It is the natural order of things for us to be born, to grow, to foster a new generation and then to die, but the process is never smooth or easy. There are always bumps along the road either for us personally, or for those we love. As parents, we want to smooth the way for our children, to save them from some of the rough spots that we encountered. As children, we dread that time that must inevitably come in which we must say goodbye to our parents.
Memories are what we make every day with the people we care about, so let me tell you about some of mine.
I remember my mother taking my baby crib and converting it into a canopy bed. Why does this matter? It shows an essential part of her character. She could take almost anything and find a way to repurpose it to use a catchphrase of today. This was nothing new or admirably resource saving. It was simply the way that she was raised. Nothing was wasted. That crib saw new life for me as a toddler bed, and it also holds the memory of her climbing into it with me when I was small and had a nightmare, or getting me out of it during the thunderstorm I was afraid of to hold my hand while we stood at the window and she helped me overcome that fear.
Speaking of fear—probably not the right word—was the knowledge that she took her role as a parent seriously. When we had done something wrong, there was never any comment of “wait til your father gets home.” Punishment was meted out quickly and fairly. With four kids to raise, she managed to wear one leather belt completely out and had to get a new one. We had either learned enough she didn’t need to wear out a second, or she decided we’d all gotten too big to spank.
Mom wanted to make sure we had the skills to live on our own…or she might have been just a master of delegation. We knew enough about cooking to feed ourselves, enough about sewing to hem and sew buttons on. She might have tried to teach me more, but that sewing thing didn’t take. We learned how to read maps, set up household bill paying accounts and filing systems. She taught me the basics of gardening and so many things I could never possibly write them all down.
One of the things she taught me was that building a strong marriage takes work. Love alone is not enough, though it is the foundation. It takes commitment, acceptance, and a willingness to truly forgive. I think that probably applies to any lasting relationships in our lives.
If I had to summarize my mother in just a few words, I would say “boundless energy.” She ran our house in such a way that I have no doubt she could have been a corporate CEO in this day and age. But that wasn’t the role she was raised to expect in her generation. Instead, she turned that drive, focus, and energy on her family—providing an anchor and stability for our dad as well as us. She also channeled that energy into volunteer work. I can remember “helping” with Heart Fund campaigns and political ones as well. Many times, I went with her to help deliver for Meals on Wheels. She was always active in something.
She used to wear us out on vacations with going places and doing things. In fact, it was when she looked at me and said, “I can’t do that anymore” that I realized we had entered another phase where the time we shared when I visited would be more about reflecting on what we had done than creating new memories. Yet, even this was another layer of making memories. If living in the South for the past quarter century plus has taught me nothing else, it’s that taking time to just sit a spell and talk has immeasurable value. You can learn a lot when you close your mouth and listen.
We talked about death too. It is a part of life that none of us can avoid. Mom was 90, and she would be the first to tell you that was about twenty-five years more than she expected to have because her parents passed away in their sixties. Every time she would say she didn’t expect to still be alive, I would remind her of one of her cousins who was well over a hundred before she passed away. At first, it was a joke, then maybe a wish, and finally I think it was a fear.
Age takes its toll on all of us, and Mom was tired. People have described her as a fighter, a scrapper, a firecracker, and she was all of those things, but ultimately, she was simply ready to say goodbye to all of us still travelling our own journey so that she could go on to the next phase of hers.
Of all my many precious memories of my mother, being able to be with her as she said goodbye to this earthly life will be one of them. She wanted to die at home, so we granted that wish to her. We surrounded her with family and love, held her hands, and let her know that we loved her, and that it was okay to give up that fight and say goodbye because her job was done here. She had raised us to become adults who had found our own paths to walk, had learned to live with our own mistakes, and to forgive ourselves and others for those blunders that inevitably occur.
We opened the door to her patio during those last few minutes, so she could hear the birds singing, but more importantly so that her spirit could depart and have a pathway to Heaven. I have no doubt that my dad, my brother John, Mom’s parents and her sister were all there to take her hand and welcome her in.
I love you, Mom. Thanks.