Friday, December 11, 2015

Tribute to Reba:
My Mother Lost Everything, But Gained What Really Matters....

My mother died yesterday, just a few days short of her 96th birthday. Three years ago, she moved from the home where I grew up. This was the home where she had raised her children; the home where she and my dad had lived for most of their married lives; the home where she thrived and made a difference in her community and served her Lord for over 60 years. The place where she waited to welcome her children home as they came to visit from the lives they had carved out for themselves after leaving her care. The place where she took joy in welcoming grandchildren and great-grandchildren as they stopped by on their travels across Kansas. She came to Arizona to start a new chapter in her life, knowing that it would be the last of many chapters she had lived. I was thrilled to know that for the first time in my adult life, I would have my mother living near me. My other siblings had all lived near her at some time after leaving home, but not me. She would often say things to me like, "you remember so and so or such and such, don't you?" I would have to remind her that I had not lived in my home town since I left for college, and no, I did not remember any of what she was referring to. The last three years I have grown in a relationship with my mom that I never had before. As a child, I saw her as demanding and critical, and yet, I always knew I was loved -- that she simply wanted me to be the best I could be. As an adult, living far from her, she was often my place of refuge. I could run to be with her when I needed an escape from the demands of my life at home. She was always there to let me return to being a daughter, and I could briefly escape the expectations of all the other roles I had to fill. When she moved to Arizona, of course, she continued to be my mother, and at times that was difficult for both of us. She had her way of doing things and I had mine. Quite often, I would defer to her ways -- sometimes out of respect and sometimes out of frustration. She began her life in Arizona splitting her time between my house and my brother's house. She basically came to Arizona because my brother and his family were moving here, and my siblings and I all agreed that she could not remain in her current situation without one of us close by. We tried to fall into a pattern of sharing her, but it became more and more difficult for her to settle in when she had to pack a bag every week and move from one house to the other. She was feeling lost, partly because "her stuff" was split between two homes, and partly because she didn't really feel like she was AT home in either of our homes. She missed having her own home. It was difficult for us as we tried to meet her needed expectations to be comfortable here, and eventually we all just settled into the compromise of doing the best we could with the circumstances we were in. I loved that I was able to spend time with my mom regularly, but it was hard knowing that she wasn't really happy. We would talk about it and many times we laughed and cried in the same conversation, as she did her best to try and make someone else's home her home. She was a great help to me because she loved doing laundry and cleaning up minor messes around the house. Most days she would have my dishes cleaned up before I was even finished using them! My mom was a woman who loved to work. She loved house work and she loved yard work -- both of which she had spent her life doing and had taken great pride in doing it well. Somehow, that gene did not pass on to me, so I was only too happy to let her do whatever her aging body would allow her to do. At times it was annoying, because if she was not able to do it, she wanted me to do it, and she wanted me to do it NOW. But that was her creedo; do what needs to be done, do it immediately, and do it well. Not a bad precept by which to live, if you think about it. But then the stroke came. Not totally unexpected, but certainly unprepared for. Suddenly, everything changed. No longer could she tolerate the stress of splitting her time between my brother's home and my home. No longer could she fold laundry or do dishes or write notes to the dozens of people that she regularly communicated with through the U.S. postal service. Slowly she began to lose control of all the things in her life that she loved to do. Slowly she had to learn to depend on help from others to do even the simplest of things. We began to work at finding humor in stroke recovery. Things like "if you can't get your pajama bottoms off and there is no one in the immediate area to help you, just pull the scissors out of the bathroom drawer and cut them off!" Or things like, "beware that you don't try to eat your finger because you mistake it for part of your toast!"  As days turned into months, it became obvious to both she and I that she needed more help than I was physically or emotionally capable of providing. So once again, she had the burden of letting go of the "new normal" that had been so hard to accept. She stepped into the life of a group home where, although she was loved and well-cared for, it was not her home. She had good days and bad days, as we all do, but for her, the bad days became increasingly bad as her health declined and her spirits sagged. She found joy in the relationships of those with whom she shared the home and initiated the formation of a daily Bible study for those who wanted to participate. She encouraged the other residents to trust in God, and she worked at taking her own advice. Time became both an enemy and an ally as each day was a gift, but also something to be endured. Day after day, she would proclaim her readiness for God to send his golden chariot to take her to His throne. Yet our time is not God's time. She was living in a time of loss. Loss of possessions, loss of physical health, loss of loved ones who passed before her, loss of control of everything in her life. She had to depend on someone else for her every need and also be willing to submit to their timing in completing those needs. Watching this happen to my mother was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. Knowing that it will most likely happen to me sometime in my future is the next hardest thing. Accepting the fact that God designed humans to enter the world with nothing and leave the world with nothing has become clearly focused for me. When I think of all the things my mom struggled to let go of when she moved to Arizona, then all the things she struggled to let go of to move into her group home, and finally how she had to let go of everything to enter Heaven, I am slammed with the perspective of all my possessions. I now have in my home possessions that were my great-grandmother's, my grandmother's, my mother's and mine. That is a lot of stuff that will eventually belong to someone else when I make my final move to Heaven. Some of those possessions are so cherished that I find it hard to imagine ever not having them. But I am at the same time hit between the eyes with the realization that none of it will matter when I see Jesus face to face. He really and truly is all I need -- in this life and the next. All the time spent on this earth is given to me to teach me that truth. There is nothing I possess that will have any usefulness whatsoever when I step into the presence of the Almighty God. I don't say that because I plan to rid myself of all earthly possessions and live in a cave until He comes for me. I truly believe that God wants us to take joy in the earthly life He has given us. But I now have a more full understanding of what it means to live in the world without being of the world. I realize that clinging too tightly to the things of this world is a waste of time and effort. I have learned from my mother that, as hard as it is, loss truly becomes gain in the end.
1 Timothy 6:7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

P.S. I found the following notes that I had written at the time of Mom's move and thought it appropriate to add them as a post-script to the above tribute.

A few weeks ago I was driving across southwestern Kansas, something I've done many times in my lifetime, but this time it was different. Passing by town after town, each holding specific memories of people or events from my past, it suddenly occurred to me that I may never have a reason to pass that way again. I drove by the town that holds the graves of ancestors I never met and thought of stories about them that I have read in family history books. I passed by the town where my mother grew up; the town I knew as a child to be where my grandmothers both lived. I remembered days spent there as family members gathered for reunions. I passed the town where my cousins lived and remembered times I stayed at their home and met their friends.I passed by towns I traveled to as a teenager, cheering on our school teams in various sporting events. I passed by towns where boys lived that I met at church camp and remembered how it felt to have a crush on someone who never gave you a second glance. As I drove, the tears flowed freely down my cheeks. On each side of the road, I passed field after empty field, each one at rest for the winter. I marveled at the way the horizon stretched into the distance on each side of the road, remembering how we were always able to see the lights from a town 60 miles away on a clear night. Passing only an occasional pick-up truck and seeing the motorized sprinkler system that looked like mini-bridges spanning field after field, my mind was occupied with thoughts of change. Soon I would have nothing to draw me back to this place of memories. As I drew nearer to my childhood home and remembered that soon it would become the home of some other family, my heart was filled with emotion. The excitement of the coming transition, mingled with the anxiety of the change was nearly overwhelming.

I was on my way to help my mother with the final preparations to relocate to Arizona. She would be leaving behind a lifetime of memories and a home she had lived in since 1949. As hard as it was for me to face this challenge, I knew that her challenge was far greater. Her life was about to be reduced to a truckload of belongings. She was leaving behind the place she and my dad had spent their lives, building a business, raising a family, supporting a community and being part of a church family. She was leaving the graves of loved ones, including my dad, in a cemetery that she would no longer be able to visit when she felt the need to do so. This was a big deal. And yet, she was up for it. She faced it bravely and with few tears. Of course there were times of looking back with longing for what was lost forever, but still she marched into her new future with a strength that many women half her age would not possess.

I only hope that I can face my unknown future with that same strength and trust in God's plan for my life.