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Emails to my Therapist

Losing Mom

Dear Nicholas, I don’t know how to begin about losing Mom. Except to say: she died. My mother.  I don’t know what I want to “discuss,” except maybe just to talk about her. 

Her name was Margaret Tucker Payne, nickname “Tuck.”

Tuck Forever

For so long, we — my brothers and I, and a lot of other folks — hopefully imagined that she would manage to stay with us, that she’d never die. Once, years ago, she said to my brother Franc that she needed to talk to us about matters related to her eventual death. 

“You’re not going to die,” Franc said, “because you’re an alien and as others age around you it’s becoming more and more obvious.”  It’s true she seemed young in health and appearance into her eighties, young in spirit for all of her ninety-six years. 

Up until five days before her death, she was avidly following political news (she voted Democratic) and golf (she was pulling for Tiger to make his come-back), and calling out answers to “Jeopardy” questions, and lobbying for a great grandchild (with a preference that the parents be married.)

As I reread what I’ve just written, I find that it doesn’t begin to give a picture of her exuberant spirit. That’s what she was, an exuberant spirit. I have to believe she still is: somewhere, somehow. 

A Pure Extrovert

Among her most marked characteristics were a tremendous relish for life and a genuine interest in almost everyone she ever met.  Up until about a year and a half ago, she was a pure extrovert. She and I once spent a week together at a Spanish language school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I was fifty-something, she was seventy-something. For me, it was like being a devoted bookworm and having a sister who was head cheerleader. She was the most popular “kid” in the school. 

After much travel, she found that Mexico was one of her two most loved places in the world: Mexico and Wilmington, NC (which of course included nearby Wrightsville Beach.) She came to Wrightsville the weekend after college graduation and had such a good time that she withdrew from the teaching job she had lined up for the fall. Instead, she went job-hunting in Wilmington the next week, and stayed on for seventy-six years. 

One of the places she applied for a job was the World War II shipyard. As she was leaving the office there with paperwork about her application, a man who spotted her on the sidewalk stopped her and said. “I need to have a look at your papers.” His interest was purely personal. His name was Harry Payne and he was destined to become my father. 

Eventually the two of them went into business together, opened Payne’s clothing stores and a large wholesale formalwear rental business. She handled everything financial, he handled personnel and sales. They chose the merchandise together and were a very successful team. She took pride in never using an accountant, handling all tax matters herself, saying “The federal government isn’t going to come up with anything I can’t figure out.”

The Gift of Certainty

I remember saying to a friend long ago, “My mother is blessed with the gift of certainty.” The friend said, “She must be very popular.” As I’ve already pointed out, she was. 

When she and I had our inevitable painful friction, it was in large part about that certainty. She was a strong force to be reckoned with.  When I complained that I was too old (maybe thirty?) to keep being told what to do, she said, “I tell everybody what to do. Most of them do it.” But she did back off from instructing me, for which I was grateful. And I felt that in the process I gained an added measure of respect from her, which I cherished. 

She was an excellent model for me in so many ways, for the woman I wanted to be: independent, resourceful, resilient.  One of my cousins pointed out this week that she cracked the glass ceiling before most people had acknowledged it was there. She and my father also modeled well an uncommonly happy marriage, a passionate marriage of equals. 

passionate marriage of equals

Paradoxically, she was a teetotaler who loved parties, an investor who got some of her stock tips from her dreams, a socially proper person with a breathtakingly wicked sense of humor. She was a lifelong devoted Methodist, with great respect for every religion. She was once called to jury duty on the trial of a guy accused of setting a fire at a synagogue. She was quickly dismissed. That guy wouldn’t have had a prayer.

She was always interesting and fun (well, usually.) And so often kind: she seemed to know the thing that someone secretly needed to hear. Once when I was in school, she wrote a note to a friend of mine that said among other things, “I approve of you.” I had no idea she knew what a tender spot approval was for that girl.

What she didn’t like was cooking. Once she had some women over for lunch and was complimented on the food and how pretty everything looked. She said, “Thanks. Would have been easier to run General Motors for a day.”

She always assured me that I could do anything in life, except maybe sing.  She was ever-supportive of my writing whether or not she liked the content. After she read my rather racy novel Cobalt Blue, she said it was powerful and she was shocked and maybe I might like to consider a pseudonym just for a little while, perhaps Marla Mason might be nice.

Her last five days, after her stroke, were hard. My brothers and I were with her at the moment of her death. Our minister cousin, her namesake Tuck, had prepared us well the day before, reminding us that this was a sacred time. That was the first time I had found the process anything but negative.

My Super-Heroine

As you’ve probably gathered, she’s my hero, as I told her many times. Decades ago, my psychologist husband Bob said to me, “There’s gonna be some therapy when she dies.” Now I’m not so sure; she and I  long ago said everything that ever needed saying.

Mom and me at brother Harry’s wedding

I now–in this moment at least–feel that Mom has been released from what had become a tough and unfixable situation and she is now free and, I pray, in some way back in the presence of her beloved Harry Payne.  I want to hang onto that feeling. May need help with that.

I’m guessing you’ll say that I’ll never really lose her. Okay, but still, the loss….



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  • October 12, 2018 at 8:51 pm Reply

    ❤️ it’s very hard to be without a mother. Thinking of you and your family and sending my love. She sounds like a gem!

    • Peggy Payne
      October 12, 2018 at 8:53 pm Reply

      Indeed she was, Mamie. Thank you. I remember the difficult loss of your father….

  • Robert J Braxton
    October 12, 2018 at 9:33 pm Reply

    Read it twice, the second time aloud – so spouse of 51 years. I freely flowing tears (joyful ones).

    • Peggy Payne
      October 12, 2018 at 9:44 pm Reply

      Thank you for the joyful tears, Bob!

  • June Brotherton
    October 13, 2018 at 3:26 am Reply

    What a lovely tribute to your mother and your relationship with her.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 13, 2018 at 7:52 pm Reply

      Thank you, June. I wish I had written it two weeks ago so she could read it.

  • John Cheek
    October 13, 2018 at 1:32 pm Reply

    Such a moving tribute. What a wonderful woman. Without in any way diminishing your loss, How lucky you were to have her for so long!

    • Peggy Payne
      October 13, 2018 at 7:52 pm Reply

      I was very lucky, John. I really feel that.

  • Virginia
    October 13, 2018 at 3:46 pm Reply

    Wonderful words about a fabulous person, Peggy. I’m so sorry she’s gone.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 13, 2018 at 7:51 pm Reply

      Me too, Virginia. And thanks so much.

  • Lineta Pritchard
    October 13, 2018 at 9:25 pm Reply

    Such a warm feeling washed over me as I read about your mother Peggy. You’ll never lose her and now I have a gimpse of her too , thanks to your remarkable gift of words . Thinking of you.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 13, 2018 at 9:34 pm Reply

      Thanks, Lineta, and I particularly appreciate thoughts from you about my words.

  • October 14, 2018 at 12:19 am Reply

    i feel so sad, and sad for you and your brothers’s losing your Mom. I count myself lucky to have known her, and for such a long time. Despite her admonition not to be sad about her passing, reading your remembering her here brought rushes of tears and sadness. You’re a lot like her, and she was so proud of you and so kind to me.

    She’s gone from our waking worlds, and forever in our hearts. Goodbye Tuck – you lived well and strongly.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 14, 2018 at 12:58 am Reply

      She loved you, Bob. And, yes, she sure did live well and strongly.

  • Lee Grohse
    October 14, 2018 at 12:29 am Reply

    She sounds terrific! Love a woman with spunk! Clearly not an ordinary woman. And how great is it that she had a daughter who knew it and could write about it with such appreciation and precision?

    • Peggy Payne
      October 14, 2018 at 12:57 am Reply

      She was terrific, Lee, and she also admired sturdy people with spunk. A couple of her friends were blind and living alone in their nineties. Thanks for your kind thoughts.

  • Randee Bieler
    October 14, 2018 at 7:07 am Reply

    Peggy, this is such a deeply moving tribute. I wish I had gotten to meet her. It’s a powerful thing, to have our mothers as our heroes. In that we are lucky, but how it hurts to miss them. My hearts with you.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 14, 2018 at 3:47 pm Reply

      You were in my dream last night, Randee. Had something to do with classic cars. Thank you!

  • Artie Dixon
    October 15, 2018 at 11:07 am Reply

    A beautiful tribute, Peggy. Though I didn’t know her, I could feel both you and her in my presence while reading. I’m sure you were as much a gift to her as she was to you. What a treasure you’ll always have in your heart.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 16, 2018 at 3:53 am Reply

      Thank you, Artie. A treasure indeed…and I found it very satisfying to write about her. I wish she could read it.

  • Marion OMalley
    October 16, 2018 at 5:25 pm Reply

    Didn’t know her, or really you, except through your books. But I feel like I did through this. Sounds like an amazing woman and mother. So sorry for your loss.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 16, 2018 at 6:40 pm Reply

      Thanks so much, Marion. I appreciate your writing me.

  • […] Related post: Losing Mom […]

  • October 31, 2018 at 9:35 pm Reply

    […] Nicholas, This subject gets harder to write about. Writing a tribute was easy. Now three weeks […]

  • Anonymous
    July 3, 2021 at 6:03 am Reply

    Wow. A wonderful tribute. You and she knew and understood each other, as well as loved and respected. She would have loved what you wrote, but she knew you would express yourself well. You should be proud of your words. So in awe and respectful.

    • Peggy Payne
      July 6, 2021 at 10:01 pm Reply

      Many thanks, Anon. I wish she could read what I wrote. I tell myself that maybe she can.

  • Barbara Bonniwell
    July 11, 2022 at 3:52 am Reply

    It just broke my heart to lose my mother! she raised seven of us all girls by her self. my father died when he was only 42 ! I felt so sorry for myself thinking that I was an orphan at sixty something isn’t that odd ? I enjoyed your words

    • Peggy Payne
      July 11, 2022 at 2:48 pm Reply

      Thanks, Barbara. And I don’t think your reaction is odd at all. Also, once someone lives on beyond what might be expected, we can start to feel that maybe we’re not going to lose them after all. I’m sorry about your mom!

  • September 10, 2022 at 3:39 am Reply

    […] My own mother admired the queen because she was good at her job. She and Mom shared a conscientiousness about work, about duty and responsibility and accomplishment. Both of them with a wry wit and powerful presence. Both of them rather no-nonsense. Both died at 96, four years apart. […]

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