Happy birthday to my best friend

Today she would be 58, but she is celebrating this birthday in Heaven. I’m writing this post now so no more memories of her slip my mind. It’s tragic to lose memories of your mom. I know it’s hard for my brother and sister to remember her, they were so young. It has been 8 years this November when she passed away and 14 years since she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I was 16 when she was first diagnosed, my brother was 10 and my sister was 6 years old. My brother and sister barely knew my mom healthy. My sister tells me often that she doesn’t remember much, except what Josh and I tell her. If you knew my mom before she was sick and then knew her after her brain surgery, radiation and chemo, you would know her personality was a lot different. Before she was diagnosed, she was reserved, introverted (before it was trendy) and “uptight” and after she was more impulsive and loose. My brother and sister probably have more memories of post-chemo and radiation Kim. My mom was our best friend. She had a special and unique relationship with each of her children and she sacrificed her own friendships to cultivate friendships with us.  I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we did…

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She was shy, easily embarrassed and reserved growing up. She always told me she loved school and was very good at it, but had to work hard for her achievements. She wasn’t valedictorian, but graduated toward the top of her class. She loved school so much that in the 60s when there were a lot of bomb drills, the school would give the children a chance to leave school after drills and she never did. She NEVER did, people. My aunt always told me how much she looked up to my mom growing up (I think there was a 9 year age difference-like my sister and I). They remained close as long as I can remember, and we had a girl’s lunch with my aunt and grandma every Friday and a girl’s trip to the beach every year. As far as boys go, I think she was pretty shy in high school and didn’t date that much.  I remember her saying that the boys she would never consider dating were the ones that chased her relentlessly. One of my favorite stories I remember her telling me was this exact scenario. She was in college at ECU at the time and a guy friend decided he wanted to be more than friends and then decided to tell the whole world without my mom’s permission. My grandma lives right around the corner from the stadium and she was walking to Dowdy when people would stop her to tell her how sweet her boyfriend was. She didn’t have a boyfriend at the time and was thoroughly confused. When she got to the stadium, everything became clear. He had either rented a plane banner or was flying it himself (can’t remember that detail) but he had spelled out…”Kimberly Simpson, will you go out with me?” for all of the stadium, and Greenville, to see. She was mortified, especially because it was coming from a guy she would ONLY consider as a friend. Embarrassing, right? I told you it was a good one.

She loved her family. We stayed very close with my extended family and almost all of her siblings stayed in the same town where they grew up. I saw my aunts and uncles pretty often. My aunt Sandra was her best friend. They shared a room when they were younger and my aunt looked up to her. My aunt says she once saved her life when she was 3, saving her from drowning after falling through a ring float. She was definitely the mother to her siblings. A huge chunk of our lives were spent tailgating at my grandparent’s house for ECU games. Mom was a huge ECU fan and a pretty loyal Duke fan. She worked at Duke Hospital in the 80s for her first job as a physical therapist and loved it. She often said that there were more UNC than Duke fans at work…figures. One of her favorite places in Durham was Duke Gardens. She told me she would walk through the Gardens on her lunch break and she even got married there to my dad. Josh proposed to me in the Gardens because he knew how special it was. It’s pretty fun to think that I was her exact age when she moved here, also working for Duke. When she had her appointments at Duke, we would often stop by Mad Hatter for lunch (excellent desserts), and it’s a local Durham restaurant I make sure to take guests when they come visit. I wish she was around now so I could give her a tour of Durham’s local restaurants; I bet she would be impressed at how it’s grown into such a foodie town.

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My grandma, mom (yellow dress) and her 3 siblings.

My mom was a HUGE fan of babies. She was a PT in the NICU (Neonatal ICU) right before she had to quit. She would tell us so many stories of the babies she treated. She passed away before she found out I was going to ultrasound school to be an OB sonographer. We would have many similar stories of work. Her dying wish was not to travel the world or go see a UNC/Duke game or live just a few years longer…it was to be a grandmother (no pressure to 22 year old me at the time!). That’s why I am incredibly comforted that Jesus and my mom were the first faces Cora saw in Heaven. My mom is, no doubt, an excellent grandmother to her right now. I think she would be ecstatic that Josh and I are adopting. She was always her children’s biggest supporter.

My mom always had a love for music. She played the flute for about 15 years and was quite good. We also have our great grandmother’s piano and I have many memories of us playing songs from The Sound of Music and Chopsticks. She always wanted Katie to take piano lessons, but our old piano needed serious tuning.  When we were younger, we would dance and sing to her old records on the record player I inherited. Her first record was The Sound of Music (I think) and she also loved The Beatles, The Carpenters and Simon and Garfunkle. She was a huge fan of musicals such as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She had most of the soundtracks as well. She would sing songs to me when she was putting me to bed as a child like “All my Lovin”, “Uptown Girls”, “So Happy Together” and these songs ALWAYS remind me of her. After radiation, her personality changed a bit and she became impulsive and more loose. She became a fan of Linkin Park and Nirvana, but then she moved back to more appropriate “mom” music like the soundtrack from “O, Brother Where Art Thou?” and Switchfoot and the world was right again.

She loved reading all the classics and her favorite book was To Kill a Mockingbird. She read a lot of horror stories and told me when she lived alone in Durham, she would stay up all hours reading The Shining, Cujo and In Cold Blood.  She loved movies of all genres. We spent a lot of time in movie theaters, her and I. We went to the movies at least once a week. I can’t even tell you her favorite movie because she loved so many of them. I do remember when she took my brother to see Lord of The Rings against his will and he fell asleep in the theater. As far as TV shows go, she had an obsession with crime shows, like CSI: SVU. My sister now shares that obsession. I remember watching the first episode of FRIENDS with her and even though I didn’t get all the jokes, we were hooked. Her favorite colors were green and purple. Most of her wardrobe consisted of tunics and leggings or stirrups and the “Y” necklace FRIENDS popularized. Since Katie was born, she kept her hair short, but it always tried to wave and frustrate her. She loved Italian food and before Olive Garden came to town, we spent many outings in Ragazzi’s. She drank coffee everyday, multiple cups a day. She liked it with a little cream and sugar. She loved hot tea even more. She would have enjoyed Tipsy Teapot had it existed. I have a feeling that would be one of her favorite spots in Greenville. She enjoyed our trips to the beach, but loved the mountains more. She loved cooler weather and I’m pretty sure shared my obsession with watching leaves change. One of her favorite places is my grandparent’s house in Sparta, NC.

When she was 14, she walked up to the front of Immanuel Baptist Church in Greenville with her best friend, Beth, joined the church and was baptized. She then became active in the youth group. She would be so proud of her children’s involvement in church. She gave us all our first Bibles and even when she was sick, made sure we went to a church service without her. She prayed and begged my granddad to go to church growing up and it wasn’t until she got sick that he finally made it. She never saw him come to Christ in her lifetime, but she made the most important step by sharing her faith and asking him to go all those years.

She LOVED Christmas and always looked forward to festivities. She created a few Christmas traditions that I will continue on in my family, such as letting us open one Christmas Eve gift, going to a movie on Christmas Day and watching White Christmas.  Our house was fully decorated in Nutcrackers and we always had two trees (fake and real one). She loved Christmas music and would make us turn it on as we put up the tree lights. After Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family, we would go look at Christmas lights and then we would come home and my brother and sister would sleep in my room. Christmas day she would make cinnamon buns with orange icing. Christmas will never be as warm and cozy as those memories until I have my own children to share them with.

Even though she was the breadwinner and worked full time, she always had time for her kids. She went to every single one of Josh’s baseball games and took us to every dance practice. She and I had Friday night dates until she was too sick to go. We would go out to eat, possibly go see a movie and come home to eat Milano cookies and watch TGIF. When I got a little older, we watched shows together. Eventually, when Josh and Katie were older they did the same. I think Josh, Katie and I all considered her a best friend. We all have our separate memories of her. My aunt says we had a weirdly close relationship because I never held anything back from her and we hung out a lot for a mother and daughter. I have a card she wrote when I moved into the dorm at ECU. She was extremely happy that I would be so close. I think she and I would have been homesick had I left Greenville. While all of my friends went off to college, I knew I would go to ECU no matter what. I couldn’t be that far away from my mom when I knew I had limited time with her. When she got sick, I immediately thought of life without her and I remember thinking I could never do it. I couldn’t imagine a world without her in it.

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Unfortunately for my husband, he never knew my mom healthy. He met her a year before she passed. At this time in her life, she wasn’t working and had lost energy due to the radiation treatments. My sister-in-law, Michelle, never knew her at all. I know mom would be ecstatic for Josh to know what an awesome wife he scored. My sister’s future husband will have never known her either, so they will rely on whatever we tell them about her. During the entire 6 years that she was sick, she never complained. Not once, ever. Not through the chemical trial chemotherapy or the harsh radiation. Not even when she was in a hospital bed, stuck in our living room for the last few weeks of her life. She smiled a lot. She thanked us for helping her. She picked out her own casket and planned her own funeral. That is the blessing and the curse of someone dying of cancer; they are totally aware and “prepared” for the end. Regardless, it’s not easier than losing someone unexpectedly. People say “time heals all wounds” and certainly time helps, sometimes. All it takes is for someone to ask about Mother’s Day plans, hearing a song she liked, seeing a picture for the open wound her death left to reopen. It’s been 8 years and it has not gotten easier; people who have lost any loved one knows this. It’s different losing a baby, because, sadly I have no memories to help me get through the grief of losing Cora. Even though I was only 22 when she died, I have many memories of my mom. I don’t know that I’ll say that 10 years from now.

The last time I spoke to my mom, the day before she died, she was in a hospital bed in our living room and completely out of it. I started crying and telling her I’d see her again in Heaven and to be brave. Right before this, she was looking past me and reached for something. Some people have said it could have been visions of angels or even her best friend, Beth, who died in college. When I started talking, she grabbed my face and told me she loved me. She had been sleeping and completely out of it before and after this moment. I am so grateful God gave her this one lucid moment in time so that she could tell me that. It was pretty surreal.

Not to brag, but my siblings and I turned out to be pretty good kids. We never got into trouble, nor did any of the things typical kids do. Instead of hanging out with friends, we chose her. I think this was because my mom had the perfect balance of mom and friend. I know it’s easy for me to look back with rose-colored glasses, but this is how I’ve always seen her. She was an excellent mom, one of the very best. It always made me angry, and still does, when people complain about their moms, especially when they are petty complaints. You only have your parents for a short time on earth…think about life without them and appreciate all they do for you. She didn’t get to watch Josh or Katie walk across the stage at graduation or see me get married and she won’t be there when any of us have kids. In Haiti, I lost a cross necklace that mom had given me years ago. Losing it really upset me. I put a lot of value on the “stuff” she gave me because on this earth, that’s all the tangible mom I have left. Thank God for the memories. I will not let them be taken away, lost or stolen. I am desperate to leave this world and move on to the next when I think of her and Cora, because I just want to be with them. I would do anything to have her back with me until we both head up to Heaven, but she is in a place where sickness doesn’t exist and I have my own purpose here. There is no cancer in Heaven, only joy. I cannot wait to join her and Cora and make forever memories. What a glorious day that will be.

Happy birthday mom…see you soon.

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Sincerely,

Rebecca

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2 thoughts on “Happy birthday to my best friend

  1. Rebecca, Thanks for sharing your heart and your memories. It was so great to remember Kim today. I worked with her for years. She was my friend and mentor as a Pediatric PT. I miss her often. In Him, Lora Clark Joyner

  2. Rebecca my name is Jerry White and I remember your mom well back during our elementary days. We were in school together and I remember when she moved into the house on Treemont Dr. In Greenville where I still live. The White House across the street is where I was raised but had moved by the time she and her brother occupied the house. What I remembered most about her was her beautiful smile. As I scrolled down and saw the family pic on the church steps that was how I remembered her. Had forgotten her brothers name but remembered they were close in age!

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