If you have ever experienced the loss of someone close, you will understand what I mean when I say the emotions that accompany grief can be very challenging.
Friday, my eighty-six years old mother passed peacefully into eternity. She had been in poor health for many years, but she was one of those special ladies that refused to yield to circumstance. She always felt she had more life to live and family to invest in, so she lived it to the best of her ability. Sadly, her ability was limited by COPD, diabetes and blindness due to macular degeneration. Still, in spite of her health issues, she found ways to connect with people and find a rather ordinary life in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.
I am the youngest of five children, and I can’t recall a time in my upbringing that my mom didn’t work hard to help keep a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs. The roof always had leaks, many times the food was beans, and fashion was never the point, but it was always enough. In my teen years, she became a Kansas state employee, working at the weigh stations and ports of entry on Kansas highways. Her job was eventually integrated with the Kansas Highway Patrol, and she became the first female to run the portable scales (enforcing
weight laws on Kansas highways). Unfortunately, my mom did not retire from the state and had to rely solely on Social Security later in life. My dad passed away just one month before retirement age, so she was left for years with little to no income and declining health.
My mom and dad were married 40 years at the time of his death. His absence left a huge void in her life. She mostly
internalized her grief struggle for fear of piling her grief on top of her
children. I relate to my mother in that way. Having lost my wife Virginia to cancer four years ago, I came to realize the efforts I made to keep my grief away from my children. In hindsight, I
would counsel us both to approach that differently. Grief is painful, but it is also part of the healing process. Including those who are
closest to us in that process helps bring healing to all involved.
Mom was only 58 years old when Dad passed, but in some ways, she might as well have been a hundred. My dad's death was hard for us all. Perhaps in a different article I will share about the kind man he was, but for now let’s just say my mom lost her compass without him, and she never fully recovered. She spent the past close to 30 years either living with my brother or me, or with my aunt and uncle in a trailer on my property. Due to her health and the loss of my father, she has been mostly dependent at some level since his death. I say “mostly” because there was a time when all of that changed, at least for a period.
Back in the mid-nineties when the internet craze was taking hold, I pieced together a computer for my mom. She had no interest in getting out, and I thought getting online might be a good way for
her to spend time. Have you ever heard the term “Too much of a good thing?” I had not realized how involved Mom had become in online groups like Yahoo games. She apparently had developed a network of friends that not only chatted with her online but would stop in for a visit from time to time. It wasn’t until I got a phone call from her one day while she was visiting my sister in Kansas that I realized just how extensive her social networking had become. My family has always used my middle name, so my mom called me “Dale” … even though I have been “Robert” since Air Force Basic
Training 37 years ago.
"Dale," she said.
"Yes mom," I replied.
"Dale, I am calling to let you know that I am going to get married."
After what I recall being a rather lengthy period of silence on the call, I somehow pulled myself together long enough to form a complete sentence. "What?" I said. (It wasn't a long sentence, but after sixteen years of watching her lock out the world outside her home, I was more than a little overwhelmed. I am not sure what all was said next, but I do recall it having to do with my sisters helping to facilitate their meeting. Other than that, I remember only one other exchange on the call.
"Mom," I said, "don't you think we should slow things down a bit and talk about this?" To which she replied, "Dale, I am 77 years old; exactly how slow do you think I should go?" It was a question to which I simply had no good answer.
As it turned out, I met my new stepfather at my mom’s wedding in 2012. His name was Richard. God gave them about five
years together before heath issues overcame him at their home in Topeka, Kansas. Richard had to go to a care facility. We moved my mom back to Marshfield, and Richard passed after a brief period. To this day, I don’t fully know how hurt my mom was by all that happened, because she held her grief too close. I will forever regret that I did not ask her about it more. It is a terrible thing to struggle alone.
This Saturday, we will hold services and bury one of the four women that has had the most impact on my life, my mom, Phyllis. I am blessed that my wife Audrey and daughter Keshia are very much a part of my life today. As God would have it, my wife Virginia entered His presence on our 29th anniversary (July 28) four years ago. Her services were held on Aug. 1, the same day we will bury my mom. I really don’t know what to say about the timing, but the reason I am writing is simply to express my appreciation to all of the powerful women in my life: my wife Audrey, daughter Keshia, granddaughter Macy, daughter-in-law Taylor, sisters Donna and Desty, sister-in-law Ronda, and good friends Marsha and Melynda. They are all incredible people who speak into my life today.
I will forever cherish my wife Virginia who passed four years ago. Her influence, example and love have shaped me, sometimes like pounding copper into form.
In conclusion, I offer this letter to my mother:
Good-bye, Mom. I love you more than I can express in words. I am far from the perfect son, and as wonderful as you were to establish a foundation of service, trust and loyalty throughout my life, your imperfections always kept it real. I will remember the good times, the bad times, the easy times, the hard times and the moments that were solely ours with equal appreciation, and I will forever cherish your decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
I have the confidence of knowing where you, Dad and Virginia are, and the assurance that I will be there one day. I am thankful that God chose you to be my mom. I will work hard to pass on what you handed down to me. While I will grieve your absence, I will forever rejoice in your inheritance, but for now, good-bye. I love you.