It took me 19 years to be able to properly eulogize my father, Robert Rodale. So it doesn’t feel right to take only two weeks to try and write a proper memorial for my mother, Ardie Rodale, who passed away from cancer the week before Christmas. But I also feel like I can’t go back to blogging without acknowledging her—and all of you, dear readers, for your kind thoughts and condolences. So here goes for now; you can expect something more in depth in about 20 years!
My mother was a complicated woman. Even on her deathbed I don’t think she fully realized how lucky and blessed she was. She was one of those people who are always in search of something more, and, frankly, a bit angry with anyone who tried to stand in her way. She was a “fighter”.
Those of us who have been blessed to know public figures intimately know that there is the person they are to the public and the person they are in private to their closest friends and family. And even that private person can be different, depending on the relationship. Somewhere between the two versions, and surrounding them both, exists the true individual. And like any daughter, I have my list of complaints about my mother, most of which revolved around her love of alcohol (which is one of the reasons I completely stopped drinking more than 10 years ago).
But when the dust settles and it’s all said and done, I look back and realize that in many ways Ardie Rodale was even greater than most people think. Many knew her as an inspirational, warm, and motherly leader (her latest title at Rodale Inc. was Chief Inspiration Officer). But here is the truth: She was tough as nails, had unerring instincts about business and people, was bold and courageous about everything, and had better stock returns than the experts at JP Morgan. And as a mother she did the one critical, most important thing a mother can do: She stood by us no matter what trouble we got into. And believe me, that’s a long list! Like my brother coming out of the closet and then dying of AIDS, which led her to become one of the earliest spokespeople for support of AIDS patients. Or me having a baby out of wedlock when I was 20. (When she asked me if I was going to marry the biological father and I said no, her response was “Good!”) There are many more examples, some too painful and difficult to remember, but the bottom line is at the end of the day, my mother stood by us with guns drawn.
Oh, she wasn’t happy about having to do all that stuff—getting us out of scrapes, running the business after my dad got himself killed in a car crash, and being a spokesperson for tragedy and misery, including her own battles with cancer. If she’d had her way, she would have been dancing and partying and shopping and living the spa life all the time. Maybe that’s what she’s doing now, with my brother and father, her two favorite dancing partners. But the truth is, I think I inherited one of her most stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch qualities—the tendency to work too hard. Too much leisure makes us bored, and before you know it we are cleaning things out, writing books, and, in general, trying to save the world.
I have always tried to learn how to be a better mother from my mother—by doing what I am thankful she did, and not doing what annoyed the heck out of me (although sometimes I can’t help it; I am, after all, my mother’s daughter!). For all her complications (I mean, what woman isn’t complicated?), she accomplished quite a lot. But what feels the weirdest and the worst is that I don’t have a mom to call when I get home, or to check in with, or to tell a funny story about my kids. And my kids’ memories of her are now fixed in number, and memories, as we all know, fade with time.
Even up until the end, I think my mother thought she would live forever. Whether she was somehow right is a mystery that she now knows the answer to, and one day each of us will also find out for ourselves. I’m in no hurry. But until I do, I have plenty of memories of my mother to sort through, savor, and eventually, perhaps, write about. She wouldn’t want it any other way.