Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12
Standing at my mother’s gravesite, I choked out the words, “I feel like I know more about mom now than I did when she was living.”
How could this be? My mother had been in my life for 52 years. How did I not know and appreciate who she really was until she was gone?
And that my friends is what I reflect on in this week’s blog. It will be nearly three years in April that my mother passed away—but it only took me a few months after her death to realize this woman I called “mom,” was so much more than I ever knew her to be.
Over the weeks after her sudden passing, I, with my three sisters, poured through her photographs, scrapbooks, yearbooks, journal entries and other personal belongings. In those items were hidden treasures—keys to unlocking my mother’s deepest feelings and thoughts—what brought her joy and what brought her to tears. I was seeing my mom in ways I had never taken the time to see her before.
And it wasn’t just in delving into her memorabilia, but it was also in my quiet reflection time that I was able to see who my mom really was. It brings feelings of guilt to admit this, but for many years, I saw my mother as weak. Now that I’ve been shaped by many life experiences, I’ve come to know differently, and pray that somehow my mother knows just how proud I am of her—especially what she modeled in the last few years of her life.
In 2012, my mom was admitted to a rehab facility after spending weeks in the hospital recovering from a serious illness. Though she had her complete intellect, she was confined to a bed in a nursing home for two years before she died—relying on others for basic needs (bathing, dressing, getting out of bed and into a wheelchair, etc.).
Many of the caregivers at the facility were compassionate, but sadly, there were many who were not. It broke my heart to hear of how she had been treated. And yes, time and time again, we addressed the issues with nursing home administration. My mom was able to voice her concerns independently, but my sisters and I also advocated for her.
As I sit here typing this, tears flow freely as I think about her strength through it all, and how she was always so dignified. The kindhearted staff members, lovingly called my mother the “Queen.” Her hair was always styled, eyebrows drawn on, and the pièce de résistance—her smile—always accentuated by her bright lipstick. My mom also was known for her many pins, which she wore every day to adorn her shirts and vests.
But it wasn’t her outside appearance that resonated with her friends at the nursing home, it was her deep compassion for the other residents. Despite many of them not being able to communicate, my mom took time to get to know them—their names, interests and stories. And, she treated them with love and respect.
In particular, I remember Jane (not her real name). She was non-verbal and was only able to moan, nod her head or wave her hands. She understood others, but wasn’t able to communicate in a way that seemed meaningful. But my mom was able to connect with Jane. And though others would turn away to avoid her, my mom treated her like a friend. When Jane learned of my mom’s passing, she cried in visceral groans. And when she saw me and my sisters as we came to gather my mom’s belongings, Jane reached out with flailing hands and great despondent utterings. All that Jane knew was that my mom had loved her, and she had loved my mom.
It would be easy to go on and on about all of the things I learned about my mom as I reflected on her life just a few days after she was gone from mine. In the weeks following her death, I wept and yearned for more time to ask her about her life, and to tell her what an amazing woman I now knew her to be.
And so my friends, I have some advice for you today:
Take a moment, actually take “many” moments with your parents. And, make those moments meaningful. Ask your moms and dads about their childhoods, wishes, dreams, disappointments, friends, hobbies, passions and victories. For you may not have tomorrow with them, but you have this moment!