Umbrellas-A Tribute to Mom
I haven’t posted anything on my blog in forever-I had to look up my log in it has been such a long time. It seems like I just couldn’t muster the “lighthearted” for The Lighthearted Dragonfly with the busy-ness of life. Earlier in January, my mom passed away. I was blessed to be with her in the last week of her life, because she was on comfort care (palliative care) so family could actually go into the hospital. As weird as it may sound, it was very peaceful and felt like I was able to re-coup some of the time we lost to being apart due to COVID. I gave her eulogy as part of the service. There are not enough words to do justice to a lifetime in a few paragraphs, but here is what I said at her funeral. My hope is that these words I offer bring her honor and pay tribute to the woman she was.
In a newspaper clipping my parents had in their photo album, there was an article with a picture of school children. While I have no idea whatever happened to the actual article that accompanied the picture, I do have a copy of the picture showing a rainy school day. If I remember correctly, it was the first day of school. All of the little girls were sporting their cute Mary Janes and bobby socks, grinning out from under their umbrellas. Out in front is a little girl smiling shyly out from behind her umbrella pole. She stands out from the rest of the kids with their umbrellas positioned to the right or left of their heads on their shoulders. She, in contrast, is holding an umbrella dead center in front of her nose. That little girl grew up to be my Mom.
She told me once that it made sense to her to hold the umbrella that way, because that way you could see around it the best and it was centered over your head. To me, this picture is a great visual representation that, even then, my Mom thought about how things in this world should work a little differently from most other people. It may have not been the conventional way, but it’s the way Mom thought worked the best, so that’s the way she chose to do it.
I remember the conversation I had with Mom about the umbrella because when I saw the picture as a little girl I remember thinking how cool it was I wasn’t the only person who thought that was a good way to hold an umbrella. I thought maybe we were special in our thinking to not care what it looked like, or what we’d been told about the “right way” to hold an umbrella.
Later, when I saw it again as a teen, I remember laughing at how she stood out with her face bisected by that umbrella pole. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m sure I remembered that I had once held an umbrella that way, too, but I had grown wise. Others who obviously knew more about umbrella holding than me, like my friends at school, had taught me the proper way one holds an umbrella, even if a teensy part of me still thought our way made sense.
For better or for worse, my mom never lost that sense of belief in herself and her way of looking at the world. If you knew Mom at all, you know she could be “feisty” when she felt her way was THE way, and you disagreed with it or dared to suggest that other opinions might be out there.
Believe it or not, a lot of that feistiness was suppressed and didn’t come out until later in her life. Mom was an only child and my grandparents really did dote on her. At times they lived in apartments and she said that she could always remember having to be quiet all the time and she didn’t like that. Once, she got sent home from her friend’s house in the neighborhood-the one that had the luxury of a TV–because she was yelling when they were watching wrestling on TV and she got too loud. It’s easier for me to picture her that way than the shy high-schooler she became in her teens, or the tired woman who slowly lost interest in living life while living in the nursing home these past three years.
Our family has so many stories about my mom. I’ve always said I could probably fill a book with stories about her, but in order to appreciate the those, you have had to have known Mom. I’ve never met anyone quite like her. She was very creative, very artistic. Growing up, she always had some kind of crafty project going on. She made baby dolls with hand-embroidered faces and yarn hair that were actually beautiful pieces of art. Later on, she made ceramic and porcelain dolls, again, with an exceptional eye for detail. I didn’t really appreciate the craftsmanship of the dolls she made until I was an adult, as, much to her sadness, I didn’t really like to play with dolls as I got older.
To any of our friends visiting our house, it was quite a disturbing sight when she would be working on a doll, and there would be all these round eyeballs spread out all over the coffee table. Sometimes she’d have doll wigs laying around, too, that added an additional touch of creepiness. Eyeless doll heads would be sitting on the table with the top of their heads open while she worked on them. Darrell always liked to give her trouble about how gruesome it looked as she meticulously picked through the eyeballs for the perfect color and iris size to glue into her creation’s head. Those of us who lived with her didn’t even notice it anymore, it was such a common sight.
I have wonderful childhood memories of growing up with my mom. She stayed home with Kevin and me, and her life revolved around us when we were kids-at least that’s how she made us feel. One of the first meals I ever learned to make was scrambled eggs. At the time, it was the ONLY thing I could actually cook, so I made eggs every single day. I’m not sure how long I was on that kick, but that poor woman ate those eggs every single morning when I’m sure she was sick to death of them.
She was a fun Mom, too, and would play cards with me, read countless books with me, fostering my love of reading, always nurturing my artistic side. Whether it was crocheting, Shrinky Dinks, painting, writing, or making ceramic pieces, she was generous in allowing me to dabble in all sorts of arts and crafts. Mom said she never really learned to knit well, but that’s probably one of the only artistic mediums that she was not successful in. When she was in high school, she drew dancing couples on index cards that she cut out that were sort of like paper dolls. She kept them in a red and blue Buster Brown shoe box, and I would beg to play with them. They were all so different, and so well-drawn. I would try to copy her figures so I’d have my own, but I never could get their faces to look like the ones she drew. I think eventually I played with them enough they fell apart.
Another thing that sticks with me about my mom was that growing up, she was there for me when I needed her. When I was a kid, it seemed like I was always waking up in the middle of the night afraid of something. I would often creep into my parent’s room, on Mom’s side of the bed on the far side of the room-quite a trek in the darkness of the room. I went to Mom’s side of the bed, because when I would whisper, “Mom, I’m scared” she never shooed me away or tried to play logic with me. She would scoot to the middle of the bed and let me crawl in next to her. As a parent, I know now that it probably was more restful to just roll over and give me the space than to argue about the monster that was or wasn’t under my bed. But in that moment, my mom made me feel SAFE. And when you’re a little kid afraid the boogeyman was coming for you, it’s a pretty big deal.
Kevin was always hard to get out of bed in the morning, and for years she would wake him up for school with silly songs sung loudly in funny voices…the one I remember the most was “Kev-ano, Kev-ano it’s time to get up!” She would throw our dog, Scamp, in his bed to lick his face to help. It didn’t always get him going, I guess, but I think I picked up her habit of making up parodies and songs with goofy lyrics and singing them around the house at top volume. We’d tease each other by sticking Marty Robbin’s song, El Paso in each other’s heads as an earworm. I could casually walk by Mom and sing, “Down in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl” and know that for the rest of the day, that song would be stuck in her head. Sometimes she’d return the favor. But we always would laugh.
My mom was a champion for the underdog, and championed her loved ones whether we deserved it or not. There were times Kevin and I did things that our parents really should have gotten after us for a little more. But we weren’t the only ones that she would sympathize with on a regular basis. Mom and Dad both could probably tell you the life stories of their waitresses at Steak n Shake or the clerk at the grocery store. Mom listened to people when they poured out their hearts to her. Sometimes I had to remind her that a person who tends have the same type of sob story over and over again MIGHT be part of the problem, and she needs to give thought to knowing every story has two sides. She would say that yes, that was true, but she wouldn’t throw that up to people. People felt comfortable talking to her, because she put out her caring vibe and took the time to listen.
And care she did. Have you ever heard of the Myers-Briggs personality test? In a nutshell, the way a person responds to situations and makes decisions is based on four main factors of personality, Logic vs. Feelings and Subjective vs. Objective. I don’t think my mom ever took a personality test like that, but if she did, she would fall as far into the Feelings/Subjective quadrant that a person could score. How she made her mind up about an event, idea or a person was always very much subjective and emotional. While this made it pretty much impossible to argue anything logically with her, it did make her a compassionate soul who considered the feelings of others more than anybody else I’ve probably ever met. It was an interesting way to be both endearing and annoying at the same time! I hated when I had to try to use logic to talk her into something, because she would just dig her heels in a little bit harder. I could have been arguing the most logical thing ever. Once I tried to argue with her about getting another dog when her beloved Malcolm passed away. I tried the logic route first, which was a lost cause. I wasn’t alone in that, Dad and Kevin did, too. But guess what? In the end, she got the dog. She adored her dogs.
At Delmar Gardens, Mom was known as the dog lady. She loved dogs. Several people would visit her with their dogs, knowing how she would gush over them and how happy it made her to see a wagging tail and scratch the muzzle of a cold nose. I was driving her down the road on the way home from a bridal shower a few years ago (after she’d had a few strokes, so sometimes things she said were a bit of a surprise) and she saw a dog on the side of the road playing in someone’s yard. She said, “I just love dogs. They are so loyal.” It was a simple statement, but I think that’s what a lot of things boiled down to for Mom. She just was a person who loved seeing love in the world. It was why she loved little newborn babies and why she loved dogs. In her mind they did not have agendas. They just could love and be loved and all would be right with the world.
Trying to describe my mom, who she was as a person during her healthy years, has always been complicated. She was opinionated and liked having things her way. She saw things in black and white. She had a temper and was hard to reign in when she got mad. She could make a mountain out of a molehill. But she could also be the most generous, loving person who would go out of her way to help somebody. She tried to see the very best in people. Because like most people, my mom was a complex individual, who had her own reasons for thinking about things the way she did. Her reasons may not have made sense sometimes to those of us who loved her, but they made perfect sense to her. Some of the things that she did that embarrassed me before now make me laugh, and I missed her spunky attitude these past few years after the strokes and the health issues. We always had great stories about Mom because she was full of life and full of love for her family.
Over these past few years of her being in the nursing home, we watched as Mom declined, withdrawing little by little from her life here on Earth to the next world. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about her family and friends, or love us anymore. I think she was just tired. Tired of not being able to do for herself, and tired of not having any energy to do the things she once enjoyed. It was harder the longer she was there in that when we would visit her, she would mostly be sleeping and it was if she didn’t know we were there anyway. Every once in a while, she’d pat the side of the bed and ask us to sit by her, or just say that she was so happy to see us. In those moments I’d catch a glimpse of the tiny sliver of the Mom that I knew.
And then there was COVID. These last ten months we were not able to visit with her, with the exception of a few brief outdoor visits. She wasn’t able to talk to us on the phone and even with the staff help with Facetime it was difficult because she didn’t really want to talk or visit. I was so blessed to be able to spend her final week in the hospital with her. It was hard to see how thin she’d gotten, and know that her life was ending soon, but to hold her hand and just tell her I loved her each day meant so much to me. I’m not sure her physical self realized I was there, I feel like her spirit certainly did.
I brought her diary from the year she and my dad got married to the hospital and would read it to her. I had forgotten that she used to read me stories from it when I was a little kid. It was full of simple recounting of her days and the people she was with and what they did and where they went. Dad, you really were her prince and I love how she noted and cherished the things you did for her. She loved you so much from the very beginning.
I couldn’t talk about my mom without mentioning how much she loved her grandkids. I know you can’t remember Grandma from those days, but, with each and every one of you, she was so excited when she found out you were on the way. She loved holding you and singing to you when you were babies and being a grandma. I hope that as you all get older, when you reach back into your memories and remember Grandma you remember her sense of humor or her loving on her dogs and that she always wanted the best for you. Keep her memory alive by remembering the fun times we shared – like when we’d watch movies or NASCAR with Grandma and she had the most animated reactions. You all have your own special memories with her. Memories of taking care of you when you were not feeling well, putting a blanket on you and comforting you. Memories of Purple People Eater song requests and her making you lunch or dinner-or going out to eat, which she loved to do.
I want to remember the times she’d tell me after a fun day of being together that she wished she could do the whole day over again with me. Or the times when I was in college and we’d stay up late playing gin rummy. Or just singing silly songs with her. Those were the little moments that taught me family mattered. And I was loved.
If we do think of her days at the nursing home, I hope what we remember are painting her nails for her, or playing cello for her and grandpa after lunch. I want to think of her and my dad holding hands at the church service there, Dad bringing her the little Cutie tangerines, or her always making sure she got a goodbye kiss from him before she went back to her room. There were times I worried they’d both fall out of their chairs as they leaned out to try to get that goodbye kiss in. Or her saying how glad she was to see us. Because again, those little moments are the ones that showed me that we were still a family and we still mattered.
Today we have to say goodbye for now. I am sad to see her life over, because you only get one Mom and I was blessed with one who loved her family fiercely. I am happy for her soul, though, because it is free from pain and being tired and free from confusion. I hope her dogs were there to greet her at the entrance to Heaven and jump in her lap and be ready for a good snuggle in arms that are no longer limited by strokes. I like to believe she is with her loved ones who are already in Heaven. Maybe she’s holding an umbrella…or since it’s Heaven, I’ll call it a parasol—smiling out from behind the pole that’s centered across her face, just the way she thinks it works best.