Late Thursday afternoon, I was honored to be with Mama as she passed from this life to her eternal home. It was that difficult and deep time of witnessing someone you love take their last breaths, while you watched that mystery unfolding, knowing this was a transition you couldn’t experience with them. She was in the midst of preparing to leave and I was staying; she would cross the veil alone.
I’m left with all the attendant feelings of sadness, shock, and reflection as the memories of her years, 96 altogether and 65 with me, well up inside. I find comfort in visualizing her in the brightness of heaven, moving freely without that wheel chair that carried her for the last eight years. In my mind’s eye, she’s with Daddy and talking, talking, talking with all her family and friends.
Mama never feared death; her Christian faith gave her the assurance of being held by God and accompanied through life by her friend and guide, Jesus. She wasn’t one to worry as she believed if you ‘did what you were supposed to’ everything would work out. Partly because of the temperament she was born with, and partly because of the era she grew up in, I’d say Mama was a Hopeful Realist. She was one of eight children born to a farming family and while she grew up poor during the Depression, she’d say, “We didn’t know we were poor. We had plenty of love and good food to eat.” That was at the base of her grateful heart.
One of my most vivid memories of my pragmatic mother, was the time when Mama launched into action to help one of our animals. We had ducks at our pond, and sometimes they’d waddle in their single-file up to our house, quacking under our carport, complaining that they needed more food. Mama noticed that one of the ducks had a torn wing. She gathered up supplies of a bath towel, her strongest white sewing thread, a large needle, and something to clean the area–probably rubbing alcohol.
She picked up the injured duck, wrapped it in the towel, and handed it to me to hold. I probably gave her that, “You’re gonna do what?” look and wanted to get out of helping. She insisted I hold the duck still so she could make her careful and close stitches. I watched her, amazed at her calm, no-nonsense, take charge reaction to the animal. I never doubted her sewing ability as she’d made a man’s suit, winter coats, and reupholstered the car seats. After that, I realized that Mama was one who saw a need and just took care of it.
Mama dearly loved her family. Some years ago we were on one of our Saturday trips to eat lunch at KFC with her brother, Joe and his wife, Ann. We were driving toward Lillington and Mama was totally absorbed with watching everything outside her window. We passed a billboard that had people of different ages who appeared to be in need–given their clothing and expressions. I don’t know what the billboard said, but Mama responded to it, declaring, “I’ll stand with the poor people.”
Her clear statement reminded me of the time I’d spent an afternoon cleaning out her files and organizing her financial papers. I’d dreaded that task, because she had canceled checks she’s saved as far back as the sixties. But as I worked through each piece of paper, what I found were many checks written to help others–not only organizations but individuals. There were some notes of thanks that explained how Mama’s gift had helped with a critical need. That task I’d dreaded had turned into a blessing of knowing Mama better.
When we were making funeral plans and having to designate who would receive contributions made in her honor, I remembered those checks. It seemed fitting that at this unusual time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we chose the Community Mission Fund of Mama’s church. When the pastor receives calls from folks in need of food, money to keep the lights on etc, Mama will be able to help some of those people who may be the ‘new poor’ because of these difficult financial times.
Mama was always very health and safety conscious, even before she attended the community college in her fifties and earned her Licensed Practical Nurse degree. With the present concern over the coronavirus, some family and friends have said they won’t be able to attend her graveside service–even with all the precautions in place. If Mama knew about this pandemic, she would be the first to say to them, “That’s okay. I know you cared about me.” She was always one to appreciate the behaviors that showed real love that were done at ordinary times.
Years ago when I was driving Mama home from her UNC Gerontology appointment, I remember feeling relieved that we’d made it through the doctor’s visit. She’d gotten her reward for being ‘good at the doctor’s office’ — lunch at the K & W. Crossing over Jordan Lake, I was in an expansive mood and wanted to share with Mama about my writing dreams.
“Mama, I think I want to put those stories about my trips into a memoir. I’ve always wanted to publish a book.” I felt good saying it, announcing to the world my intention, sharing it with Mama–even though I knew she would forget.
She was quiet for a bit and then responded.
“Well, then, you better get to it,” she said, and looked back through the window at the boats on the water.
That’s my Mama, I thought. Just Do It.
I want to live my life like Mama. I want to have a heart for the poor, a hopeful realism that just steps forward to meet the need, and an abiding faith that keeps me from falling into worry.
Thank you, Mama for showing all of us a better way to live.