Dr. Deborah Weissman-Miller, 1938 – 2017.
My beautiful mother. Born in a time when women were expected to marry and stay at home. At 24 she was divorced, a single mother without a college education. Then her father died when I was five, and she found herself, she told me, frighteningly adrift. No college degree. No career. No means to support herself and a small child. She had to become a different person, and fast.
A lifelong student, my mother went back to school. She worked and studied and then did it some more. Here is a list of the academic degrees she earned: A B.A. from Columbia University in 1967, a Masters of Engineering in ocean engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1980, a professional degree in civil engineering from Columbia University in 1985, a Doctor of Science from EuroTech University in 1989, a Master of Public Health from Florida International University in 2005, and a Master of Science in statistics from Florida State University in 2007. Seriously, she did all that.
Dr. Weissman-Miller was an award-winning biostatistician and composites engineer. She was recognized in January 2017 by Marquis Who’s Who for Excellence in Biostatistics and Composite Engineering, particularly sandwich composites, theory and design. But before all this, she was a mother.
I never, not for one day, or one minute, or one second went without love. Oh, it wasn’t perfect. For years, I stewed about how life wasn’t what I asked for. A friend reminded me the other day that the gifts we are given are not always the ones we wanted. We moved, a lot, for her work, education and sometimes for love. She did not always make dinner, or even have food in the house. Cooking was not her thing. I took care of the cleaning and such after school. Isn’t it funny how we want what we don’t have? I had an amazing mother, world-renowned engineer, loving and kind, supportive as hell, and I wanted a house with a white picket fence.
She became who she was from a lifelong love of science and sailing, and sometime during those many years we spent on a boat cruising up and down the east coast she got a freckle on her leg. She was never a healthy woman plagued by Multiple Sclerosis and later symptoms known as Post-Polio Syndrome. But ultimately, it was this tiny freckle and melanoma that would take her down in the prime of her life.
I would be remiss if I did not mention this: my mother was gay. Yes, in the early 1960s she was a single, divorced and gay mother. This was the secret, I could not tell, and I am a natural blabbermouth. She was gay in a time when it was far less accepted than today. She could lose a job, housing, friends, everything.
Today young women accept that they should have equal rights, that LGBTQ is as recognized LMNOP. I read multiple articles that millennials didn’t think it was any big deal that we could have the first woman president. Well let me tell you, it’s a very big deal to those of us who lived through times when women couldn’t get a bank account, equal pay, or a job as an aerospace or naval engineer. There was a time when my mother attended school at night, worked like a dog during the day, accepted the lowest pay in the office, and went home to a secret that could destroy our lives. Equal rights, my friends, is a very, big deal.
My mother is survived by her wife and partner of 26 years, Dr. Rosalie Miller, a PhD in Occupational Therapy and a former professor for the University of Florida. It was one of the most wonderful days of her life when she was able to marry her ultimate true love. The three of us stood in Victoria, B.C. and honestly, we just couldn’t believe it was legal and happening. Among my mother’s many dreams and accomplishments, being out and open was perhaps one of days she didn’t see coming.
This is a long post, and yet it doesn’t begin to list all the things my mother was, and was to me. In brief, she was everything. She was fucking brilliant. She was the most loving person. She was wild and fun and brave. She defied convention. She gave me self-esteem and confidence. She gave me swagger. She raised me to believe that I could do and be anything I wanted, and I believed her. When I wanted to write, she believed in me. When I became a yoga teacher instead of an academic, or a PhD or an aerospace engineer, she thought it was the best thing in the world. When I married my first husband, who was really something of a disaster, she gave me a toolbox saying, “You’re going to need this.” When he left me for another woman, she never said “I told you so.” Whenever I stumbled, she would fold me in her arms and make it better.
She was my greatest cheerleader. She was my biggest supporter. She was my mother, and I’m going to miss her terribly.
Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist and the co-author of most recently, “Fearless After Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga.” You can find her in Yoga International, Yoga Journal, Mantra Yoga and Health Magazine and Sports Illustrated.