Departed Mother

A Love Like Ours Can Never Die – Chloe Lombard, PhD

Chloe and Heidi are cuddled in a quilt that Heidi’s great grandmother hand stitched. Before Heidi gave the blanket to Chloe, she had someone hand stitch the following into the border: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, forever and ever, my baby you’ll be.” This is a variation of a line from our favorite book, “I’ll love you forever."

Chloe Lombard, PhD, describes her childhood memories of Heidi Anderson-Lombard, her mom. Heidi died when Chloe was in her early twenties but Heidi left behind memorabilia that stretch love beyond the grave.

Portrait of Chloe Lombard, PhD, discusses her mother's love that can never die.
Chloe Lombard, PhD.

My mom’s birth name was Heidi Anderson, and her married name was Heidi Lombard. She kept that name until she died even though my parents were separated. Mom wanted to have the same last name as me, so she didn’t want to change it back to her maiden name. She was born in Morehead, Minnesota. She spent most of her childhood in Idaho Falls and her adolescence in Boise, Idaho. When she passed away, she was 45 years old.

I did not have any siblings. It’s been hard to be an only child, but pregnancy was difficult and my parents didn’t want to risk her life a second time.

Heidi was a really amazing mom in so many ways. Even though she struggled in some areas of life, like most of us, she gave everything to be the best mom that she could be. She went above and beyond the call of duty, even in the face of adversity. That’s all you can ever ask from a parent, really. She called me her Velcro when I was young. We were always together and I hated not being with her. She was a really wonderful role model.

It Takes a Village

I wouldn’t say any singular person was like a mother or played the role of mother for me while I was growing up. I feel like it was more of a community effort to get me to the point I am today. I grew up in a pretty small town. The community cared about each other and there were people at different points in my life that filled in roles that my parents couldn’t. Sometimes that meant it was teachers. Sometimes it was family friends, and sometimes it was family, but it really wasn’t ever a specific person. It was just sometimes when my mom or dad couldn’t be there, they filled in as guardian.

The Funny Moments and Years of Laughter

My earliest memories of my mother were probably when I was very young. Now I understand better as I’ve learned more about the memories. She would always get so excited around holidays. Since I was old enough to walk, mom would always create Easter egg hunts or different treasure hunts. She would go to a local store in town where you could get 50-cent toys. She would put them in plastic eggs or whatever seemed appropriate, and hide them all around the house and yard. She loved to give me clues to where they were and leave me to search. That was a great time, and some of the best memories I have with my mom. Now, I understand that it wasn’t the Easter bunny or Santa doing all of this, but her giving of her time to gift me with such delight. Just her watching me, even when I was so young, it brought her so much joy. I’ll always remember how much laughter we shared during those holidays.

Chloe and Heidi at Redfish Lake in Idaho
Chloe and Heidi at Redfish Lake in Idaho

She was funny and like her I find almost anything amusing. We laughed about nearly everything. Most of the humorous moments involved either one of us being klutzy – running into things, or just laughing about our dorkiness or weirdness all the time. We were two peas in a pod both being silly. Our whole life was kind of a joke to us at all times. Even when we’re going through sad times, we always had fun and joked.

This was probably the funniest thing that I ever saw her do or say. When she was close to dying and she was on a lot of drugs. She had never done drugs in her life or drank and so she was very high. I remember her brother came over. She looked over at her brother and asked, “Hey, why are your balls purple?”

He said “What are you talking about?”

He’s obviously fully clothed and she repeats. “Your balls are purple.”  She was just high out of her mind. We didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, but she just went on and on and her brother was obviously uncomfortable at this point.

She had never been out of her mind like that and so confused that she didn’t know what was happening. It was so great. I said we needed a laugh like that at that exact time.

Well, these are multiple funny memories, but in one this happened over and over again. Anytime we would go to a store her laugh was so loud that I could walk to the entire opposite end of the store and hear her laugh. That was like my guidance system. She would talk to strangers and I would hear her laughing or she’d be on the phone. Her laugh was so boisterous that I could find her anywhere. She could be a block away and I’d track her down. She was very loud, I’m only medium loud in comparison.

A Different Woman in Built and Character

  Heidi Anderson
Heidi Anderson

She was taller than me at five foot nine. We had a similar build. When mom was younger, she was very athletic. She would exercise for about six hours a day. She would run, skateboard, swim, or play basketball. She was athletic and she started to lift weights at a certain point. That’s probably what started my dad lifting weights when they met. He was a very skinny guy and now he still lifts in competition. That’s probably because of my mom. She looked like a gymnast or some type of athlete. She had photos where she was really buff. That inspired me to be comfortable and strong in my own body.

My mom just really was different from a lot of women in that she didn’t mind taking up space. She knew that she deserved to be here and that she had a gift to share with people. Mom didn’t care if she was tiny or big, she was all giving. I know there was some self-doubt, but she was just so loving of everyone, including herself.

I think that’s why she ended up struggling so much with her mental illness because it changed her a lot. She was just an incredibly beautiful human. Then anytime you saw her she was smiling or laughing. She has always wanted to bring joy to the world and I admired that quality.

Premonition at Four Years

One of my first memories with my mom was when we were listening to music in the car. She was a terrible singer, and sometimes I didn’t enjoy that. But she didn’t care. We were listening to a song. “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton come on, and I started crying. I’d never heard the song before. I asked her if she died, how I would recognize her in heaven. I was probably four, and I don’t know why I feared her dying. I was suddenly concerned she would die. She just took my hand and said, “There’s no way a love like ours can just end when I die. And that if we see each other, if there is a heaven, then we’ll just know each other because you will recognize that love.” She always wanted to make it clear that no matter what happened to her she would always be there looking over my shoulder and looking out for me.

When Chloe was four she heard a premonition of her mother’s death when she was listening to Eric Clapton‘s Tears in Heaven on the Radio

I’m not terribly religious, but I feel spiritual in that I try to see her in the universe. There are lots of pieces that I see around me and in me. It’s even hard to talk about her in past tense because she feels so present. For us, it didn’t matter how much time had passed. She made it clear her love for me was entirely unconditional. It is with me, no matter where I am. I don’t know if there are a lot of parents that are as clear with their kids about how much they are loved and adored. I don’t think there was anything in this world that I could do that would make her not love me. I got to grow up with that, knowing that I had that safety. It was very meaningful. That’s one of the reasons that it’s hard not to have her now.

I talk to her in my heart. I know she’s inside of me, and was instrumental in who I am. We always talked about everything, there was nothing that we didn’t share. Well, I thought there was somethings she may have kept, but I believe that that is somewhat normal with the parent child relationship. It’s only sad that I didn’t get to know her as an adult.

She was there for my 21st birthday. I wasn’t very mature at that point. I had a lot of adult responsibilities, but in a lot of ways I was still a child inside. I think it’s taken till now to grow up and see my mom as this very human person. I always wanted to see her as invincible and perfect, but she was a just human. I’m sad that I didn’t get it expressed, I think that she knows.

Mom would always have top 40 pop songs on the radio. It’s not very eclectic, just any pop music that was playing at the time. Always the most popular songs of the day. It drove me nuts as a kid because they played over and over and over. She really loved Jason Mraz and Maroon Five with Adam Levine. My only complaint was that they were on constant repeat.

Her other passion was food. She liked sweet things, especially Crème Brûlée. She made it, and often would make 12 servings. There were times mom would eat them all. Not every time, but she had her moments. Mom definitely allowed herself to indulge.

She didn’t like movies very much, and hated cartoons. All stories had to be nonfiction. She helped me learn to appreciate nonfiction works. Surprisingly, mom wasn’t deep into documentaries, but she liked watching stories about celebrities.

Heidi the Bibliophile

Mom loved books. She spent thousands of dollars on books to get her master’s degree in Social work which was not entirely necessary. She was a therapist, a counselor, and a teeny bit of a hoarder. Mom came from a family that didn’t have a lot. She didn’t like to get rid of anything, saving all of my toys from childhood. Then they were used them for play therapy. She was wonderful at that job. All of the toys were added to her walls and walls of books. I wish I could have taken them all with me. I learned to love books, but it was too many. She was passionate about annotating all the books she read. I have some of them that she marked and I can and see what she was thinking. Before she passed, she gave me books about loss and grief and she had read them and left notes. She tried hard to get me through the grief of losing her. Mom communicated the knowledge she had from social work and dealing with grief. She faced a lot of grief and trauma in her life, and was pretty good at helping me through her death.

She read so much and loved to read autobiographies. She was passionate to learn about people.  I can’t think of the specific books but there was a book she gave me called Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope by Raymond A. Moody Jr. and Dianne Arcangel that I’ve read and Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi, about eating disorders.  She tried to pass on information that she felt would help guide me when she couldn’t be here.

Stages and Changes

We experienced a lot of changes throughout our relationship and some of them were simply because we were mother and daughter. Some of it was because she was facing her own challenges at the time with her mental illness. When I was very young, she was as supportive as she could be. Mom became a daycare worker so she could be with me when I was in pre-school.  She always tried to find opportunities for us to be together and for her to help shape my reality. Never in a harmful way, like that may sound.

I went into daycare for the first time when I was four, that was difficult for her. She really didn’t want to let me go into someone else’s care. One of the really awesome things she did at the daycare was making a craft center for us. It had open-ended types of crafts. There were tons of supplies and you could make whatever crafts you wanted. My mom didn’t like limiting children, for example, “Today we’re going to make a Christmas,” or “today we’re going to make a hand turkey.” She really liked to allow the kids to do whatever they wanted and to allow them to have a lot of freedom. She didn’t want to have adult influencers in my life that would restrict creativity.

She was a mama bear and protected me maybe a bit too much at times. She gave me a lot of freedom very early on in life. We had a craft room in our house too. I could do art anytime I wanted. She went to the university near us for 20-pound blocks of clay and let me play with at any time.  I always had all the art supplies I could ever want.  That honestly helped me be a better scientist. Beyond that, she encouraged my actual science by allowing me to continue to mix household cleaners, which I’m not sure if it was the safest thing to do, but I still love mixing things.

She told me when I was around five that I would be a chemist. Since then, I wanted to be a chemist. I have always enjoyed the process of mixing two things and seeing what happened.  That’s why it’s hard for me to give up science.  She was always around to shape my world in a positive way until I hit adolescence when she went back to school.  

The Challenging Years

My dad and mom got a divorce.  They separated when I was eleven. The divorce finally went through when I was seventeen.  It was obviously very protracted.  My mom went back to school to get her degree in social work. First, she had to get her undergrad degree, and then continue with her masters.

She handled it all while dealing with an eleven-year-old. She was a single mother from the separation on. It was very challenging for her, especially in her master’s program. Mom would be in another state many days of each week. That’s where the community had to step up and support me. They would be my guardian when there were days, and long stretches of time where I would have been entirely alone. She had friends in the community that were willing to let me stay at their house. It was definitely strategically difficult, but she wanted to make sure that I had at least some supervision while she was gone.  Our relationship did change at that point because I felt abandoned. My dad had left and then my mom all of a sudden was focusing entirely on school and I would sit and cry. I was losing my best friend.

Mom would feel so sad because she had to keep working and doing her schoolwork so that she could support us. It was really hard for both of us. All of the stress that she went through during that time exacerbated her mental illness. She started to become paranoid of my behavior. Not understanding why, she was anxious, I was a pretty good kid and did well in school. It was all confusing to me. Why would she have so little trust in me? It always made me try harder to make her trust me. But she never really did after a certain point.

Drawing on Early Childhood Strength

Regardless, the person that mom made of me before she went back to school made it so that I was able to survive. I not only survived, but thrived in that situation no matter how difficult. I do owe to her, that she was able to build a person that could deal with those challenges. Even when our relationship got tough, I never doubted that she loved me. I always felt I had somewhere to fall back if stuff went wrong in life.

Mother and daughter love. Chloe and Heidi are cuddled in a quilt that Heidi's great grandmother had stitched.
Chloe and Heidi are cuddled in a quilt that Heidi’s great grandmother hand stitched. Before Heidi gave the blanket to Chloe, she had someone hand stitch the following into the border: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, forever and ever, my baby you’ll be.” This is a variation of a line from our favorite book, “I’ll love you forever.”

Even when things were challenging with us, there wasn’t a doubt that if needed I could go to her and she would support me however she could. Not many people have that kind of support and so it’s very special. Although our relationship didn’t change over time and it became more challenging with her mental illness, the relationship was always worth fighting for. I knew that my mother was still in there. I got to see the woman I knew sometimes and that was always worth it. I’m happy that she made me who I was when I was younger so that I could later learn to forgive her and understand what she went through.

When she died, I learned more about life than I learned about death.  Everyone has to walk their own paths and death is a lonely journey. Those last hours or moments are going to always be lonely. I was there to hold her hand, but she still had to face death by herself. That must’ve been scary. I imagine that I may be frightened when I died too. I saw her happen and she was peaceful, which doesn’t mean that she wasn’t afraid. Mom had always made it clear she was afraid to leave me behind. She worried about how I would do when she died. Mom always wanted to be there to protect me, and I guess more that than a fear of death. She never wanted to leave me without her. What I learned though, watching her as she faced death was so much more about how I should be living.

Before, I was an angry teenager, like a lot of teenagers. I was sort of angry at her for a while because I didn’t understand her illness. When mom found out that she was going to die, I was in organic chemistry and she called me repeatedly. I thought, “What the fuck is happening?” Previously she called frequently for things that didn’t make sense. In this case, by the third time, I decided I had better answer. I went outside the class and that was when she told me that she had cancer. They didn’t know what kind it was, and they didn’t know how long she had to live. They were worried it was brain cancer at first, which would have meant she only had a couple of weeks.

It turned out to be colorectal cancer, which gave her a couple of years past the time she was diagnosed at stage four. The doctors explained that the care they were giving her was just to make the end of her life easier, and the best it could be. It was clear that they couldn’t save her. We definitely started preparing for her death. We worked to make the most of the moments when she was coherent.

We had a lot of special moments, but there were also those of challenges. It will always be worth it to be around her in those last times. Throughout the last part of her life, she tried to open my heart to humans. My mother loved everyone and she didn’t like to see how much anger I had inside of me for the world, and the hurt people could cause.

She helped me to see that hurt people hurt other people. You have to let yourself be vulnerable and let go of your pride and stay open to love. I think a lot of people shut down when they feel hurt or unheard in our society. It can be really hard to try to love people that don’t care back. It’s better for you if you have love in your heart over resentment or anger towards your fellow beings.

“See, See Humans are Good.”

She was genuinely of the mind that all humans were good and that they could all be rehabilitated if necessary. She didn’t believe in evil people, which was a hard for me to understand. It still sometimes is. The idea that every person can be changed into the good person is a challenge to accept.

Mom always wanted to push on me that there was no reason not to try to love people. Having more hate for people, wasn’t going to help anything. Mom point out when people were good. “See, see humans are good.” She gets so excited when people were kind, she seldom missed a chance to show me.  

One of the greatest kindnesses anyone did for us, it was towards the end. Mom wanted to buy me some jewelry that I could wear and think of her. She didn’t have much money and I seldom wear jewelry. We settled on having a Pandora charm bracelet, which is expensive but she wanted a metal that would last.

She started making small payments on it that she couldn’t afford. Each charm was probably $40, and mom had purchased 20 charms, if not more.  She said each charm represented an event that I would have to go through without her. Mom wrote a letter for each special event that I would go through without her and a charm went with it.  

I would love to thank a kind person, but I don’t know who they are.  Someone paid for all of the charms and bracelet anonymously.  Mom had been paying very slowly and she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to pay it off before she died. I understand someone from the jewelry store was talking about my mom’s story in a store In the Boise, Idaho Mall. I don’t know the specific jewelry store, but they stepped forward and proved my mother’s belief about good people.

“The Sun Comes Out and Lights Your Face

My Beams Will Shine Down On You”

Things can be very funny at times.  She gave me a giant eraser when I got married. It said for the big mistakes. She said, hopefully, “You and your husband can forgive each other for mistakes and continue to work on your relationship.”

She still makes me laugh. First of all, she was such a writer.  She would write like three typed-page letters in each gift.

The one about me getting married most recently was so interesting because I didn’t read it until after my wedding. The wedding was a bit more rushed for me than expected because of life circumstances. We had always planned to get married, but grad school makes it hard to plan a wedding. We ended up holding our wedding at the courthouse.

Grandpa and granddaughter love. Chloe Lombard with Grandpa Paul Anderson at her PhD defense ceremony.
Chloe Lombard with Grandpa Paul Anderson at her PhD defense ceremony. Chloe is holding a willow tree figurine called “Happiness”.

On the day we expected to get married, they gave us an option of exchanging vows on the roof of the city hall in downtown Seattle. It was a really crappy day outside, it was rainy, cold and windy. I said, “Oh man, we have to go on the roof? Right? We’re probably going to regret it.”

We went up and the second we walked through the door, all the clouds cleared and the day turned sunny and beautiful. It wasn’t even cold, still a little windy, but it was absolutely gorgeous.

Afterwards when I got the letter that mom had written for my wedding day. She wrote about how she hoped that the sun would come out and light up my face and that the sunbeams would be hers shining down on me.

It was too coincidental. It had been such bad weather before and it was amazing that it entirely changed the second we walked out. The day stayed sunny for taking our wedding photos. It was just so beautiful, I felt that she was there. I am a skeptic at heart, but it’s hard for me to not see her in those moments.

Those letters connect me to her in a way that is truly incredible and it feels so much as if she’s still present in my life. That’s why when I talk about her and I talk about her in the past tense, it’s just so bizarre for me because my relationship with her is still so active in my life.

My mother guides me every day. I hear her voice frequently. I know what she would say in many situations. Sometimes I don’t do what she would suggest and I’m aware of it. She left me letters for when I graduated and when I get into Grad School. Another for my 25th birthday and another for every five-year birthday until I turn 50, which is older than her when she died. Mom included letters for when I have children. She predicts five children. It’s really amazing to receive each of them.  

To the Anonymous Donor

I would really like to thank you the anonymous donor for that selfless and amazing gift that you gave me and my mom.  It really helped me see how good people can be. She used you as an example to point out how we can be decent for no reason. It changes my view of people. I so badly want to become the person that my mom wished for me to be. It is hard not to see the beauty in those kinds of gestures and especially the fact that it was done anonymously. Even though it is unfortunate that I can’t thank you in person. It shows how good and how kind and how compassionate you are. I cannot thank you enough for each time I receive one of the charms and wear the bracelet to a special occasion I’m connected to my mom.

It really helps me feel like she’s there and right about the goodness of people around me. You’re a representation of the best of humanity. Small acts of kindness, makes a better world.

I wish I could thank you to your face. I hope that someday you read this book or another place where I thank you because, truly, that gesture has changed my life. It affects many people’s lives when they hear the story. I fear we don’t have enough people like you in our world right now. We’re too self-centered and not recognizing how small gestures influence those around us. But there really is a butterfly effect where just being good to those in our small universe, spreads and a radiating light shines in your sphere. I experienced it firsthand and felt the warmth. I would like to thank you, again, for being such a kind person.

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