Love and Lola: A Mother’s Day Story

As a young girl and into my teens and even into young adulthood, I loved being with my mother and her sister, Auntie Myrna. Fortunately, I always had many friends, but I most preferred the company of my two strong female mentors. My mom and my aunt were my favorite people, but, sadly, I lost them both in a very short time of each other and before my own children were born. The day I lost my mother, Lola and Joe (my mother in law at the time and her husband) came to be with me. Lola vowed then and there that she would be my mother, and she truly kept her promise. Lola basically adopted me as her very own: We fell in love from the very beginning.

Lola was a grande dame, in the truest sense. She was impossibly glamorous, confident, mighty and outspoken, and oh so fun — all of those outsized qualities almost belied the tiny sweetheart who loved to dote on her husband, Joe, and her three adored sons.

Lola felt lucky in life and love, and she declared it proudly and often. She also cherished her lifelong friends who were devoted to her and were incredibly loyal and loving.

Lola and Joe Brown had a passionate love affair that endured more than four decades of marriage. They smoldered with a mutual excitement and love that inspired people visiting their orbit. Joe and Lola were a team, completely unified. They both enjoyed each other and lived their life together passionately and fully.

The first time I met Lola was in the locker room at the East Bank Club of Chicago. She approached me and asked if I was single as she hoped to fix me up with Jeff, her youngest of three boys. I was not single at that time but I remember looking down at her brilliant white smile and her tiny little toned body and asking her why she looked like none other in her tights. She said she loved me even then.

Many months later by sheer coincidence, I went on a date with Jeff to a party where Lola and Joe were, as well. Lola was thrilled to see us together. From that very beginning, I saw the young, sweet little girl that was Lola’s soul. Yes, Lola was devastatingly beautiful and a bit wry, but she had a vulnerability and pure sweetness that made me see her as a young child. I found myself often cooing to my own mother-in-law and warming her small hands when she was cold, as she so often was.

Lola was loved and admired by everyone who she brushed past. She was a true celebrity in Chicago and her smile, beauty and natural charisma were legendary. Joe loved her effect on everybody and felt lucky to have found in her his other half.

Lola began at a young age to show signs of dementia and then early onset Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s took away everything from our lovely Lola: her dignity, her memory, her youth, her own mother (???), and finally, her very life. Lola succumbing at such a young age (HOW OLD?) to Alzheimer’s felt breathlessly unfair. Everyone who loved her felt completely helpless in its invasion of her life. I know I felt angry, Angry that we couldn’t contain her onset, angry that there was no cure for her and we would have to watch her decline. I prepared myself mentally to sustain yet another giant and painful loss. Unfortunately I have lost many loved ones at a fairly young age. Each loss was mourned silently as I soldiered on, having children and immersing myself in them not thinking too long or hard about the past, lest I drown in my own sorrow.

Last summer my daughter Sloan, who has always loved her Bubbe madly, asked why I had not gone to see her lately. I explained that it hurt to remember Lola this way. Also, I did not want to confuse or upset her as Jeff and I were now divorcing. Sloan disagreed with my reasoning: She felt that it was time for me to pay a visit no matter the result. Visitors presented a break in Lola’s long idle. I absolutely agreed and immediately we went to see our lovely Lola.

I will be forever grateful that we wasted no more time, for that day was the last we heard our love speak. It will be a beloved but bittersweet memory for us both. Sloan and I walked into the Browns’ (??? who are Browns) sunny kitchen and saw our once incandescent Lola staring blankly out her window from her wheelchair. We each grabbed her tiny hands and rubbed them to warm them as I whispered our old line: “cold hands = warm heart.” My adopted mother looked at me just then and said “I don’t know you, but I do know that I love you.” That day, that last moment, was a gift that I will forever treasure – unexpected and important.

Sloan and I began to sing Bubbe’s old favorites and suddenly she joined us in our song, unexpectedly remembering some old verses. My beautiful, 15-year-old daughter and I rolled our beloved matriarch out into the golden sunshine and sang more old songs with her — Lola joining in every so often and Sloan and I gleefully singing on for our last time, just the three of us. Three generations bonded forever by love.

Writen by Penny Fisher

Penny Fisher has not only survived an unbelievable trauma, but also she has thrived. She is working on her memoir, and is available as a motivational speaker and mentor. To contact her, email: pennyfisher11@comcast.net.