//Lisa Kazazian in July 1997. Photo provided by her mother, Linda Rittenhouse Kazazian.
Most obituaries are not written by the people who knew the person who died. For good reason. Usually, obits are concise, whittling a person’s entire life down to a paragraph of words, hitting the most important notes and moving on. Most people are worth more than that.
My mom, Lisa Irene Kazazian, passed away on April 25, 2020, at age 53. She is survived by her parents, Ed and Linda Kazazian, her sister, Nina Hermine Kazazian, and me, her daughter, Madison Irene Lauterbach.
She wrote in part of her will that she would like people to remember this about her: “I loved with all my heart and soul. I was passionate, compassionate, creative and would have done anything for my daughter–the Sunshine & light of my life.”
I am that Sunshine. I am the only child she birthed, loved and taught.
It has taken me six weeks to write this because I have felt lost without her and it has been an incredible struggle organizing my thoughts and feelings about her death. We had a tumultuous relationship. She was my best friend, and she was an addict and alcoholic who made years of my life miserable when she was using. She missed most of my important birthdays, screamed at me when I wouldn’t buy her alcohol, and was the reason for all of the 911 calls I’ve made.
But I also remember her as a kind, loving, generous, thoughtful, respectful, considerate caring mother, daughter, and friend who loved travel, photography and her cats, who protected and loved her until the very end. When I found my mother’s body, her oldest surviving cat Smitten was perched on her stomach, waiting for help to arrive.
I wish I could make cheese toast with her, make her laugh or even get annoyed with her again. We used to love sitting on her bed, eating avgolemono soup and tiropita that I picked up from Pete’s Central One on my way to her house and watching the latest TV show that I had gotten her “sucked into,” like Grey’s Anatomy and Brooklyn 99. I got her into Marvel and the Harry Potter movies, which she especially enjoyed watching with me because I “explained them so well” to her. But she really loved the Fast and the Furious movies and Disney’s Eight Below, each of which she must have watched over 20 times.
My mom spent so many hours watching television because she was unreliably employed for many years. She often referred to herself as a jack of all trades, having worked so many different jobs. She graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s in English and went on to receive her teaching certificate from Metropolitan State College of Denver, now University. She taught kindergarten for a period of time before she was fired due to an arrest. Teaching was her favorite occupation, especially the absurdity of kids that age. When “Who Let the Dogs Out” by Baha Men came out, her students sang the chorus nonstop for months afterward, which drove her crazy but became one of her favorite memories.
After she left teaching, she worked at Pinnacol Assurance for a few years. I remember when she got a promotion and how proud she was of herself. Those accomplishments for her were few. The moments where she realized her potential and value are some of my favorites.
In the years since she left Pinnacol in the mid-2000s, she worked for short spurts of time or not at all. Most recently, she volunteered at Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue on weekends, which gave her a renewed sense of self-worth and satiated her desire to collect more cats. At the time of my mom’s death, she still had two of the five cats she had adopted over the years. She was determined to get to the point where she could travel and move out of Colorado without the cat attachments, but resisting the pull of more cats was a struggle for her. Working at the rescue allowed her to make new feline friends and avoid signing up for another 20-year commitment. She loved telling me all about the rescues and the people she worked with.
Since my mom passed away I’ve been keeping a list of things I remember about her that make me smile. If I was on the phone with her and she caught sight of the sunset, she’d tell me to go to the window to look. Her camera roll was filled with photos of cloud formations she thought were interesting. When we went to New Zealand together, we rented a Juicy campervan and drove through the night from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park. On the drive, hundreds of rabbits darted across the road, and I had to swerve and slam on the brakes constantly to avoid them. I managed to only hit one of them in the four-hour drive, something we would laugh about in the following years.
The first time I accidentally ran over a squirrel, I immediately called her and started sobbing. She was the first person I called about every difficult thing in my life. The day before she died we FaceTimed for over an hour. We talked about relationship difficulties, the progress I was making with Ms. Mayhem and laughed about the cats interrupting the video. She told me she was proud of me, of what I was creating and what I had already accomplished. When I think about that last conversation, my heart breaks because I couldn’t have asked for a better goodbye. I got the best of everything from our relationship: support, encouragement and humor. The last thing I got to tell her is that I loved and missed her.
In the weeks since my mom’s death, so many people have reached out to me to tell me their stories about her. I’ve realized just how much joy my mom gave to those who met her. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience her full, unfiltered light.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a celebration of life for Lisa Kazazian is delayed until it is safe for large groups to gather again. Updates can be found on her Facebook page.