Everyone in this room was part of my Mom, Charlotte Susan Anufrom Shaw's life. You are here because of her spirit, her kindness, her sass, and her generosity touched you. Mom was born to Charles and Barbara Anufrom in 1949, and grew up in Dedham, in the attic of a small house by the tracks, with her three siblings, Joyce, Artie and Chuck. Although she didn’t have much, she had lots of family nearby and always had something going on. She told me about playing baseball with the neighborhood boys, dancing in the living room with her sister and when she got a little older, nights out with Julie and Joyce. Blood Sister Julie and Soul Sister Margie were two of her best friends she called sister until the end. She was close with her aunts, uncles, cousins, she had a big family and lots of love. She always knew who’s birthday was coming up or what was going on in the family.
She worked at a record company and after my brother was finally in school, worked as a bookkeeper and in consulting for upholstery/window treatment stores for years.
She met the love of her life, Michael in a diner and married after he finished in the Navy. She loved him so much, she told me she knew that he was the one right after she met him. Something I can relate to, when it’s real and you know … that’s all you need. Right Tam?
Seeing her caretake for him for 10 years before he passed away himself from complications from Cancer and Alzheimer’s showed me the real power and strength she had as a person and her love for my Dad. It’s something she spoke with me about when I started caretaking for her last year. It was hard. It was unforgiving. It was raw and scary. She said you learn a lot about people but you have to stay true and do your best for your person. She was put in extremely difficult positions advocating for him that I could never understand until recently.
I do now.
She did her best caring for my brother when he was sick. Sick with addiction and depression, which eventually also took his life. My Dad was sick for 10 years before he passed away. Mom was broken with loss, but determined to live a new life, with sundresses and fun nails, and lots of time with her grandson Cooper – her angel. In 4 years, my mother lost her only son, her husband, and then was cruelly forced to battle an aggressive and rare form of cancer, CNS Lymphoma in the middle of a pandemic. Family members and friends helped out with rides to treatments, local quick blood draws, and stayed with her when I couldn’t get there because of work or time. But after all the drives from Ayer to Easton then sitting in morning traffic to Boston for appointments and treatment all day long, back to Easton sitting in traffic, dropping Mom off getting her settled, and then back to Ayer and then to Beverly the next morning to get Cooper, eventually it was all too much, her health and vision was deteriorating and I was exhausted so Tam and I had to move in with her quickly.
Among the moving and all the stress with uprooting households, Mom was happy with us at home and excited to be heading to a brand-new CAR-T trial to reprogram her cells to fight the cancer. She had treatments and many appointments leading up to it and was ready to go. She was watching (mostly listening to, she had a hard time seeing the screen) the Celts in the NBA playoffs with us, a Julia Child documentary (which inspired some fantastic meals from Tam, Mom really enjoyed food before getting COVID), and telling us stories about her life. She had a new friendship with our cat Gertie. Let’s just say Gertie held a 13 year grudge and didn’t have a great relationship with Mom, UNTIL we moved in. Then they became great friends. Gertie showed a lot of love to Mom (and some expected catitude) and helped her in the end.
Just days before they were to retrieve her cells from a port in her brain, the whole house tested positive for COVID. We were so careful to always wear a mask, not eat in restaurants, we cancelled all our social plans while disinfecting all the time anyone came in the house. Mom was immunocompromised, she needs her health, we need our health to take care of her, and wanting to be safe for everyone else in the world, but all of our efforts for Mom weren't good enough. People think this pandemic is over, or COVID is no big deal, it's just as bad as a cold. That may be true for some, however, COVID had very lethal complications in Mom's case. Now, everything was put on hold. Mom got extremely sick and had to be admitted into the hospital. She contracted a nasty PJP infection and COVID pneumonia on top of it.
This was all too much for her body to handle, and after spending 20+ days a month in the hospital and 3 separate stays in the hospital, she decided with the honest caretaking of the Neuro oncology team at Dana Farber and the staff at Brigham & Women’s Hospital that she had had enough with all the treatments and hospital visits. Her body was too weak to get better. She could barely see, blind on her left side due to the tumor pushing on her optic nerve damaged her vision. All the food tasted bad now either from tumor or from COVID. She tried to eat but couldn’t. So, at the end of this last stay at the hospital, hospice visited with her and Mom said she wanted to stop it all and to be at home.
So, Tam and I made all the arrangements with their team at the house for her to be comfortable and not in pain. Moving furniture, getting her bedroom ready, we teamed up on it all. We asked everyday but Mom didn’t want visitors to see her in such a weakened state, so Tam arranged with friends and family who sent cards, letters, drawings, flowers, special tokens. She was surrounded by it all in her bedroom when she got home for hospice. This was the only way we could honor her wishes while connecting her with those wanting to see or talk to her, and we know she appreciated it all.
She still wasn’t eating more than a bite or drinking but a few sips, but fortunately she had a good day last week. She felt up for visitors, something she was extremely private about while being sick. Hours after the last visitor left, her health took the turn the hospice nurse told me about. When she first got diagnosed last year, I promised Mom I would honor her wishes, whatever she wanted or needed. This stayed true until the very end. She was a proud woman, her body unable to fight, she was unable to stay awake or leave her bed. “Tell them I love them all,” weakly speaking and shaking her head when asked if she wanted any last visitors, one of the last things she was able to communicate to me.
Mom fought so hard. Fought for those she loved, fought for health, fought for life. She battled until the very end, doing arm stretches in her seat just hours before she requested to start morphine because the pain was too much. Mom knew it was time.
It was an honor to see her through the end of her life. To honor her wishes. To care for her. To make sure she wasn’t in pain. She just wanted to be home and finally at peace.
I’ll never forget her dedication to me and my brother. She was at all my games. She’d drive for hours for basketball and soccer tournaments, or games in college. Always in the stands, with cut oranges for everyone or just cheering us on, my teams always felt her love and support. Just a few days before her accident and was diagnosed with cancer, she drove three hours in the heat round-trip to Beverly to see Cooper play soccer. I know she knew something was wrong, didn’t feel well and probably shouldn’t have gone, but she was determined. She loved Cooper and wanted to be there for him, just like she was for me. That same day we got home from the game, we were greeted by flowers sent from Mom congratulating Tam and I on our engagement. Mom, not doing well at all, with a tumor growing quickly in her brain, thinks of us and sends us flowers. This wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.
There were times our relationship struggled, we’re human. However, I learned from her that good people do work on themselves, be open to different perspectives, and realize that maybe what you were taught in life wasn’t true or fair. She wasn’t accepting of me when I came out. Neither parents were, I expected it, but it was still traumatic. She said hurtful things and I moved out because I wasn’t welcome for who I am. Years later, Mom apologized for it, and told me how she admired me for living my truth. I forgave her and I honored her truth through the very end as well.
Growing up she was the first one to sign up to chaperone school trips, or parent help. Mom kept an eye on us and the neighborhood kids a little too close, both Mike and I would laugh about it growing up. He’d say “oh look big surprise there’s Mom in the window again”, and she was there for the duration.
She was always kind to people in her world, neighbors, coaches, friends, workers, doctors, everyone she met, she touched with her spirit. The day before one of her Neuro oncology appointments with Dr. Gonzalez Castro, she had me go into Paper Store to get a card, book and a stuffed animal for his newborn. Here she was, barely able to walk and weak from cancer, getting a gift for her doctor's baby. She wrote friendly letters welcoming new neighbors and always sent a kind note saying thanks. Her penmanship was the best. This is who my Mom was, she was incredibly thoughtful.
She loved knitting, birds, plants, gardens, books, good music. She loved the beach and garlic and fried clams. She’d always put on some music and dance around the house. She had moves I wish I had. A true Gemini, she had sass and spoke her mind. She lived her life with conviction. She was beautiful, and smart and loved being social. She loved life, and I’m so heartbroken it was all taken away so fast. She didn’t have a chance to enjoy her later life. Her retirement. Her grandson. Her freedom. Her Tam.
Caretaking is hard. I couldn’t have helped Mom without Tam. Mom wasn’t in rehab or a hospital she was at home and needing fulltime care and Tam was amazing during all of this, her love, support and sacrifice for both Mom and I was incredible and I am so appreciative of it all. She took notes when I was in meetings. She made all these yummy meals and all the requests Mom had for food, even food she just had a bite of and couldn’t eat anymore. Her last meals. There are things we saw and had to handle as caretakers that were really hard, and I admire Tam for being there. For helping everything get done. She cut her hair. She painted her lavender nails you saw today, one of SuSu’s last requests. She helped administer meds at 2 in the morning. She did all the things that I could never have done by myself. I couldn’t quit my job, but I had to put my design work on hold this year. I lost clients and work. Tam took time away from her extremely busy schedule on chapter deadlines for her WNBA book and her work on the Brittney Griner petition to write beautifully detailed updates for close friends and family. Mom didn’t want anything shared on social media, so this was the easiest way to communicate quickly to the people she wanted us to. I was on the phone constantly with doctors, health care workers, pharmacy, social workers, and this was if I wasn’t taking her to appointments in Boston. Tam and I were with her 24/hrs a day, for her last three months. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.
In honor of my Mom and to help further research for cancer, including the rare form of lymphoma Mom had, I am walking as a member of team Sue’s Garden in the Dana-Farber Jimmy Fund Walk for Cancer Research this October. Please consider donating as Mom desperately wished to participate in a research trial. This money can help others, as Mom was unable to due to COVID. Link to donate at the end.
Thank you for loving her and being in her life. Whether you knew her 73 years or 10 months, I sincerely thank you. She loved you all. I hope you remember her happy and enjoying life. She’s at peace. She’s with Dad, Mike, Nana, Gramps, all the pets, friends and family members she loved and lost through the years. She’s already sending me signs through the catbirds in the front yard. I love you Mom and I will continue to carry your spirit.
You fought like hell and I’m so proud of you.