive, they adopted three children. First me, followed by my two sisters. I’d say thanks, but I know it isn’t necessary. We were as much a part of you as if you’d given birth. I will say thanks, though, for making us feel so special for being adopted. We knew that we’d been chosen.

My mom made me take ballet, piano lessons, tutoring for my bad handwriting. I fought all of those every step of the way. Thanks, Mom, for standing firm.

My mom allowed me to “sneak” in hamsters, a Guinea pig, a couple kittens and several dogs. Thanks, Mom, for not standing firm.

My mom worked all her life, teaching (she worked as a substitute when we were little). Mom taught us that we could do anything that we wanted to. There was never any talk of “female jobs” vs. “male jobs.” It wasn’t even a consideration.

My mom was always happy to have all our friends at our home. She hosted slumber parties, pool parties, and my house was always the place that my friends (and my sisters’ friends) wanted to hang out.

When the first Black family moved into our neighborhood (this was in the 60s), Mom was the one who welcomed them, in spite of the negativity of other neighbors.

My mom volunteered at Fairview State Hospital (for the mentally retarded) when I was a teenager. She made me volunteer, too. Thanks, again, Mom, for helping me learn all the things that experience taught me: the importance of volunteerism, how to help people who really need help, how fortunate I was to be healthy.

When I was a kid, my family hosted foreign exchange students, our own Danish relatives going to school in the US, other family and friends who needed a place to stay for a while, and we fostered special needs high school students. Our home was always a madhouse of people, different languages, confusion. A little late, Mom, but I apologize for sometimes being such a little bitch to some of those visitors. I hope you know that I finally learned what a wonderful person you were and how many people you helped, and that the small inconvenience in my selfish, teenage life was inconsequential.

My mom earned her Master’s in Special Education when she was in her 50s. At the time of her death, she was working for Riverside County, working with families in the east Coachella Valley to help them deal with theirs special needs children.

Mom loved to dance, and when she discovered Jazzercise when she was about 60, she was in heaven. She was an ardent follower.

My mom died of a heart attack at the age of 65. Obviously a shock that someone so full of life could die so young. At her packed memorial service, so many people, many of whom couldn’t speak English, came up to my sisters and myself, to tell their stories of how my mother had helped their lives.

Your feet were size 5, Mom, but you left awfully big shoes to fill. I hope you know that I’m doing my best. Happy Mother’s Day.

Wilma Christensen
April 28, 1928-July 5, 1993

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there!

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  1. says

    Your mom sounds like a wonderful lady. I LOVE that she was ahead of her time and refused to pass the “clean test.” I am also adopted and totally get what you are saying about the fact that our adoptive parents are our parents Period.

    Great tribute to a great lady!

  2. says

    Your mom sounds like a great lady. July 6th is 5 years since I lost my dad to cancer… it doesn’t even get easier, I think, but I feel like to have someone so worthy of missing. xoxo

  3. says

    What a touching tribute. Big shoes to fill for sure!

  4. says

    Beautiful post! Your mom was gorgeous! I’m sending hugs from STL. I know what you’re going through. My dad passed away a year and a half ago while on the treadmill in the workout room of his building He was by himself. It was a shock to the system but I still have all the beautiful memories that will last until I see him again.
    Katie recently posted…Freedom 4 Miler Race RecapMy Profile

  5. says

    What a beautiful post remembering your mom. Sounds like she was one heck of a lady who lived an amazing life. You know she’s still with you. :)
    Having lost my dad 14 years ago, I understand the pain. I was very close to my father (not at all close to my mom). It’s nice to remember the good times and reflect on those happy memories. :)
    Tanya recently posted…Happy Independence Day ‘Murica!My Profile

  6. says

    So beautiful Debbie!!! Thank you for sharing this – I send HUGE HUGS to you! I have lost most of my adult relatives & my parents so I understand the loss – I love this tribute & also a message to pay attention to our health… HUGE HUGS!!!!
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…My HEALTHY Homemade Protein Bars/Muffin RecipeMy Profile

  7. says

    I can honestly say that I am shedding a few tears reading this. My mother is my best friend and this only makes me want to call and write her that much more to tell her how much I ADORE HER. My mom is my best friend and will forever be so. While she may not understand what I am doing in Los Angeles, she always has my back and I love her so much for that. I support my mom just as much as she supports me. I miss my mom so much right now too!
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…Every Foodie’s Pin Up GirlMy Profile

  8. says

    Your mother sounds like she was a beautiful woman inside and out. I’m sorry you lost her so early.

    She really did look like Shirley Temple and if my mother was still here I would have to show her that picture because my mom was a huge Shirley Temple fan.
    Dawn recently posted…Long Week and Pushing Through ItMy Profile

  9. says

    This was an amazing tribute! You were very blessed to have such an energetic and adventurous mother!! As I was reading this, I kept wondering if my own children would have such positive memories of me when I die. You were right – she did leave some pretty big shoes to fill!
    Mendy@FlamingJuneRuns recently posted…I Got My Mojo Back!My Profile

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