Annie Vogt is quirky and kind – just like her mom, Laurie, was. Laurie passed away from breast cancer on April 24, 2019 when Annie was 20. A year later, Annie remembers her mom as a good cook who hated cooking, a seeker of sunny places who didn’t like the beach, and a lover of children’s books with grown-up meanings. Her mom was a warm friend who asked great questions and loved singing around the house. She liked to take care of people. And that’s what she did, Annie says, even after she left.
Annie says she wants to be brave one day, like her mom. I hope to show her that she already is.
April 24, 2020
“I couldn’t fall asleep last night. This morning I didn’t want to wake up.
There have been a lot of tears today. But my family is trying to do things she liked. We planted flowers and watched an old home video. I read some of the letters she left me. We are going to drive around Middle Creek now. Those things make it feel like she’s here, that she’s with us. Or at least are reminders that she was here, that she was with us.
We were hoping it wouldn’t be so rainy today.”
“My mom and I liked to go on day trips. One time, she wanted to see hawks at a place two hours away. She said they were only there in the morning, so we woke up extremely early to go look for these birds. It was freezing. We sat in the car with our binoculars talking and looking at the birds for hours.
We kept the car running all morning, and the battery died. My mom said, ‘don’t worry, Annie girl, I’ll take care of it.’ Then she found someone to jump the car for us. On the way home, we went to a diner and got breakfast. She got oatmeal. We talked and talked, and on the way home I fell asleep. That was one of my favorite days with her.”
“When the sun and spring came back, she was always so happy. She hated winter and the cold. I remember that spring, though. It felt very urgent. I was at school when my mom and dad called. I went outside and sat on the lawn.
They told me she had six to eight weeks to live.
I already knew that the treatments weren’t working, that things would start snowballing. Even though I was expecting it, my head and body didn’t know what to do. I packed everything up and entered survival mode. She was in hospice when I came home. I only got to see her for a day before she couldn’t walk anymore.
One morning, she wanted to have communion. During the prayer, she looked at me, took my hand, and said, ‘don’t let people trample on you, Annie. Because I see you. You always put up a chair for other people at the table. You have to remember to put the chair there for yourself.’
A few days later, April 19, was the last time I ever talked to her. But nothing was really left to say.
The viewing was April 26, two days after her death. I hated the viewing. Seeing her in a casket, propped up, affirmed all the feelings of someone actually being dead. The memorial service was strange, too. She was such a monumental person to me. How could she be remembered by a few songs and words?
I learned a lot about her life from people I met at the service. When you’re a kid, you don’t know your parents as people. As you get older, you start to see their flaws and complexities. You learn about their histories. You form a real connection, soul to soul. I had such a short amount of time to know her as a person.
I got to know my mom a lot more after she died. Which is weird. And horrible. And nice.”
“That summer was different for all of us. My brother did schoolwork. My sister went back to her job in Pittsburgh. I was left to find something to do, so I did property work in Lancaster. It was a good job for me because you can paint and work on your monotonous task for hours with no pressure.
We got ten cards a day from people saying how much they loved her. Flowers and meals and presents too. I called the food ‘pity meals’ and the flowers ‘pity flowers.’ I joked about it. I think that was a coping mechanism.
My mind wasn’t understanding what was happening. It was just doing. She left us letters, but that summer I didn’t read any of them.
She got us all rings, too. I wore mine every single day. I never took it off. I thought I lost it in the garbage disposal once, and I had a full-fledged panic attack. I was crying and shaking and screaming. Then I remembered it was upstairs in a dish.
We didn’t touch any of her stuff. It was a fresh wound. It was hard to touch.
There wasn’t much healing.”
“I was in denial that I had to go back to school, that life had to keep going, that I had to leave my home, where everything was put there by her, and go back to a place that wasn’t touched by her.
I didn’t start packing until the day before. When my dad dropped me off at college, we sat in the car and cried for an hour. I was worried about him. I was worried about me. I was worried about us not being together.
I was worried I was gonna stop being sad.
My friends at school had only met her once or twice. I didn’t feel like I could be sad with them. Not yet. I wanted to talk about her and keep her in my head, but that’s hard to do when you’re trying not to make your friends uncomfortable by talking about your dead mom.”
“I had days when I was fine and busy and bubbly. But sometimes, I got an instant panicked feeling where I needed to go for a walk. It would be midnight or snowing. But I remember thinking, ‘I can’t be here. I have to be alone,’ and it was hard to be alone at school. I had sudden grief attacks and broke down crying. I only let my grief out when it was filled to the brim and needed to overflow.
I wanted and needed people to acknowledge that I was sad and stay with me. In that way, I was still sad, but I wasn’t alone. I called my dad a lot. Most nights, really. Sometimes I read old birthday cards she gave me. I made a book of all the texts she sent me. I have voicemails on my phone from her that I listened to.
But everything kept moving at the same pace it was before. It was hard to do normal things in normal places when I myself was very changed.”
“I never asked ‘why, God, why?’ That was never a reality for me. She was a very spiritual person, and something about this experience, this year, was very spiritual for me too.
This year. It’s weird to say a year. I don’t think any of us realized that life would go on after she was gone.
And now it has.
It’s eye-opening trying to think back to where I was last year during this week. I blocked out a lot of what happened in the last weeks of her life. They were so traumatic. The memories only come back to me in pieces.
A lesson she really tried to teach me, that I’m still learning, is to care for myself. I’m still learning to pull up a chair for myself at the table too.
In her last days, she often said she wasn’t afraid of dying. I wish I were as brave as she is – or was. She didn’t have a fear of people as much as I do. She was very brave about being sick. I hope I can someday be brave too.” •