Here’s a very short, short story about my mom. In joy.
Chapter One- Fruitcake
Once upon a time, there was an elderly woman. Her decades-long journey had been punctuated with ill fortune. Her life was like a fruitcake soaked in cheap liquor—few would choose it. But my mother was a woman who championed the underdog.
Chapter Two- Cotton Pickin’ Bad
My mom was one of four daughters born to sharecroppers. She and her sisters worked the farm every day from sun up to sun down. They would pick cotton in the sweltering Alabama heat—row after row. It could be those days in the cotton fields of Alabama that conditioned her thoughts, believing that life without load held an inherent unworthiness.
Chapter Three- The Worst Thing
Fast forward to a sweltering afternoon in July 1966. The Arkansas heat was oppressive and the humidity made the air thick and dripping. My mom didn’t know how to swim, but she went along with the let’s-take-the-kids-to-the-river idea because my father was persuasive and loud. As she sat uncomfortably on the bank in a wooden chair, she never imagined the worst thing that could happen that day. When I look at photos of my two sacred, precious children, I often wonder how my mother survived the loss of her Dana Joy that heavy July afternoon in the muddy waters of the White river.
Chapter Four- A Drought Named Hope
Years trudged by. One and then another and another and another. I imagine mom’s struggle like the all-consuming, for-naught work of treading to stay afloat in quicksand—the harder she fought to push the pain away the deeper she sank.
Raising her children while being married to an alcoholic, called on every drop of strength she could muster. There were many years when all her seeds of hope were planted into us. And mom was left with faith—that which remains after you’ve given all without giving up.
Chapter Five- Grace, Do You Remember Me?
When I came through the door of my sister’s house, mom was sitting on the loveseat watching TV. “Well, what a surprise! I didn’t know you were coming to see me.”, she said. My face must have explained why I was there. “What happened?”, she asked. “Is it your dad?”
Mom was staying with my sister because my father was mixing his medication for bipolar disorder with copious amounts of vodka. The combination had led to hallucinations, and my mom was afraid he might hurt her. But he hurt himself instead. It was a typical August day in 1999 when he sat on the foot of his bed and took his own life. It was a bitter and selfish way to end a tumultuous journey. Maybe it was the voices in his head. Maybe he thought he was doing us a favor. Or maybe he wanted to get on to heaven to see the angel he lost in 1966.
Chapter Six- A One-way Ticket on the Slowest Train
It took some time for mom to stop hiding from grace, but when she did grace brought a gift that she had long deserved. His name was Richard. He doted on her because he saw her for the loving, forgiving, beautiful light that she was. They loved each other so very much and were happy just being together. He taught her that she was worthy of unconditional love—a lesson that had taken a lifetime for her to see and feel and hold.
After Richard passed several years ago, mom was afraid. He was her biggest fan. She leaned on her sisters and found strength in their love. She survived yet another tragedy.
Growing up I saw my mom as a cowardly soul. This observation was based on her codependency and unwillingness to leave my father. In hindsight, it was more courageous for her to stand her ground, raise us like she believed we needed to be raised, and be a catalyst for good and a buffer between us and the bad.
Chapter Seven- Getting Older Isn’t so Bad When Peace is Your Roommate
On March 13 mom will be 84. During the past 8 years we’ve witnessed her body slowly decline—submit to crippling osteoporosis, arthritis, neuropathy, and fibromyalgia. She is in constant pain but seldom complains.
All of her sisters have now passed on—strong women linked by a unique bond of love and sacrifice. I believe they are watching over her now.
About six months ago mom called me. She was living with my sister at the time. She’d been supporting them for three years and decided it was time to look out for herself. So my brother went and got her. She was frail and could barely walk 20 feet even with the assistance of a walker.
Enter an angel named Melinda. Melinda deeply loves my mom so she told mom that she could live with her, but part of the deal was for mom to focus on regaining her strength and independence. It is not an exaggeration to say that Melinda saved my mom’s life.
Melinda guided her with smart decisions about her health, encouraged her to walk so she could become more independent, got her health insurance reinstated after my sister let it lapse, and cooked nutritious meals for her every day. Melinda took her shopping and out to the movies. She reintroduced mom to the world. My mom is alive again. I joked that Melinda was like Annie Sullivan—the miracle worker.
Next month, near mom’s 84th birthday, she will be moving into an apartment at Good Shepherd to live independently. Melinda believed in her and taught mom to believe in herself.
Mom is finally at peace with the loss of her Dana Joy, the turmoil of a difficult marriage, the suicide of my father, the death of her sisters, and the toll arthritis has taken on her body. Her spirit is renewed.
I’m so proud of her for finding her voice, practicing courage, and showing me that no matter how old we are we can be an antenna for joy and peace.