My mother loved Cape Cod, where she felt safe and free from the demons of her past.

For Debra Hutchinson,

Beloved mother, daughter, wife, and friend:

Life isn’t fair.

It’s not fair that I lost my parents. It’s not fair that my stepfather lost his wife. It’s not fair that others lost a sister, a daughter, a colleague, or a friend. And it’s not fair that my mother lost her life at fifty-three.

Life isn’t fair, and my mother learned early and often that life doesn’t care. She fled a broken home for the streets, surviving as best she could without the family and friends we take for granted. The few people she allowed in her life abused her trust and her body. Her daughter died in childbirth, and I very nearly followed. More than once, she considered giving up on a world that had so clearly given up on her.

Her story could have ended there, unremarkable and forgotten. But that’s the remarkable thing worth remembering about my mother: her story didn’t end there. She replaced the sorrow of the streets with love and light and laughter. She built a life and a family from the ashes of her youth with a spirit that still inspires me today. She dreamed a beautiful dream, and then she made it real.

My mother shined so bright for so long that I want to forget who she became. I want the light of my childhood to erase the darkness that came after. But however good her intentions, I can’t remember the kindness without the cruelty. “That was beautiful,” she told me after I delivered my father’s eulogy, “It’s a shame you would never write anything so lovely for me.”

I suppose you can judge that for yourself. For what it’s worth, I’d like to think she was wrong.

We never had the relationship she wanted, but I loved her all the same. How could I not? She was a strong yet fragile woman, proud of her accomplishments but so often paralyzed by her past. And she was my mother, the woman who came from nothing to give me the life she never had. Everything I have, I owe to her. That debt can never be repaid.

There was a song she said always soothed her troubled soul. “Hallelujah.” There are a dozen different versions, though one always stuck out to me among the rest. It starts like all the others, but the last stanza goes like this:

I did my best, it wasn’t much.

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.

And even though it all went wrong,

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Life was never fair to my mother. There were so many times it all went wrong, but she always stood tall and proud to face the world. She never gave up, not even in the darkest moments of her often cruel and painful life.

Scripture tells us, “They were still living by faith when they died.” Whatever waits beyond the grave, my mother died hoping for a paradise free from pain and judgment. I hope she finds it, and that she knows how humbled and honored I was to be her son.

I tried my best, Mom. I hope I made you proud. And I pray you rest in peace.


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