Tribune reporter pays tribute to her late mother

I can sing every word to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and I’m not ashamed because I have my mom to thank for that.

Growing up, I had to listen to all of Manilow’s hits because Debbie Wetzel loved Barry Manilow, from his earliest songs to his later years of covering popular songs from other artists and of course his Christmas albums because Mom loved Christmas.

But there’s one song of Barry’s that sticks in my mind the most. When I was little, Mom would sing “I Can’t Smile Without You” to me, and it made me feel like the most loved person in the world.

The song was released in 1978. I wasn’t born until 1981.

It was the song I picked to play as part of her tribute video for her funeral. Mom died in a car wreck May 9, 2019, three days before Mother’s Day.

On that day and for many days after, the words of the song couldn’t ring more true.

“You know I can’t smile without you. I can’t smile without you. I can’t laugh and I can’t sing. I’m finding it hard to do anything. You see I feel sad when you’re sad. I feel glad when you’re glad. If you only knew what I’m going through. I just can’t smile without you.”

But those of you who know me have seen me smile since. I miss Mom today and every day as much as I did that day, but she’s still with me, so I can still smile.

She’s in every thought I have and in everything I do.

Other than writing her obituary, this is the first time I’ve sat down and written about her. Many people probably find that hard to believe because I’m a writer, it’s what I do. But I write about other people’s pain, their losses, their loves and their best and worst moments. I find it much more difficult to turn the tables and write about how I feel.

So here goes.

I still feel sad and lost because a big piece of who I am isn’t physically here.

In February, I received an email about buying tickets to go to the annual Flower and Patio Show in Indianapolis. I almost purchased them but then realized the only reason I went every year was to spend time with you. You were the one who loved flowers and landscaping and decorating. I just loved to make you happy.

The same goes for the annual Parking Lot Pickers event. I hated to get up early to lug all our stuff there and set up, but I looked forward to spending that time with you and helping you try to sell all of the junk you accumulated. You still never got rid of all those Boyds Bears.

I feel scared because what happens if my health fails again and I find myself facing another long stretch in the hospital without your hand to hold? Anthony (my husband) will do his best to fill in, so don’t worry, it’s not the same, but he loves me, too. And he loved you. He didn’t mind driving up to the hospital with you every day to come see me.

I feel helpless knowing I can’t make it any better for my dad and my sister, but I try because I know you need me to. I go over to your house, where so many memories I have of you hit me head-on as soon as I pull into the driveway.

But I also feel strong because I know you want me to keep living my life, even if you aren’t able to tell me.

I feel lucky that I had a mom who loved me unconditionally, who dried my tears and comforted me even when she was hurting more and who was my best friend.

Now, when I hum “I Can’t Smile Without You,” the song she sang to me so long ago, I still feel like the most loved person in the world. Thanks, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day! I love you!