I have been fortunate enough in my life to have lived without significant loss. With the exception of my grandfather when I was 8 years old, I lived most of my childhood and adulthood without any major deaths among my close family and friends. My grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side passed on much later in my late 20s and early 30s, but only after having lived long lives. While it hurt, it was somewhat expected. I could accept it to a point.
On December 22nd, 2015, my mother unexpectedly passed away. After a lifetime of minimal grief, I was suddenly dealt enough pain to last several lifetimes by losing one of the most important people in my life. On December 14th, she had collapsed while at work of a cardiac arrest and was rushed to the emergency room. After several days on the brink, she began to fight back. She was starting to recover. Her organs and heart were beginning to work on their own, without assistance, and she was gradually becoming more awake and able to communicate through her eyes and hands. Then, late in the night, she slipped away very quickly and with little warning. We had the rug pulled out from under us. After using words like “miracle” and “amazing” to describe her recovery to that point, the doctor’s were left scratching their heads and struggling to give us answers. At that point, answers wouldn’t have helped. She was gone and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
This is a fly fishing blog, so I won’t go too much further into the details of her passing. However, I wanted to share an evening I spent with my Mother that I keep replaying over and over again in my mind. My mother, like me, is a librarian. This was the ideal career for her as she is a perpetual learner. She researches everything she comes across and like me, when something interests her, she digs deep, and tries find out more about it. Since she’s never been too into fishing in general (although in her rare excursions, she’s known to have an amazing lucky streak when everyone else gets skunked), it wasn’t until I started tying my own flies that she was suddenly very interested. She was intrigued by the artistry of it. She had always been particularly adept at anything creative. She was known for making elaborate birthday cakes, displays for reunions, and catering massive events. If it was creative, she had a knack for it.
One day, she asked if I could show her how to do a little fly tying. At this point, I had just started, but she was eager just the same and I was newly enthralled with the activity so I was happy to share it with someone. After several failed attempts to schedule a time where I could show her, I was finally able to get a moment with her when we weren’t chasing kids or cleaning up after a family event. We went with the first pattern I learned, the woolly bugger. For ease of instruction, I gave her a size 6 streamer hook. Aside from the simplicity of the fly, I also chose the woolly bugger because it’s something that could be easily customized. You could use really any combination of yarn/chenille, marabou, bead, hackle, flash, or even rubber legs. This is what she really enjoyed. Her eyes lit up at the possibilities.
While I started fly fishing and fly tying on my own, looking back, I’m now realizing that even that was driven by the traits instilled in me by my mother. I had seen fly fishing in movies and had been impressed by the beautiful flies I had seen people tie, so being freshly retired from skateboarding, I dove right in to learn how. What I experienced was an endeavor and perspective every bit as immersive and consuming as the skateboarding world I had just left. It was a world that encouraged creativity, self-reflection, and patience.
Even though my love for fishing in general undoubtedly came from my father, I think my love for fly fishing was appropriately a marriage of the interests and personalities of both of my parents. I’m so grateful that I was able to share at least part of the fly fishing experience with my mother, and she seemed to truly enjoy it. I wish we had the opportunity to get her out on the river, but her perpetual knee problems would have made it hard for her. I hope to be able to get my father out on the river soon, and I was surprised when my brother Damian recently said he hoped to learn how to fly fish in the near future.
I wish I weren’t currently dealing with this elbow pain. I think that working through my grief might be a little easier for me if I had the opportunity to be waist deep in a rushing stream with just the fish and my thoughts to focus on. Instead, I suppose I’ll have to hit the vise hard and just remember that evening with Mom and remind myself that nearly everything I do is in some way a reflection of her in some small way. I’m finding that my focus on my family, friends, and the natural beauty of the world is perhaps the best way to honor and remember her. This pain will never truly go away, but over time, hopefully it will turn into me living my life as a dedication to the values she instilled in me.