After three weeks of hospice care, my mother quietly passed away in her own bed, surrounded by friends and family, on my 38th birthday. She never met the youngest of our eight children, much less their future spouses and the great-grandchildren she could have known in a healthier life, with a healthier body.
I’m now the age she was when she died. My heart aches not only for the pain she endured but also for nineteen years worth of memories she’s missed.
I’m determined not to take these days for granted. Life is a gift. And so I’m dedicating this year to my mother, to living my best year — our best year — and doing all the things she could have done if she’d been healthier or if she were still here with us.
Recently I painted our dark kitchen cabinets white. On the second day, when I realized they required a minimum of six coats, I wanted to quit. Obviously, this wasn’t an option. A couple of things carried me through those two weeks of work: my husband’s help and encouragement and a new thought: I would dedicate the work to my mother’s memory and do it for both of us.
This year I’ll make a host of treasured memories, some anticipated, others unexpected, in her honor. Graduating my youngest daughter (my mom was too sick to attend my younger sister’s high school graduation). Taking a mother/daughter trip to Nashville to see a Taylor Swift concert. Attending some Braves home games (my mother was a faithful fan who kept her own scorebook during postseason games). Helping one of our daughters plan her wedding and enter the next stage of life.
My mother was a faithful member of the Doubleday Book Club; our den had a wall of bookcases filled with hardback fiction titles. I devoured them as a teen, which contributed to my lifelong love affair with a good story. Although I’ve released non-fiction books as both author and contributor, I read novels almost exclusively. I’ve found fiction easy to read but intimidating to write, but I’m working on something now and it’s fun to imagine my mother engrossed in a story I wrote for both of us.
Lately, I find myself playing more card and board games, or sitting on the couch watching baseball with the family. I’ve told my children I’ll go to the pool with them this summer, which I usually avoid (the pool, not the children). More than anything, I want to be present in the lives of my people. The effect of my mother’s absence in my life illustrates the importance of my presence.
My mother faced a series of medical decisions, some seemingly innocuous, that snowballed into a life marked by medical intervention and the quest for relief from pain and suffering. Dependence on doctors and pharmaceuticals dominated her existence; it stripped her of autonomy. Because of her experience, I don’t make health decisions lightly. Those chains that confined her purchased my freedom.
Yesterday I walked with my son and grandson on what we fondly call the Adventure Trail. My mother used a cane for years and had a disability parking permit; she joked that we drove her places to get a good parking space. She didn’t have the ability to do basic things, like grocery shop, without help. I want to walk my dog and hike our neighborhood trails knowing how happy my mother would be that I can. Lord, please don’t let me forget that mobility is a gift.
Although each day was a struggle, my mother lived with dignity. She was wise, outspoken, and honest. She was weak but not lazy. She had a sense of humor and laughed a lot. Her family was precious to her. She was always there for me. Always. She conserved energy, hoping she’d have the stamina to make it to church. Her faith sustained her.
She lived out lessons you can build a life on.
“My child, listen when your father corrects you.
Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.
What you learn from them will crown you with grace
and be a chain of honor around your neck.”
Proverbs 1:8-9 (NLT)
I hope my story demonstrates the power of a mother’s influence. Our children gain an understanding of the world and how to function in it from us. It’s true that motherhood can be a thankless job. With young children, there’s much work and little recognition. With older children, you may feel forgotten or unneeded. My mother meant a lot to me, but I didn’t always tell her so. Remember: God sees you. He sees what you do. Your dedication to your family not only benefits them, but it honors Him.
My mother had faults; I learned from them too. Perfection isn’t possible this side of heaven. We do the best we can because it matters. Ripples of my mother’s influence linger, still spreading throughout my family years beyond her passing. This is the impact we have on our children’s lives.
We celebrate mothers in May, whether they’re here with us or live on in memory. Remembering what they stood for and what they taught us, let us honor them in an effort to embody their best.
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