It’s hard to believe that it has been six years since the last Mother’s Day I spent with Mama. It seems like a minute ago on one hand and like an eternity on the other.
There is not a time when I don’t miss her, wondering what she would say or think about things with us kids, her grandkids, the world. In many ways, just like with Daddy, I’m glad she’s been spared the last six years.
That last Mother’s Day with Mama was quiet and subdued. Mama was still recovering from a gall bladder infection. Because she was in the advanced stages of congestive heart failure, vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease, Mama was sleeping more than she was awake as her body was shutting down in preparation for death.
I knew she didn’t have long, so I cherished the times when she was awake and lucidity returned.
I read a lot to her in those last months. We’d sit on the couch, either holding hands or with my arm around her, holding her close to me as she would rest her head on my shoulder, and I’d read. Books she liked and the Bible were what we shared together during that time. It was a gift for both of us and it reminded me of when I was little and the roles were reversed.
One of my earliest memories of Mama is sitting on her lap as she read books to me. I can still remember her telling me about the delight she experienced when she saw my eyes light up when I understood something new.
Mama was a reader. She loved the library as a child, both as a sanctuary from an otherwise hard and, often, abusive childhood and as the key to a world beyond anything she knew or could imagine.
She used to tell us that she remembered telling the librarian that she was going to read every book in the world. Mama would laugh at her little girl self and tell us, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
Books, including the Bible, saved Mama and her sanity in many ways. The Bible was one of the first books she tried to read and, even though she couldn’t read or understand a lot of the words, she clung to it as her hope.
Anybody who knew my mama well knows the story that when she was six years old, uprooted because of her dad’s death from life and love in northeast Tennessee, Mama found herself in a home in Greenville, SC with little love, little joy, and lots of trouble.
Soon after Mama got there, she crawled under the front porch one day, scared, tearful, and alone, and asked Jesus if He would be her friend. It was her first prayer, even if she didn’t realize it. But it was answered and Mama never wavered in her faith and belief in God, Jesus Christ, and the word of God.
Mama would study her Bible every day until she could no longer read or comprehend a lot of the words. It was an incredible example to me that I am grateful for, and I was thankful for the opportunity to continue to read the words of God, knowing that they are truth and faithful, giving us both comfort, almost up until that last breath Mama took.
Mama loved literature.
While her primary college education was science – she was a medical technologist – she decided just before we kids left home to go back to college and get a degree in Biology.
At 50, Mama’s mind was razor sharp and she excelled at everything except Algebra (she had a terror of math, probably because of trauma: her 9th-grade Algebra teacher keeled over dead in class after suffering a stroke). So every evening after dinner, Mama and I’d sit down together and I would walk her through doing Algebra. My tutoring and her determination were good enough to earn her a C in the class, which we were both thrilled about.
Mama took literature classes as her electives for her Biology degree and decided after completing that degree that she was going to continue and get a degree in English Language and Literature.
There was a part of Mama that really blossomed during that period and it was good to see because it was good for her (and kudos to Daddy for saying, “Go for it, honey. I’ve got your back all the way.”)
So today, as I’m paying tribute to Mama, I pay tribute to her love of learning, her tenacity, her determination, and her perseverance. Mama never quit and never gave up, no matter how hard life got or what was thrown at her.
I am reminded of that when I get to edges of my cliffs and think to myself, “I just can’t take anymore.” And, because of my faith but also the very powerful example of my mama, I just either take a step back away from the cliffs, or if there is no other option than to walk out in thin air on faith, I take a step forward and I keep going.
Mike Rutherford (Mike and the Mechanics) wrote a powerful song called “In the Living Years.” One of his laments is that we often don’t get to tell our parents all that we should and want to while they are still alive. I think part of it is that we really don’t understand enough or appreciate all they were and did for us until time and maturity teach us as only they can.
So, while I can’t thank Mama face to face today, I will thank her here. For being my mom. For loving me in spite of me a lot of the time. For leaving me a legacy of footsteps to walk in until my breath leaves and I join her and Daddy in sleep in the grave, awaiting the next chapter of our lives together and with our family of humanity.
I love you, Mama. Sleep well. See you soon.