My mom always had two ice packs. Whenever she was using one, the other was in the ice box. Not just the freezer, the ice box. She’d swap them out every four hours, send our dogs Max and Ella out to the backyard (making sure they didn’t run out into the cornfield), and return to the dark, comfortable cave of her and my dad’s bedroom.
I remember the years before the migraines. I remember my mom being completely healthy, excelling at the full-time job of raising two sons. During the school year, she would get up to see us off and would be there when we got off the bus. In the summer, my dad worked six or seven days a week at the country club, so my mom coordinated our sports schedules. God knows how many times she held her nose on the way home from baseball practice with a minivan full of 10 year-olds. When there wasn’t baseball, she’d drive us 30 minutes to meet up with my dad for dinner and a few holes of golf.
Golf wasn’t on my mom’s radar growing up. There was golf in her town, of course, but sports weren’t her thing. The youngest of four kids in a divorced household, she chose to focus on academics instead of athletics.
She and my dad were neighbors growing up, but they didn’t start dating until after college, right when my dad was getting into the golf business. He got his PGA license the day I was born in 1993. All at once, my mom became both a mother and the wife of a club pro.
Being married to a golf professional, or to anyone in the golf industry, is not easy. My dad was out of the house at 6 a.m., and he worked weekends. Monday was supposedly his day off, but his summer Mondays were taken up by corporate outings at the club. The winters were a reprieve; he got to be home for most of December through February. But the rest of the year put a lot of pressure on my mom to keep me and my brother in line.
My mom had always gotten migraines occasionally—four or five times a year. Usually they weren’t too serious. But in 2007, extreme headaches took over her world. She would be debilitated five to seven days a week, having to hide away with her ice packs for hours, even days at a time.
We tried every medication, doctor, and treatment, but nothing helped. She spent many, many mornings in her room, extra thick blankets draped over the windows to block the sun. In the afternoon, she would move to the shade of our backyard, listening to the wind rustle the corn stalks with Max by her side. That dog was our saving grace in those years. He kept my mom company through her suffering as no human could.
After it became clear that the pain wouldn’t subside, my mom had no choice. She had to adjust to life with migraines. Through all of it, she continued driving me 30 minutes to the club so I could practice or play with my dad. Often she would come into the pro shop, say hi, and immediately turn around and head home. The days when she could go about her routine without fear of a migraine were gone, yet somehow she kept my and my brother’s lives normal.
Golf became the center of my life in high school. I started playing competitively, saving money from caddying so I could travel and compete in the summer. Most of the tournaments were local ones I could drive to myself, but I always had a couple of out-of-town trips. That meant my mom would drive me hours away, which clearly took a toll on her.
Whether my golf was good or bad didn’t seem to matter. The highlight of every trip came after my rounds, when my mom and I would regroup at the hotel, head out for a bite to eat, and walk around whatever town we were in. They weren’t just golf tournaments; they were mother-son adventures. The weeks she felt okay were obviously more fun for her, but she always seemed to like the one-on-one time with me.
The competitive experience ended up being crucial for me, and I was able to play golf in college. Although my parents weren’t able to travel to many tournaments, they made it for my final event at Prairie Dunes. My mom was migraine-free that week, able to actually enjoy her time in Kansas. I didn’t play my best golf, but I ended up earning Academic All-American honors for the second year in a row. I was proud to finish off that accomplishment in front of them.
After three-putting for bogey on the final hole of my collegiate career, I put my clubs on my coach’s cart and walked a mile back to the clubhouse with Mom and Dad. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had on a golf course. Twenty minutes just to cherish my last moments as a student-athlete, to appreciate everything my parents went through to help me achieve my dreams.
As of today, Mother’s Day 2020, I’ve known my mom as a chronic-migraine sufferer for almost as many years as I haven’t. In that time, she has put me and my brother through high school and college, moved with my dad from Chicago to Colorado, and lost her buddy Max to old age. She now lives 1,006 miles away from me. The migraines have gotten better, but they still lurk continually at the edges of her daily life.
My mom’s biggest fear is that when I look back on my childhood, I will remember only the migraines. That I won’t remember how great a mother she was, how she devoted her life to me and my brother, how she was so much more than just the person we brought ice packs to.
She doesn’t need to worry. This is how I see her: she is one of the kindest and most important people in my life; she helped me accomplish everything I wanted, no matter how hard it was for her; she is my role model for perseverance. I don’t remember the migraines. I remember how she overcame them.
Here’s to you, Mom.
This article is part of The Fried Egg’s Sunday Brunch series, which focuses on golf stories that don’t fit the usual categories. Find out more about the series here.