One Year

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. One year. And I have felt it at all the times I would expect to feel it, and I have felt it when I least expected it.

I didn’t sleep at all last night, staring at the clock, thinking of Mother.

I lost my daddy 12 years ago, so I gained some coping skills from that, but grief is grief. It’s going to happen, one way or another. I have been able to keep moving forward more than I did when Daddy died, but I’ve had moments.

I miss her all the time. She gave good advice. She had a calming demeanor. She wasn’t perfect, and she would be the first to admit that, but she was the perfect mama for me and my brother. I never knew exactly how much she loved me till I had my own child.

When do I miss her most?

I stayed in bed most of January. Friends brought meals, and I gave myself permission to give in to the grief for one month. After that, I rejoined the living. Here’s when I’ve missed her most:

  • Every time I’ve gotten in the car. I used to call her and talk (Bluetooth) every time I drove somewhere. Living 400 miles away, I didn’t get to see her all the time, but I called her all the time. I’ve almost called her a thousand times since.
  • When the Alabama Crimson Tide won the National Championship in January, she would have been thrilled. I missed her then…even cried that she missed it.
  • In February, my parents’ wedding anniversary rolled around on the 18th. They married in 1961 on my maternal grandfather’s birthday. Every year, on their anniversary, we would talk about their small wedding and how her Aunt Ola came through to pull it all together. And we talked about her daddy…truly one of the most patient, God-loving men who ever lived.
  • I missed her when my cousin, Patti, was searching for the perfect home for Mother’s dog. In the end, everything worked out, and Sam, the dog, went back home. It worked out the way it was supposed to, but I missed Mother, because I knew she loved Sam, and Sam loved her. I’m sure Sam still wonders about Mother, but she is living a happy life with my nephew in Mother’s home.
  • In March, we vacationed with my brother and his family.  Mother would have loved how much we laughed. She loved when we were all together. We missed her.
  • During our daughter’s eighth grade basketball and lacrosse seasons in winter and spring, she would have wanted regular updates. When something exciting happened, I always wanted to call her.
  • My birthday is in May. She always laughed at how excited I get about my birthday. Nobody loves a birthday like I do, and she would start singing to me days in advance. Missed out on that this year.
  • In the summer, our daughter traveled to Iceland for two weeks. It was not easy for me, but she needed to do it. Mother would have suffered along with me during those two weeks. She would have called me every day, asking about updates from the trip leaders. She also would have been happy my husband and I took our own vacation during that time…visiting South Florida with my brother and sister-in-law. And Mother would have been as excited as I was when our daughter was back on US soil.
  • I also had an eclectic garden in the summer…growing tomatoes, corn, and sunflowers, all favorites of my parents. She would have been amazed at the success I had. I wanted to call her daily and tell her about it.
  • As summer came to an end and school sports teams tryouts came around, she would have suffered through that with me too. Our daughter, a freshman in high school, tried out for varsity field hockey on August 1. I sat in my car, waiting for my daughter to come out after the tryout… to find out if she made the team or not. I wanted to call Mother, but since I couldn’t, I called my friend, Jane, who said all the things she knew my mother would have said. Our daughter made the team, and they won the state championship! I wish Mother could have seen her play.
  • When one of my brother’s sons visited us in Charlotte, I would have loved to share photos with Mother. And when the other one started a new job, a job that can lead to something real for his future, I know she would have been thrilled.
  • When I met Dominique Wilkins, former NBA superstar, in a restaurant several weeks ago, I got in the car and dialed Mother’s number before I realized it. She loved sports and would have loved my photo with Dominique.
  • Any time anyone in the family has gotten sick, I’ve missed Mother, a nurse. Two weeks ago, after an allergic reaction to a manicure (who knew?!?!), my hands broke out, and I sneezed for two days. A couple of days later, I woke up to find an enlarged lymph node in my neck. Fortunately, my pharmacist sister-in-law calmed me down. The next day, I went to the doctor, just like Mother would have advised. She would have called checked on me a few times a day. The node was enlarged because of an infection…viral or bacterial…and yes, it went back to normal after a few days.
  • And the holidays. She would have loved our family gathering at my brother and sis-in-law’s lake house. We all laughed, played games, told funny stories, and ate too much. Mother would have loved it.

I miss that tiny little firecracker of a woman. Occasionally, people who knew her will tell me something I said or did brought back memories of her. If only I had her gift of calm listening.

Now…if you still have your Mother, call her or give her a big hug right now.

 

 

 

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Today Is Mother’s Birthday

My mother was a little firecracker of a woman. She really was little. She claimed to be five feet tall, and maybe she was…with the right shoes. In her final years, she was probably more along the lines of 4’10”. But she had a big heart and a big sense of humor.

Lots of my friends have lost parents. They know what it’s like. It’s life-changing. I have a friend who recently lost her mother, and then her daddy passed away a month later. Heartbreaking.

My daddy died in 2006…pancreatic cancer. My mother passed away in December. Her 79th birthday is today, September 3, but she didn’t make it this far.

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Mother on her 75th birthday, in 2014, with my daughter and my nephew.

Here’s the deal: Mother would not want us to sit around crying about her. She would be thrilled to think we have laughed and told funny stories about her since she passed. She had a great sense of humor that got better with age, and nobody could make her laugh like my brother could. She died on the morning of December 30, and that evening, I met my brother and some of his friends for dinner/drinks. She would love to know the restaurant’s owner, a family friend, had a cup of Bailey’s and coffee at a seat for her.

Interesting that my mother’s birthday coincides with Labor Day, the first weekend of college football season. She loved college football. Actually, she loved watching most sports…baseball, basketball, track, etc. College football was her favorite, though.

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Mother and I used to watch football games “together.” She lived about 400 miles from me, but we would call each other and talk during football games. Everybody knows I don’t actually watch Alabama games till after the fact (I record them), because I think I’m bad luck, but sometimes, Mother would call me after an exciting play and tell me to turn on the TV and watch the replay. Often, she “watched” Bama games with her friend, Nell, via telephone, as well.

This will be my first football season without her. Unfortunately, she missed Alabama winning the National Championship in overtime last year. She would have loved the game-winning touchdown pass. (See that here.) She likely would have watched it a hundred times since, if she’d been here to see it. In fact, she probably wouldn’t read the rest of this blog post, because she would still be watching the video…repeatedly. She would have loved that Alabama won on Elvis’s birthday too, since she was a big Elvis fan.

She’d have had a big smile on her face throughout that Alabama/Louisville game Saturday night.

When mother was in the hospital in her final days, she requested I put bowl games on the television in her room. I remember her waking up at some point and saying, “Isn’t there a football game on?” No matter how bad the bowl game was, she wanted that on instead of anything else. She wasn’t actively watching the games, but she liked them as her background noise. That’s how much she loved football.

She also enjoyed reading the Bible. She wasn’t much of a churchgoer, but she read the Bible daily. After she passed, I found little notes with Bible verses in her room, in the kitchen, in the living room, and on the back porch. A sweet lady named Lois stayed with Mother during the day. Lois knows the Bible, so she and Mother would read the Bible and discuss it. Many times, we thanked God for Lois, and I know Mother did. They enjoyed each other’s company. We all love Lois.

Never one to make a big deal about her own birthday, she would say, “Every day should be celebrated.” And she was right. She was usually right about most things. Lots of people went to Mother for advice or simply to talk. I’ve had countless people tell me what a good listener she was. I’m proud of that. She was always a good listener for me and gave great advice. She was a wise woman. I wrote a blog at Mother’s Day about things she had taught me. You can see it here. I sure miss her…every single day.

Mother loved her family, football, sunflowers, homegrown tomatoes, pound cake (made by our friend, Jane), friends, and she just loved to sit and chat. That’s what I miss most…just sitting and chatting with her. In fact, just yesterday, I wanted to call her to tell her about some folks getting married.

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A big sunflower I cut in my backyard this weekend. It’s our centerpiece for Mother’s birthday.

We ordered a new flower arrangement for her grave over the weekend. Today, in honor of her birthday, I’ll make a tomato sandwich with a tomato from my garden for lunch. She and Daddy used to grow tomatoes every summer…sometimes successfully. She would never believe I grew tomato plants this summer that produced lots of healthy, delicious tomatoes. I’ll cut some of the sunflowers (her favorite and Daddy’s favorite too) from the garden for the table’s centerpiece, and we’ll have some birthday cake with Bailey’s and coffee. And we’ll watch the Florida State/Virginia Tech football game. Florida State was her second favorite team. If she were here, we would talk and laugh.

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If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…

Chicken Necks Make Great Crab Bait (and other Life Lessons From My Mother)

 

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My mother and I, probably February 1974. (I look thrilled to take a picture with her, but she looks like she could use a martini.) One of my favorite pics.

It’s almost Mother’s Day weekend, and this is my first Mother’s Day without my Mother. She passed away in December.

I’ve lost a parent before. My daddy died in 2006. I know how difficult all these “firsts” are. They’re tough, but I also know it’s a good time to reflect on my life and what my parents taught me. In this case, since it’s Mother’s Day, I will reflect on what she taught me. Of course, there is no way to cover it all, but I will do what I can.

My mother wanted nothing more than she wanted to be a mother. She loved being a mother, and she loved mothering…neighbors, neighbors’ kids, classmates, friends…she took care of lots of us. She was an exceptional caretaker…it was what she did.

My earliest memories are from my early years in Brewton, Alabama. I remember wanting to go to school. I must have been almost or barely three. My mother called her preferred preschool, but there was no class for three-yr-olds. The owner/teacher relented after Mother called her several times, but she would only take me if I were potty-trained. I was, so I started preschool.

Other parents got wind of it and called her too. And it worked out well for the teacher, because she then had double the number of students…four-yr-olds for part of the day, and three-yr-olds for part of the day. Nobody loved that teacher or her preschool more than I did.

My mother was my advocate.  She taught me to advocate for my child.

A couple years later, she decided she wanted a Volkswagen microbus for us to take on road trips. After searching for the perfect one, my parents bought a beige and white one. Mother couldn’t drive a stick-shift, but she learned quickly as soon as we got the bus. I remember stalling at traffic lights in downtown Brewton as she learned to work the clutch, but she did it. She was determined. At 34, she learned a new skill…driving a stick. Daddy would always laugh that we chose to take the un-air-conditioned bus on road trips. “We have two perfectly good air-conditioned cars sitting in the driveway, yet we opt to travel in this!”

Mother taught us to try new things, and she taught us to be resilient.

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When I was seven, halfway through second grade, my family moved to Spanish Fort, Alabama, a community on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Some mothers would be nervous about a new place and new school, and the kids would feel that, but my mother approached the move as if it were an adventure. The transition was a smooth one at my new school and neighborhood.

Living near the water was a new adventure for all of us, and Mother took full advantage of that. Unafraid of a new challenge, she talked with locals and learned how she could take us out to the Fairhope Municipal Pier to catch crabs from Mobile Bay. She learned chicken necks are good crab bait, and she learned how to tie them into the nets and how to hang the nets from the pier. Back then, it was OK to hang the nets. She learned how to get the crabs out of the nets and cooked them up when we got home. She even made her own recipe for crab cakes.

She taught us to be adventurous.

For more information on Fairhope, click here.

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We spent almost every afternoon and many evenings at the pier. One day we were catching lots of crabs, so we stayed into the night, checking those nets regularly. At some point, I was stooped down, pulling up one of the nets to check it for crabs, and I looked up. I saw some men coming down the pier dressed all in white. I’d never seen anything like it.

I walked over to my mother and asked, “What are those clowns doing here?” It was actually members of the a white supremacist group. She said to me, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. They won’t mess with you. I need to go over here and sit with Miss Essie, so they think she’s with us.” She then got up and walked over to a bench to sit with a sweet, elderly African-American lady we had met months before, and with whom we often visited on the pier. Soon thereafter, we left the pier for the night, and Miss Essie left with us. Once we knew Miss Essie was OK, we got in the car, and it was then Mother explained everything to us.

Mother taught us compassion and that it’s important to help other people. She also taught us we are all created equal.

It’s important for me to tell you that most people I know who grew up in Alabama have NEVER seen the aforementioned white supremacist group. That sighting on the Fairhope Pier that night (I think it was 1976) was extremely rare, especially in quaint, upscale towns like Fairhope, which is why it is memorable. I don’t want readers to think it is/was a regular occurrence. In fact, I can’t name even one of my friends who has encountered the group anywhere. 

No matter where we lived, Mother volunteered. Sometimes she volunteered at the school, and often, she volunteered with the Red Cross. She was a Registered Nurse, and while I’m not sure what she did with the Red Cross, I know she went into underserved neighborhoods. She used to come home talking about what nice people she had met along the way.

She also seemed to always meet people who had elderly family members who needed care. In one place we lived, an elderly couple lived across the street, and Mother would check on them every day, helping them with tasks on a regular basis. After we moved, an elderly gentleman around the corner needed assistance a few times a week. Mother helped him. We received several late night calls over the years…people needing her assistance, and she was always willing to help. Not many people knew she did this, because she didn’t toot her own horn. She believed it diminished the deed if you went around boasting about it.

Mother taught us to help those who are less fortunate.

When I was a teenager, I learned a lot more from my mother. Just yesterday I was dress shopping with my 14-yr-old daughter, and I thought of my mother when I heard myself say to my daughter after she gave “thumbs down” to another dress I held up, “You don’t really know what it looks like till you try it on.” That was straight from my mother. That, and “Always put on lipstick before you leave home.”

While she taught me not to be superficial, she also taught me to try look “presentable.”

As we went through high school and college, my brother and I learned that our mother had a great sense of humor. That’s not to say we didn’t get in trouble, but she didn’t make a big deal out of things that weren’t a big deal. She also tried to approach situations with humor, and the good Lord knows, she loved to laugh. Even in the last year of her life, she loved when our now-adult friends from college came over to visit at her house. I think it reminded her of when we were younger. We would all sit around and laugh, and that was when she was her happiest.

She taught us not to take life too seriously, and she taught us about perspective.

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Mother and my daughter at dinner one night.

Mother was a tough chick, and we are who we are because of her and Daddy. I like to think I’m passing some of their wisdom and humor to my daughter.

When mother passed in December, we wrote her obituary with all the normal information about family, but we also included a list of things she had taught us. Because she did not want to have a funeral service, we thought it was important for people to know who she was. Here’s the list:

LESSONS FROM MY MOTHER:

Nobody goes hungry on Mama’s watch. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind. It’s OK to laugh at yourself. Save for a rainy day, and when it does rain, splash in the puddles. Take care of your brother/sister, your children, and other people’s children. Enjoy coffee with friends at Waffle House on a regular basis. Call your mama often. Raise your children to be independent, and encourage them to spread their wings. Spend time with your children and their friends (especially at Coaches Corner). Ladies never leave home without lipstick. It’s never too late to learn to drive a stick shift. If you break an arm, you can make your own sling till you get to the ER. Always say “I love you” at the end of a phone call or visit. What other people think is not important, because God knows what you are doing. Laughter cures a lot of ills. Doing something nice for someone else will make you happy. Never pay full price if you don’t have to. Children/teens sometimes think small things are big deals; remember they are big deals to them. Pizza will cure the Sunday night blues. Don’t schedule events during football season. Learn new skills your whole life. Be grateful. Turn it all over to God. You can’t tell what clothes look like till you try them on. Chicken necks are perfect bait for crab nets. Defend people who can’t defend themselves. It’s more important to get into Heaven than it is to get into Harvard. If you want to have good friends, you have to be a good friend. Life is not a dress rehearsal; make it good. All people are created equal.
We loved our mother, and we will make a toast to her on Mother’s Day. God Bless Mama.