On this day in 2019 my mother passed away at the age of 50. Her name was Rosemarie Lehe and I will not let today pass without honoring her for all her incredible humanity. In this humble attempt at something somewhat like an obituary I hope to honor what should not be forgotten.
Rosemarie was a light in the lives of all who she touched. The youngest of five children, Mom grew up sheltered in the suburbs surrounding New York City, in a small cookie-cutter town called Wood-Ridge.
My mother learned early on the virtue of generosity, as my grandparents routinely fed, clothed, and sheltered many of the neighborhood children. I have quite an extended family due to the nature of my childhood home. My Aunts Dawn and Donna in particular are both as much a Lehe as my late Aunt Donna, my late Uncle Johnny, my Aunts Barbara, her dear friend Robin, my Aunt Laura, and my mother were themselves.
She became a mother at 18, I being her first born. My sister was born almost 5 years later, and 10 years after my sister was born Mom brought our brother into the world. I would not presume that I alone could tell you their stories of Mom, only that she strived to relate to us. Mom blessed us with her infectious smile always, and never denied us her time. Of all the inheritances in the world, nothing could ever amount to that sort of wealth, I guarantee.
Unfortunately, my mother’s gentle and non-aggressive nature lead to many hardships and pitfalls. Mom was the victim of intense domestic violence, at the age of 13 I witnessed her beaten just short of death by her boyfriend. My mother was the victim of much sexual abuse and violence by men of authority and in the workplace. She suffered from a deep fear of abandonment, which resulted in a string of unhealthy partnerships over the course of her life. By her 30’s my mother became severely addicted to opiates, and as a result of that and the incident which occurred when I was 13, my siblings and I spent many years in foster care.
After this point we hardly spent time with her, calls became less frequent, cell phones were not as common nor did I have one, and she was left alone. I wonder often if Mom might have found sobriety had she not been so isolated. It’s a guilt I find myself toiling over often, because the independence was a thing I grew used to and comfortable in. The most difficult part of her death for me was accepting that she would never become sober and live a healthy life free of addiction’s pains. Truthfully I never stopped believing Mom would find the strength to quit. In that I mourn two deaths, that of my mother and that of the hope I reserved for her healthy future.
Despite the tragedies that befell her, as we all get to have our own as we press through life, Mom was authentically eclectic. Her fervor for fashion was fierce, without forgetting to be fun, whimsical, and transient. From a young age, in a time when it was unheard of for a young woman to dye her hair she did; sporting a stark white streak on the side of her perfectly feathered raven locks. She also amassed a yet to be rivaled collection of leather boots, jackets, and bags over the course of her life, caring meticulously for every garment. And I cannot forget to mention how her passion for animal print transcended infamy after a whole church and choir honored her memory by sporting leopard print everything on the day of her funeral.
Towards the end of her life, although I didn’t know at the time that it was the end of her life, I moved back home around the corner from her house. Our time together then did not compensate for the time lost in childhood, but it was a welcome blessing. My mother was able to spend days with my daughter and experience holidays, weekends, and years as a full-time grandmother which she found immense joy and purpose in. Mom understood my daughter in ways that only someone as empathic and sweet as her could. I learned so much about compassionate parenting from watching her parent from the outside in. I witnessed my daughter bask in the abundance of love which I had only felt from her and from my own grandmother, who Mom and I both missed miserably.
I would describe myself as headstrong, and often misunderstood, but my mother went the extra mile to try and connect, understand, and support me, no matter how hard on her I could be. 2017- 2019 were particularly transitory years for my life, where I was not always my best self despite earnest effort. In 2018 I began to train in hopes of joining the military, Mom gifted me a flag, and was the only person not to doubt my capability for even a moment. In 2019 my husband and I were married and Mom walked me down the aisle. I nearly postponed the wedding a year. For the record I am so glad I hadn’t, more than just the global pandemic– how much harder that would have made planning, rather because Mom passed not 8 months after. I’m honored that chance and circumstance granted me that universal kindness.
My mother’s care and devotion to me saved my life, and set me up for the most success she could offer me with whatever little she had. With her I was able to achieve independence and find myself in ways which without her would have been impossible. I look back on the time I had with her on this Earth with longing, I want to be with her again so badly it makes me ache. But I also have a sense of peace, knowing how fortunate I am in reality to have had her at all. My mother armed me with titanium empathy, iron perseverance, and endless love. I only hope only that her investment and belief in my capabilities will not be in vain. That is truly my deepest insecurity.
The only wish she ever expressed to me was her dream of seeing the Grand Canyon via road trip with my sister and us together. I’m morose that this never came to fruition. I was building a playlist and trying to make it happen before joining the service. Perhaps one day I will be able to drive there and spread or bury her ashes. Perhaps she’s already seen in from the perspective of speeding light and cosmic particles. The future is a mystery of which no one human can be certain. What I am sure of without doubt is that my mother Rosemarie Lehe’s life, one of radical compassion and selfless love, is a beacon in the sentiments which populate my heart. Her memory will remain a cherished piece of me which I would never dare vanquish. Her kindness radiates out the smile and light of my own child. The lessons I’ve learned by her example and lent experience will not be lost so long as I’m alive to ponder them.
Thank you for it all, Mom. I wish you peace. Perhaps we’ll meet again.
Paige Six | 11.5.20