One week before my latest birthday I was sharing hope about an aging icon. “She’s a tank,” I said to my sister Tina. We said this often to one another about my mom, who was 87 when she passed away late last month. Death and perhaps the afterlife comes to everything that is vital, endearing and revered. Ginny Seybold, born in the era before radio was king, died peacefully in her bed. She was vital in heart and mind until nearly the end. All of us – brother Bob, Tina, older brother John, my bride and partner Abby — we all desired more years from mom.
But in a few hours from now I will board a jet to fly to Toledo, the place she gave birth to us, and put on the black suit I reserve for occasions of joy (my kids’ weddings) and of sad times. I will give a eulogy and certainly cry through it, just as I am at this very moment I’m creating these words. My mom taught me to read, gave me the first words of countless ones that I would learn to ride like fresh breeze throughout my life and hers. For more than a decade I would work and tinker at a novel, while she was devouring everything her Irish favorite Maeve Binchy wrote, until I could finally finish mine and send it to her, just like the hardbacks I’d buy because she wasn’t getting out to the library as easily. But when a novel would arrive, she’d scamper through the book like she would dance across floors from the 1930s up to her 80th birthday. My mom outlasted expectations of her vivacity.
Since I am her boy, I can use a comparison with a bold stroke. In that outlasting, the push of the tank of her heart, she resembled the computer I have written about for more than half my life. People expected the 3000’s demise many years ago. Now with an emulated version selling and shipping, for the 3000’s relations and disciples, Charon has become the kind of tank that Tina and I marveled at when we visited mom in the Franciscan Care Center.
Tina found that resting place for our mom, relentless and persistent in locating a spot where Ginny could receive the attention to both her heart and her body. The former was strong in spirit, the latter holding out as well as anything created before FDR became President.
I think we all have someone older in our lives who we wish would last forever. For some, this might not be a person they love as a friend or a member of their birth family. People who die like Roger Ebert of the film world, or Steve Jobs of our own industry, or Dr. Suess of everyone’s childhood, they all leave holes in our hearts too. This is the first way I reply when everyone, so kind even if we don’t know one another well, tells me they’re sorry for my loss. “I have a hole in my heart now,” I say. I tap my chest and I can say no more at that moment. Loss is like that, a fog that seeps in and whiles away time as you remember why you loved whatever or whoever you did, their perfection and the parts that were very human, very imperfect.
Like you and your community, I owe my mom a lot. She believed in beginnings and taught me to question and debate and express my imagination. Not always with the best of examples. But as my counselor and friend Jim Hoadley says, “She was a teacher, you know — she taught you how to show compassion.”
I know it’s not the same thing to love a computer’s ideals and elegance, to revere the struggle of years when our community had to learn compassion about the imperfections of the 3000’s creator. Even still, we had our memories that remain beyond the death of the Bill & Dave HP. The times that Marc Hoff of HP, taken by cancer, would give out his home phone number on the back of business cards, or swear to eat a new MPE release tape if it came out with a bug in it. The times that Bruce Toback or Wirt Atmar would make us chortle or fume, and then become richer and smarter through the miracle of the newsgroup, before they were claimed by heart disease. For me, the quiet confidence and spark of revival from Danny Compton in Texas, who took a discarded Maestro software tool and created ROC Software – so many years after he got a death sentence at age 8, and then outlasted the forecast by more than 30 years to build a family, products, and then a company.
For my own family in this sad week, I try to think of the joy that I saw in mom’s face, especially on the night of her 80th birthday party, one my bride created for a pip of a mother in law. Ginny was vivacious, at her very best. She was lively in her later chapters, like the night I saw her dance on roller skates at age 52 with us grown kids, or that night she banged a tambourine onstage in her new home in Vegas, 80 years old and smiling through way too many choruses of the Beatles’ “They Say It’s Your Birthday.” My mom, turning around to look at the cover band playing in that faux Irish pub inside a casino. Turning as if to ask, “Surely you must be done?” And the band looking back at this marvel of a pip, maybe saying, “Wow, I hope I can do that at 80.”
There is so much more to write about endings and the afterlife, a life where I’m sure mom now dances on the legs that she lost in her final years. I only know that words fall short of feelings about long relationships of love. There is one word I will invoke at her service this Sunday, the first Sunday after everybody’s Mother’s Day. The word is pip, and my mom was one. A word with more than one definition, just like my mom. Pip, an excellent person or thing. Pip, a crack of a baby bird’s shell. Pip, a small, hard seed in a fruit. They say that a person never dies if they live in our hearts and minds forever. So I’ve got her in there, and deep inside my heart, too. Here’s to anything old that has become grand. As the British say in salute, pip-pip.