On May 18th, 2018, my mother passed away. It’s ironic that it was on the second anniversary of Michael Reichmann’s passing. I do hope they are enjoying each other’s company and will bless me with great light when needed.
Occasionally, I have ranted in Rantatorials about my family. My mom developed double pneumonia, and after a short hospital visit, it was determined that, with her deteriorating state, the best option was to move her to hospice. I flew down to Florida to be with her as well as my brother and sister. She went into hospice on Saturday and passed away the following Friday.
We maintained a constant vigil with her during this time, and as the days passed, I had the chance to reflect on my mom and the great life she provided us.
To me, my mom was bigger than life. She was everything being a Raber was all about. She was an explorer of life and all it encompasses. She was tough as nails and as nice as can be. More than anything else, she was a great mother. She had an artistic nature and was a great painter, sketch artist, interior decorator, and believe it or not, a damn good photographer.
When we were growing up, she allowed us a lot of independence. She was not like what you see a lot with today’s style of parenting. She pushed us (my sister, my brother, and me) out the door to ride bikes without a helmet. Metaphorically, that was the way we handled a lot of life. Each of my siblings had special talents, and one of the best things about my mom and dad was they encouraged us to follow our passions. In the end, as adults, all of us are very independent and successful. I believe we have passed the best of what we learned from our parents to our children.
I’d like to share one aspect of how my mom changed me and set the direction of my life to this very day and the days and years ahead. Simply, she believed that photography was my destiny.
Growing up in my household was like being in an episode of Mad Men. I watched those episodes and remembered the dinners, the phone on the wall with a twenty-foot cord, the dinner parties my parents would have, and the time watching TV with just three channels. Our family dinners were special. We had to talk about our day, whether that be school, friends, or life in general. There were no cell phones or anything to distract us, but it was after dinner that was the best. Every night, one of us kids would help do the dishes. The nights when I did the dishes with my mom growing up were some of the best and most memorable nights of my life.
For whatever reason, as my mom and I would wash the dishes, we would find the best things to talk about. These talks molded my life. We seemed to be able to talk about anything. These talks could be about school, friends, news, life, and more than anything else, my ever-developing love and passion for photography.
Many of my friends at the time had issues with their parents. Their parents would push them to do things they didn’t find interesting and often set unrealistic expectations. Not my parents. Many parents wanted to see their kids go to college and become successful. My parents encouraged us to follow our passions and were especially interested in our lives. My mom saw that I wanted to be a photographer. It was pretty obvious, as I was never without a camera. While some parents would have said, “Photography is not a career you should follow,” my mom said, “Go for it.”
As it ended up, I went to art school and pursued my career in photography. I went on to open a studio and grow my business. And, a funny twist to the whole thing, I ended up hiring my mom. Yes, it was kind of strange but yet kind of cool to have my mom working for me. She was actually a great employee, except when it came to tech things, and by that, I mean the telephone.
I remember how she would take calls. Back then, we had a two-line phone with six buttons. There was a red button, which put someone on hold. This button, she never seemed to master, as she would disconnect people all the time. It wasn’t good for business when she would page me on the intercom to say there was a call on line one, only for me to find no one on hold when I went to answer it.
I remember too her attempts at artistic photography. In the late seventies and early eighties, the old film days, we were doing our best to get rid of grain. My mom, she was doing her best to make things grainy. She would take pictures of her friends, and even my girlfriends, and then print them using grain acetate overlays. Yes, there were no grain plugins then. You had to buy acetate sheets of grain and lay one on top of the paper you were exposing in the darkroom.
She would also experiment with soft focus and, by doing so, ruined numerous filters of mine. She would take sandpaper to Skylight 1a filters to put scratches on them (ouch). She would coat them with various depths of Vaseline and then take her old stockings and layer them all to create a look that was uniquely hers. Yes, she was pretty cool. Even I had to admit it. Just as long as I kept her away from the phone, things were OK.
Eventually, she got tired of dabbling in photography and working for her son. Somehow, we had issues remembering who was really the boss at times. God bless her, though. She had the best of intentions.
She went on to pursue interior decorating, painting, and a lot more. Once my brother, sister, and I married our spouses and began having kids, she became a really cool grandmother.
As a mom, she was always there to dress us kids in the so-called latest fashion. She made us walk to school in the rain and snow. We respected her, and to me, she was always bigger than life. Mom held us together, as a family. She did things to make us stronger.
As they went by, the years began to take a toll on my mom. My dad passed away a number of years ago, and my mom was on her own. Life didn’t stop for her. She pushed forward. She learned how to use a computer and a cell phone. An iPhone to be specific. Nothing could scare her away, and she did her best to always be on top of what life was throwing at us. Sometimes, we had a good laugh at her, as she tried to stay current. As a matter of fact, laughing was a big part of being a Raber. Poking fun at each other in a loving way was one of the things we did best. Every Christmas, we would write what we called “knockers” to each other, poking fun at something we did. These are forever memorialized in a giant notebook.
A few years ago, she shared with me that her biggest fear was that, once she died, my brother, sister, and I wouldn’t talk or see each other. She was very concerned about making sure we all were together.
Upon hearing that my mom was going into hospice, my brother, sister, and I dropped everything we were doing and headed to Naples, FL, where the hospice was located. We were informed that, based on her condition, she might only last a couple of days, so we stayed by her bedside the whole time.
As the days passed, the three of us relived old memories of our lives as kids. We remembered vacations and family events. We talked about grandparents, birthdays, and our marriages and kids. She was not cognizant, from what we could tell, but I’m sure she was hearing everything.
It was a great chance for my brother, sister, and I to rekindle our bond and relive so many great aspects of what our mother did for us. We had lots of laughs and shed a lot of tears. Looking back, we are able to laugh at a lot of the things our mom did. She was a cool and loving person who never gave up.
Over the days, we learned a lot about our mom. We learned more about how Mom met Dad. We heard about her dating years as well as her early career before any of us were born. We got to meet some of her lifetime friends who came by to visit.
The whole process of my mom’s passing was difficult. She didn’t leave this life easily, but she did leave comfortably with reassuring thoughts about her legacy – her kids loved her and were there for her. We will be celebrating her life at a family reunion later this summer. I can’t wait to get together again with my brother and sister. It took us a long time over our lives to learn what we did and come together like we did. I am a lucky guy, as I have a damn cool brother and sister.
Every day since my mom left us, I think about her and all the great things she did for our family and me. I can, without hesitation, say that I owe her my life. Her belief in me and support, allowing me to follow my passion, has made me the person I am. I truly know I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. She gave my sister, brother, and me the skills, knowledge, and love to achieve what we have.
Let’s not forget our moms. I know my mom was a super mom right up until the end.
Thanks, Mom. I love you.
P.S. Mom, you actually were a pretty good and cutting-edge photographer.