Thursday, July 14, 2016

Making Memories

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.

I said goodbye to my mother this week. Perhaps that’s not solely true, for I think we had been saying our farewells for some time now. When I visited, she would always have something that she wished to give me either because I was the only daughter and she felt it was something that should be passed on to a daughter—like the beautiful wooden jewelry box my father gave her that played Lara’s theme from Dr. Zhivago, or the college notebooks from an uncle who liked to write short stories apparently more than he wanted to take notes on botany while he was at university—or it might have been something I gave her that she wanted to give back to me. Those things do hold memories, and they make me smile when I look at them, but the greater gift was in being able to sit down and share those memories with Mom while we looked at them and talked about them.

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.

She wanted us to learn to make our own decisions, and then live with them—right or wrong. “Pick out what you want to wear today.” I can remember standing at my closet and agonizing over that choice when I couldn’t have been more than four or five. Mom swears I always picked my fanciest dress. From teenage and adult years spent in jeans and barn boots, I find that hard to believe.

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 will miss her presence, her guidance, and that boundless energy drawing me out of my shell and daring me to do more than I thought I could, but I am so glad I had these years with her to build the memories I can carry on with me now. I would encourage all of you to look at your own parents, children, grandparents, and grandchildren and take advantage of that time. Make those memories so you can look back with a smile, sit a spell, and say, “I remember when…”

I love you, Mom. Thanks.

6 comments:

  1. You captured Grandma so well. I knew her that way too, but now believe I can see the other sides of her that you knew. Thanks for sharing Aunt Laura.

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  2. Such a beautiful tribute. I lost my Mom 3 years ago. I miss her everyday, but she is in a better place and I will see her again

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  3. I just met this LADY a month or so ago, very nice very sweet and very friendly, and that's the part that I WILL HOLD ON TOO

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  4. One of the very best eulogies I've ever read or heard, Laura. You captured your mother's life and attitudes perfectly in this piece. She's in a happy place, catching up with those who went on before her. I'm happy she's there now and happy you all had the opportunity to tell her how much she meant to you, helping her through her transition. Please know you all are in my thoughts and prayers.

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  5. Eileen Ackerman LacombeAugust 20, 2016 at 6:34 AM

    Hi Laura,I'm sorry to hear of the passing of your mom. And what a wonderful essay on her life and spirit. I have many fond memories of our years together on Wythe Hill Circle and your mom is prominent in many of them! I know this must be a difficult time for you, but please know my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

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