Some of my earliest memories are flashes of the late 60's and muted colors- greens, reds, a friendly Irish setter, snow (lots of snow), a lighthouse, and a friend who wore an eye patch.
Pretty random, but all of those memories have one thing in common - my Mom. She was the one that built a snow igloo in Boston and giggled with us as we froze, took us to the lighthouse and romped with us on the Massachusetts shoreline after exploring Plymouth and the MayFlower. She was not afraid to be silly, take us on adventures, chew us out, or make things fun. She worked hard to make sure we knew how to do chores, do our best in school, be responsible for our decision and actions, and learn about Jesus. She taught me how to fly kites, fish, hunt for pheasants (yes, with a gun), make things that we couldn't afford, save for what we wanted or needed, and know that we were loved.
Mom would have been so horrified to know how the Alzheimer's had left her. I know that's why she tried to hide it so long from us. She learned early in life to be independent, and I feel she knew something wasn't right. She knew things were changing. She would have mourned
|Momma and Sister|
Missing her grandchildren getting married, and having babies of their own.
- Not being close to Sister and the closeness they shared.
- Not being in her own home, church, and with her friends
- Taking care of "her birds" and helping others like she did.
In the midst of all this, I knew I was losing the Mom I always had, but I didn't want others to think less of Mom or forget who she was. I didn't want the Alzheimer's to define her or us. It was just a final speed bump and challenge that she would experience and endure. There are a few things I am thankful for during these last few years:
- For the first time, we spent an incredible amount of time together that we normally would not have had. It wasn't easy, but we did have some laughter, many tears, challenges, and memories. It was a strange, but rare gift I am so thankful for.
- Momma would not remember all the hurts, frustrations, anxiety, the health issues it presented, nor how it made her behave.
- It brought our family closer through the challenges and gave us experiences that helped us to empathize with others walking through this journey.
Our family has been "fortunate" that we have not experienced grief and loss, but we knew that it was coming. With Mom, I grieved with each visit and memory that would pop up, and with her disease, there is a dual grieving time and I didn't quite understand that completely, but I live it almost daily.
It's in the still of the night, when all other distractions of the day, are quiet, that the only thing moving is my brain. It's then that the memories and pictures start playing in technicolor, and somehow, my brain starts adding to those memories. It doesn't matter how tightly I close my eyes or try to think of nothing, they rush at me like waves on the beach, constant, inching closer and closer, till I'm left with a restlessness that is resolved only by filling the void with quiet nighttime distractions.
I wanted to share with you what I shared with family and friends at Mom's celebration service following her death. It is about things I learned from Mom, but I wish I had added one more paragraph - what I learned from Mom about Faith and God, but my brain was attempting to put a whole life into five minutes, and I just couldn't do it. Mom would not have liked all the attention and people talking about what a great person she was. But we did. We tried to honor Mom during her service, so Elvis, Alan Jackson, and Cat Stevens "came" to sing, and at Mom's graveside service we shot off fireworks. Yep! Right there in the cemetery we lit her favorite "One Bad Mother" and the 100 Missile shots. I think she would have been delighted, but she would have made sure we picked up every bit of trash because that's how she was.
Mom taught me a lot of lessons growing up. They weren’t through lectures or even those switches I had to cut from the tree out back, but they were through daily life. riding a bike down a dusty gravel road, learning to balance without holding on to the handle bars while clapping and singing about Peter and John healing a lame man.
“If you fall off, you get back on and don’t give up.” This is what my mom told my 8-year-old self when my new birthday gift, a palomino, decided to bolt and I didn’t have my feet in the stirrups. When she finally caught up with us 5 blocks later, I was shaking and couldn’t wait to get off that horse… But she wouldn’t let me and made me ride that horse, with corrected stirrups, all the way home. We later had the best memories riding our horses in the country. She didn’t once tell me I couldn’t break or train my colt, but encouraged me to work every day, sharing what she knew from growing up on the farm, showing and checking to make sure I wasn’t missing any important steps.
Don’t quit… Mom never let me quit anything, just because it was hard or I lost interest. The first day of college was always the hardest for me, and exactly three times, I called her from the payphone, begging her to come get me and let me come back home. She would drive over two hours to the college, help me settle in and then drive all the way back home.
Be frugal and Creative – She had many interest - wood working, crafting, taking care of wildlife birds, and taking care of others. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but from the time I was a baby, mom created clothing for me until the time I married. Side-by-side, she taught me to read patterns, make short cuts, and pattern alteration. Hands on learning at it’s best! When I was growing up, she created the cutest and fun birthday cakes that looked so professional. This only frustrated me when I attempted to do the same for my children and they ended up looking like something a child would do.
Plan and know!!! She was a planner… She would research anything she wanted to purchase, pros and cons, or plan to do. That is something I inherited from her. She always knew the day of the month of the year that she would pay off any bill or save for what she needed. Sometimes I think that may have been a curse she tossed my direction. As the sign changer for TCC, she prided herself at not using the same saying more than once.
Life is an adventure – Have fun and laugh! We used to play tons of games growing up, and whether it was Candy Land, Gin Rummy, or Yahtzee, she never went easy on me and let me win. A win against her was earned! When my brother graduated from college, she drove to Joplin to stay with me so we could go to his graduation. The night before the ceremony, she decided she wanted to TeePee and fork his yard. It was a ton of fun to sneak over there and decorate, but a little instruction on holding on to the end of the roll when you throw it was needed. She loved being silly, holidays with the family and making a big deal of accomplishments, small or large, but she didn’t like the focus to be on herself.
Grandkids – She was an awesome grandma and loved seeing them when she could, creating memories and traditions as she went. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye on how she wanted to spoil them, but she loved them like crazy. From creating giant bubble solutions, teaching them to drive stick-shift, holding tea-parties, shooting off works, chase fire-flies, sticking a coffee packet on her nose to get the kids to laugh, listening to them play their musical instruments together, or always having waffles with homemade blueberry syrup when we stay with her.
I would also like to share what my sweet cousin and friend, Raine, wrote, because she shared her heart and memories from a different perspective.
Many family gatherings were spent at Aunt Betty’s. As a young child, I was always excited to go to Niotaze to spend time with my many cousins, Aunt’s, Uncle’s and Grandparents. Since Aunt Betty lived right across the road from my Grandparents, it was always a bonus because I would get to see Aunt Betty, Lynnet and Bryan every time I would visit my Grandparents. After my Grandparents passed, Aunt Betty’s house became the place for all the family gatherings. At Easter, the cousins would gather to hunt Easter eggs in her yard; a tradition that continued with the birth of her grandchildren and great nieces and nephews. A yard that was always neatly manicured, adorned with beautiful Japanese Maple trees around her patio to the peach trees and grapevines growing on the east of her property and a large garden to the south.
4th of July was always spent at Aunt Betty’s – A family tradition that my children always looked forward to attending. It seemed each year, the fireworks show be better than the year before. Because 4th of July was her favorite holiday, she saved money just to go shopping at Jakes in Coffeyville with her sister Jerre, my Mom, carrying the list of which fireworks were her favorite - A list that was created from the previous year. You see, there was a rule we had to follow. Us kids gradually learned the requirements it took to be able to light ANY of the fireworks with Aunt Betty’s satisfaction and for people that knew the rules, we would secretly laugh at the ones that broke the rules or were unaware of the rules. 1.) You first had to announce the name of the firework you were getting ready to light. 2) You also had to make sure she heard the name of the item that was going to be lit. 3.) You then had to make sure she had time to write it down. THEN she would way ‘OK! I’m ready!” Afterwards, she would give the item a rating as to whether it was worthy of being part of next year’s fireworks show! New comers to the gatherings, such as friends, or impatient and anxious teenagers that wanted to hurry and shoot off some fireworks, were often scolded for not announcing what was being lit and sometimes had to retrieve the already shot item and try to read the name of firework. Words like “Wow!” “Alright!” and even “That was a dud! I’m marking that off the list!” were the comments she would make! Aunt Betty was serious about her fireworks and we all were thankful to be able to share this love with her. A love which resulted in creating memories with three generations of family.
When I was 12, I was in the hospital because I broke my leg and Aunt Betty came to sit with me. The following year, I had my tonsils removed and because of some complications, I didn’t go home right away and again, Aunt Betty came to sit with me. At one of the visits she cheerfully stated “I brought you something from home that is much softer than anything you have here!” I look over to see her pulling a roll of toilet paper out of her bag! She always had a way of making me laugh! Always a caring heart.
At Thanksgiving she always made her famous pumpkin pies adorned with a crust leaf in the center and a cranberry dish that was always in the same white stemmed milk glass bowl. She always remembered our birthdays, sending a card in the mail, being there for my children’s first birthday, graduations and wedding. Aunt Betty was a stranger to no one, always being fascinated or interested with the people around her and making them comfortable. She worked hard for everything she had, took pride in her children and grandchildren and loved life being in the outdoors. She will be greatly missed by many and I can imagine that when she saw Heaven the first time, she said her famous word “WOW!”
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” Vicki Harrison