My children and I went to Austin for the July 4th week, one of mom’s favorite holidays. We enjoyed the lake with full abandon, allowing the days to unfold and following mom’s lead. Not knowing the timing of when mom would leave us, we wanted to enjoy this time to the fullest, as if it would be our last 4th of July celebration with her. Mom always loved seeing the children’s eyes light up with various fireworks we set off from their boat dock on Lake Austin. She always had sparklers, ‘dancing’ chicks, rainbow fountain fireworks and every year we would try other kinds. Mom baked a special cake with my children and decorated it, keeping most of the icing on the cake.
I was able to spend some quality one on one time with mom, most days going for her usual 3 mile walk around her neighborhood. I was amazed to see her still walking, and while slower in her pace and with some added stops, nonetheless an incredible feat for someone in mom’s condition. I was finally able to ask more questions, continue my journey to learn more about mom. I started with asking if she had ever thought about her greatest accomplishments. Surprisingly, her first response was that she was able to raise the five of us without anything major happening to any of us or without much help or support. It was nice that she could feel how tremendous that was at this point in her life.
I then asked about the people that had influenced her most. Again, her response caught me by surprise. She said her mother and father influenced her most for encouraging her to go to college. That was in the late 1940’s and many women were encouraged to focus on getting married and having children, versus going to college. Mom then shared how she considered college to be a turning point in her life, for many reasons. I then shifted the questions to the present and asked if she had thought much about how she would want to be remembered when she did pass. She talked a little about wanting to be cremated and her ashes spread over the lake, but she spoke of it somewhat in the past tense, and I could tell by her reaction it surprised her.
So I transitioned to a different type of conversation. One where I was able to give her some feedback, share some things that amazed me about her. Mom listened very intently as I described how incrediblly amazing she was to me. She asked that I share more details, what was amazing about her. I continued with detail about her as a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a working mom, a student, a wife, a Stephen ministry representative and as a self-healer. Mom sometimes struggled with receiving praise or being called out in a setting of more than one person for her incredible gifts, but this time she was soaking in every word. I told her I would write it down so she could read them again and she smiled. I found a journal entry from about this time in her journal that sums up her desire to be worthy and to accept the best, ‘I am willing to release the need to be unworthy. I am worthy of the very best in life and I now lovingly allow myself to accept it.’ While outwardly we could see that she always wanted to be in the background, just quietly and selflessly give to others, I didn’t realize the magnatude of how inside she had deep feelings of unworthiness.
Over the fall of 2005, we continued our talks about her childhood and things she remembered. Mom grew up in a town of 600 in Indiana. Her father owned the only garage and gas station in the town and her mother was on the city council. Mom felt like her mother went to extremes to not have her only daughter grow up spoiled, and the pain still seemed real as mom described it. Mom learned how to smock and make quilts from her grandmother, Annetta. Mom experienced many wonderful memories from the time she spent with her and her eyes lit up as she described more. Mom also shared how I reminded her of Annetta and how she wished I could have known her. Annetta died in the very early hours of the morning I was born.
Learning more helped me feel closer to mom, more connected, and helped keep the fear at bay, at least for a while. It helped me give to mom in a way she could receive and filled my heart with joy in the process. During the last months of 2005, the reports of the cancer markers increasing continued. Nothing any of us could control or change. Just a process we were to respect as it unfolded. Mom didn’t seem very interested in the reports. She mainly wanted to enjoy each day to its fullest. A great model for me, even in this situation. She was always teaching, always seeking to enjoy life.