Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beautiful at the Core

My mom's condition has given us all a unique and priviledged view of her beautiful soul. She can't remember much of what is said to her five minutes after it is said, but she remembers every name of every friend and family member we have asked her about, and remembers them with a smile. Her loved ones are indelibly printed on her heart. She hasn't the awareness or the mental control to put up any kind of a front. She is never "on her guard," and yet she says nothing unkind or impatient or even unpleasant. She submits cheerfully to all instruction, even though it takes extreme effort just telling her limbs to move. She remembers to be grateful and says "thank you" for even the simplest of things. Without fail, she reciprocates the words, "I love you," even if there is a moment's delay while her mind registers and responds. What all this says to me is that she is beautiful at the core.

There are seemingly limitless misconceptions in this world about beauty. Most of what people celebrate as the epitome of beauty will fade with time, age, shifts in fashion, or embarassing publicity. True beauty goes so much deeper. It has to eminate from the center, because a polished exterior can't hide something ugly inside idefinitely. It's going to be revealed one way or another.

The kind of heart my mom has cultivated is the result of a lifetime of good choices. Sure, she wasn't perfect, but she was striving to be. It was her greatest desire. I know for myself, I don't want to waste any more time with petty things, idleness, negativity, selfishness, or anger. Life is too short. Even if we live to be 100, why waste those years? Certainly, it's easier said than done, but I hope with the new pespective this experince is giving me, I will have greater capacity to live by what I know, and spend more time refining my heart and less time worrying about what people see on my outside.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Tribute to My Beloved Mother

Grandma sharing an Easter devotional with some of her grandchildren.
Just less than a year ago, when it seemed my grandma would soon pass away, I decided to take all of my children down to LA to see her one last time. My husband couldn't come with me because of work, and I didn't want to drive alone, so I invited my mom to join us. She had been spending a lot of time down there herself just helping out, but was happy to come on up to Utah to make the trek.

It was a sweet experience: I got to visit with my mom all the way down and back, then enjoyed a few quiet days letting the kids play nearby as I sat and held grandma's hand, or mom would take them to the park while I stayed and listened to grandpa's memories, and murmured loving thank-yous to the woman I had known and loved my whole life as grandma. What a beautiful title, "Grand Mother." It seems so fitting. She did such a beautiful job fulfilling that role, and all her grandchildren and great grandchildren adored her. 

Grandma slipped quietly away last September, just a few weeks after my angel mother accompanied me on yet another long road trip, this time moving our family from Utah to Boston. Grandma was followed in death a couple months later by her bereaved husband, and suddenly I found myself only one generation away from the senior most in my family. I envisioned myself 30 years down the road perhaps experiencing the same with my parents, and I thought I would have plenty of time to enjoy them before I had to bid them farewell.

Around the time grandma passed on, mom started having trouble with her balance. It became more pronounced at the passing of her father. Doctors told her it was probably stress and trauma related, and to get counseling, but new symptoms arose, including short term memory loss. After more tests were done, the doctors finally concluded last week that she most likely has Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a very rare and little understood degenerative brain disease which will rapidly destroy her brain. We don't expect her to live more than a few months more.

As I write this, I am on my way to be with my family and make one last memory with our beloved matriarch. The last time I saw her was at Christmas when my husband and children and I traveled down to spend the week at my parent's house. It was just a regular Christmas. Mom was continuously apologetic that she could not do more to make it special, and I kept assuring her that it was fine, that we were just happy to be there, and could enjoy the holiday without all the extra trappings. Mom spent a lot of her days sleeping, but I did take time to go into her room and visit with her on occasion. Although cheerful, she was baffled by her symptoms, and kept trying to understand what was happening. We hoped it was psychological, and that with help, she would snap out of it and be back to normal. We talked a lot about things that troubled her that might be contributing to her symptoms. Through those conversations, I received a unique insight into the soul of this tender, sensitive, sometimes timid woman, who was nevertheless strong, courageous, and absolutely steadfast in her faith against all odds. She laid bare her heart and her longing to be whole again, whole for the sake of her family, for her husband, children and the grandchildren she adored. It was only a few weeks later that her memory began to fade, and mom truly began to slip away.

Now I'm starting to see the pieces that we are going to have to pick up when she's gone, and although I always knew I have been blessed to have such a woman for my mother, I have never been so struck by the magnitude of her contribution, nor felt so keenly the impossibility of filling in the gap she will leave behind. Mom loved to plan family trips, and since all her children have spread out over the country with our various families, she now takes great delight in planning family reunions. We just had one last summer, but she has already booked the spot for our next one in two years. It will be in Hawaii, her and dad's favorite vacation spot. We haven't had the whole family there since the disastrous rained-out camping trip of '91, a trip we still laugh about and loved anyway. She had just begun planning out all the fun things we would fill our time with, and I'm sure her plans were big. We will each have ideas about what she would have wanted to include, but only she could add that spark of anticipation and excitement. On alternate summers to our reunions, Mom held a summer school for all her elementary school aged grandchildren. This was a continuation of the summer schools she used to organize for us when we were kids to give some structure to the long summer months. She loved education, and taught us all to value it as well. That was to be this coming summer, and I know my kids were looking forward to it. We may try to put something together to take its place, but no one can be "Teacher" like grandma could be. Every grandchild got a handmade quilt when they got baptized. My oldest 2 have their quilts, but I have 3 more that will probably never be wrapped in the love-stitched warmth of a grandma quilt. They have at least 5 other cousins who would also miss that gift. I know how to sew, but I have never quilted, and if I ever learned, I wish it could have been from Mom.

All those things are just peripheral to the wisdom and love and counsel and joie de vivre she filled our lives with. She will leave a very, very big gap. There's no way we can ever replace her or make up for her passing. But she filled our lives in ways that will continue to influence our own families, and many others for good. She never stopped being our mother, and she has given it her all, every moment, her whole life. I can't imagine the Lord being any more pleased than he is with the life she has lived. I can't believe this is happening, but somehow, at the core of it all, I see the hand of God, and his peaceful voice whispering to us all that this was and always has been his plan for his daughter, Kathy. She may leave us feeling incomplete without her, but her life will be perfect in its completion. There is still hope for a miracle healing, and we are putting our trust in God, but should she be called home, she will do so leaving nothing undone that she was meant to do, and for that we can rejoice.