Amy Newmark On Mothers, Daughters, And The Healing Power Of Storytelling

"I had a major realization while editing the book, and that was that my mother is still with me."

The bond shared with our mothers is often one of the most important in our lives as their unconditional love can get us through almost anything. No matter how much we show our love and appreciation, however, many mothers feel inadequate — that they are not doing enough, parenting "right," or that they could be doing something better. To offer a sense of reassurance and comfort to mothers (and grandmothers) everywhere, Chicken Soup for the Soul author, publisher, and editor-in-chief Amy Newmark curated a collection of 101 stories about motherhood, chronicling the triumphs and positive effect mothers have on their families, as well as their trials and tribulations. 

The book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!, was meant to honor Newmark's own mom Betty, but when Newmark was to begin editing on December 28 — after a year of coming up with the concept, collecting thousands of submissions, narrowing down the stories, and making the chapters — Betty was rushed to the hospital. Six days later, she passed away at 85 years old. According to a press release, Newmark completed the manuscript for Best Mom Ever! while planning her mother's funeral and caring for her 87-year-old father. The collision of events made for a particularly unique emotional journey for Newmark, who spoke to A Plus about what it was like editing the book while enduring such a great personal loss. Her words will hopefully resonate with anyone who has lost a parent, especially as we approach Mother's Day. 

Check out the interview below to learn more about Newmark's experience editing Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! 



Amy with her mother Betty.
Amy with her mother Betty. Courtesy of Amy Newmark

How did you feel upon receiving that initial phone call about your mom's hospitalization? 

The crazy thing was that I was on my way to record three weeks worth of podcasts when I got the call that she was ill. I told my father to call 911 and force her to go to the hospital no matter what she said. And my brother and sister were able to go to the hospital, so I went ahead and recorded the podcasts, checking my phone for updates every few minutes.

She was still alive over the next six days as I sat by her hospital bed and edited the first two chapters. And then she wasn't. We don't really know what happened, except that she had Type 2 diabetes and everything shut down at once.

Did editing this book contribute to your healing process? Did it help you grieve? 

So I finished editing this new book while planning my mother's funeral, caring for my dazed and confused 87-year-old father, and doing all the things you do after your mother dies. I don't know if it was good or bad for me, but I do know that I loved these stories, and laughed and cried my way through the editing process. Perhaps it accelerated my grieving and healing, or perhaps it was like rubbing salt in my wounds. But I did it, because that's what we do, right? We power through and we fulfill our obligations.

What things did you find helped you pull through?

I think that working on the book helped me focus on what it means to be a mother and a daughter. It was painful, but I felt like I was honoring my mother as I edited the stories. I'm pretty sure that I did an awesome job! I worked really hard to make the stories great, because every one felt like a tribute to my mom.

Betty, Amy Newmark's mother.
Betty, Amy Newmark's mother. Courtesy of Amy Newmark

Did putting together this book lead you to any new realizations about your mother and/or your relationship with her?

I had a major realization while editing the book, and that was that my mother is still with me. I never knew what happened when you lost your mom — did her unconditional support and pride in you disappear, or would you still feel all that? It turns out that it doesn't go away. I still feel all her pride in me, and her concern and support is like an overlay — an umbrella over me sheltering me from whatever storm comes along.

Was there anything surprising you learned about yourself in the process?

I learned that my sense of humor doesn't go away! I was cracking so many jokes during the eulogy that I was concerned that it might seem inappropriate and I deliberately dialed it down. Humor is such a wonderful coping mechanism — at least for me.

Many people take for granted that Mother's Day is also a celebration of those who may no longer be with us. How do you think your own relationship with the holiday might change?

I haven't made my way through my "first" yet. I know that everyone talks about the first of each holiday. I did just go through my 60th birthday without her — the first time that card didn't show up from her. And my daughter got married two days before my birthday and my mother wasn't there. Weird. So I talked about her during my toast and had everyone laughing.

"At Mike and Ella's graduation." 
"At Mike and Ella's graduation."  Courtesy of Amy Newmark

In the introduction of Best Mom Ever! you mentioned that chapters "My Role Model" and "A Mother's Legacy" made you think of your mother, her philosophy on life, and the legacy she left behind. Were there any specific stories that reminded you of her most? 

The chapter that was the hardest for me to edit was the last one in the book, called "A Mother's Legacy," because that was the one where our writers were talking about their mothers who were gone, and what they learned from them.

There was a wonderful story by Trudie Nash that had a big impact on me. In her story, Trudie tells us that she had buried her mother three days earlier and she was driving home after filling up her car with stuff from her mother's house, including all those smelly funeral flowers. It was pouring outside, too, which seemed appropriate given how Trudie was feeling.

As she was driving, Trudie saw a family crossing the street in front of her. There was a mother and a father and two babies. The parents each carried one child and they were unsuccessfully trying to shield them from the rain.

Trudie wished she could offer the family a ride, but her car was packed full. There wasn't room for even one person. But then she saw her mother's leopard print umbrella, sitting where she could reach it. She honked the horn and signaled to the father. She gave him the umbrella and he hurried back to his family with it. The mom and the two children got under that umbrella.

And Trudie realized that one of the things she was going to miss about her mother was just that, her ability to be her "shelter in a storm," which was the title of her story.

I guess that is symbolic of all our mothers — they are our shelters in whatever storms pass through our lives: our umbrellas, our cheerleaders, our chief advisers, and our role models for how to be the very best human beings that we can be. And even when they're gone, their unconditional support for us lives on and we can still feel it surrounding us as we go through our days.

How did you feel turning the final page on this book after completing the editing process? 

Late! Because of everything that happened — my mother's illness, her death, and then the huge job of caring for my father — we were a week late to the printer. I was glad it was over. I poured my heart into this book, but I couldn't maintain that high level of emotions for much longer. I was crying all the time and it was a really tough way to say goodbye to my mother. How ironic that the book I was editing when she died was called Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! 

Life is weird, right?

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