In the fall of 1969, my mom became a single mother. It was a conscious, deliberate decision on her part, giving my father the ultimatum “quit drinking or leave.” And he did. In 1969 and for many years after, the term that was used to describe such a household was “broken home.” For years, I believed that designation. In retrospect, though, the home was broken when my father was present. It stood a chance, actually, of healing after he was gone. It took the healing hands of my mother.
So on this eve of Mother’s Day, the memories I remember of my mom are those that contribute to any healthy living I have been able to attain as a result of her influence. Let me count the ways. The first influences, sort of strangely, are of my mother the professional. She was a nurse for over 40 years. Most of those years were spent at (Glockner) Penrose Hospital. She had nurses training at the Seton School of Nursing which was housed there in the 1930’s. She birthed her own children there. She was one of my nurses when I had knee surgery in 1974.
When other nurses called in sick or when they were unable to make their way down Ute Pass in the winter, she would either cover their shift until they made it in or she worked the entire 8 hours, if necessary. I learned a professional work ethic from the model she set. It was because of her professionalism, and her choice to pursue a career in the first place, that allowed her the financial freedom and security to give my father that ultimatum in 1969. Having a career, even one with a modest income, provided her an independence she would not otherwise have had. Although not as observable of an influence like her work ethic, this independent spirit said to me that you may not always be able to depend on others — so be sure that you can depend on your own resources.
Of course, as a single parent with a nursing salary, my mother had to make some tough financial decisions. We moved five times after my father left. She never visibly showed her disappointment in that. She simply made the decision, packed up our household, and did what she needed to do. We always stayed within several blocks of Penrose Hospital, though. It anchored us.
One summer, when it was simply my mom and me (my siblings had graduated high school or college and didn’t live it home), we did not have money for a summer vacation. But it is Colorado Springs — a magnet for tourists. So we did what 30 years later became known as the stay-cation. We went to Seven Falls. Another day, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. We traveled up further and toured the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. We went to the Air Force Academy. On another occasion, when we did have enough money for a road trip, my mom and I went to Juarez, Mexico. On the way down, driving I-25 through New Mexico, my mom got her 1972 Mercury Montego up to 100 miles per hour. At about 95 mph, I said something, maybe with a hint of nervousness (or outright fear) in my voice, to the effect of “what the heck, mom!?” When she reached 100 mph, she backed off. Smiling, she said “I always wanted to be able to say I drove 100 miles an hour!” Cross one off of her bucket list.
My mother was able to support and enjoy the successes I have had (and, equally,my brothers and sister have had in their lives) and she was always there to help us up when we made a misstep along our way or, in my case, when I wandered completely off the path. When I had a few years of sobriety under my belt and some stability in my life, she simply said, “you keep doing what you’re doing.” That was a far cry from when I showed up at her door when I was 26, unemployed, lost (sometimes those who wander ARE, indeed, lost), and without a semblance of any plan or answer to “what’s next?”. Despite her fear, she helped right the ship I was on and then let me adjust the sails. She always had the right balance of giving suggestions (or straight-up advice) and of holding back her advice to let us make our mistakes and then learn from them.
When she was diagnosed with cancer in 1993, and perhaps six months before she died, I was visiting her at Penrose Hospital. The treatment for her lung cancer was promising (but the promise did not hold true). Over the intercom it was announced that visiting hours were over. Well, that may have been true for others. We were in the middle of a conversation. And this was Betty Puzick. A nurse and then, at the end of her career, a night supervisor for half of the 12-story building. We would stretch the visiting hours rule for just a small bit of time. The nurses providing her care understood.
“You need to know, Vince, that I am proud of you. I’m proud as can be of all my children. You have each done so well with your lives.” She saw that we were happy, enjoying some success in our lives, and that we had survived the challenges of a difficult childhood. And, with the end of her life a reality now, she wanted, she needed, to say it without any ambiguity.
What she wouldn’t see, what I truly think was veiled from her vision due to her own humility, was the very foundation she laid in all of our lives.
Nurses heal broken things. They often say that bones and other broken things can be stronger when they heal than before the break.
No doubt. Nice work, Betty Puzick, RN. Thank you, Mom.