Autumn has always been a transitional season for me. As a child, I saw it as the time when the carefree days of summer changed to conform with the structure and requirements of school. The same held true through college and graduate school. During the years that I was working in corporate finance, fall was the time to finalize plans and budgets for the coming year. As a mother, I see fall, once again, as a time to transition back to school and look forward to the coming year.
Falls have always been busy in our family: my and my daughter Maggie’s birthdays, family celebrations for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The past two falls have been unusual for us. Two years ago, my father, Newt Gingrich, ran for the Republican presidential nomination; last year my mother, Jackie Gingrich, suffered a series of strokes. My sister and I jokingly call the time “the years of our parents.”
The fall of 2011 was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, balancing campaign work, children, family and public reaction. The normal was that fall was not normal.
Last fall, our doings were less public, but were just as important, if not more so: In August, my mother had suffered a series of strokes and was recovering during the weeks that followed in a nearby nursing home. Some days were better than others, as were some weeks. Her first venture out was for Thanksgiving dinner with our family and friends.
Pictures taken that day show her face bright and smiling, full of joy at being with those she loved. But her progress was not smooth. Before Christmas, she fell from her wheelchair as she was reaching for an item on the floor. Holiday photos show her still smiling, but with the right half her face purple and swollen.
The year we had with her near our family was extra time to spend with her.
No matter how often I visited, or how long I stayed, she still wanted more time, more visits, more of me.
She was that kind of mother. Every time I left home and drove off to college, she would stand in her front yard and wave to me with tears in her eyes as I backed out of the driveway. When I would call her on the way home from running club in my 20s, we would talk for 45 minutes. She always made time to talk. While she was tough and had high expectations, she was encouraging and sure of my abilities.
“You’re brighter than the average bear,” she often said when I was growing up. When I earned a big promotion as a young professional, she sent me a large bouquet with a card that read, “Congratulations, from the mother of the bear.”
Mother nicknamed me, the younger of her two girls, her “Baby Angel.” She gave Maggie that same nickname when she was born 14 years ago, though she often reminded Maggie that I was her original baby angel.
Mother went to heaven in August, so once again, this fall is different from those before: No national press, no national campaign, no recovery from strokes, and no nursing home. Just my memories of her time with me for the past 47 years.
I miss her so much, every day. Not only her smiles and her cheery spirit, but I also miss her giving me a hard time. Asking me where I had been, why didn’t I come by more often, could I stay a little longer, when would I be back.
What I miss the most is her simple presence, which reminded me of her love, her strength, her constant encouragement and her belief in me.
Mom, even though you are no longer physically with me, I know you are with me in spirit, and I as celebrate my first birthday without you, I can imagine your voice, “Happy Birthday Baby Angel, I love you, you know.”
Yes, I know.