Ode to my Mother
June of 2015 was bittersweet. The weather was not like last year’s June. It was much milder. Warm days and cool nights and the typical Oklahoma insect population had not begun to annoy us yet. Work on the house was steady for the first few days and then we celebrated our youngest’s first birthday. All my Illinois family came! It was like a family reunion of sorts. My sister baked a fabulous cake, we drank mimosas and visited, and mom even read poetry out loud. And of course, we got great pictures of cake-smearing on faces.
Just 2 nights after my family left, I got a phone call that my mother had a heart attack that landed her in the hospital. We dropped everything and headed to Illinois. The grass and trees were so vividly green, just as I had remembered many summers growing up in Illinois. My mother and I share a fondness for those green summers of the midwest.
We also share a love of the arts; fine arts, literature, and writing, and especially music. We spent many hours listening to Keller Williams, Don McLean, Alan Jackson, Vivaldi, Arlo Guthrie, and definitely Simon & Garfunkel. (Eclectic mix, I know). She taught me to appreciate the arts from many different angles. I knew all the lines to “American Pie” when I was 5 years old. It wasn’t until I was 25 that I actually understood what they meant. She spent many hours listening to me strum out my mediocre guitar skills, and I her piano. “Music is what feelings sound like,” she once told me. She always tried to get me into poetry, which I have grown more fond of as I get older. She was dearly loved in her poetry group in Illinois. She sang to all her babies, as I do with mine. We frequented the theater as well, marveling at the local talent.
Of course, she taught me all those things mothers are supposed to teach their daughters; cooking, gardening, family recipes, how to “properly” make a bed, care for a baby, or a pet. Proper grammar, which is a blessing and a curse. Before facebook, I assumed all my friends knew the differences between their and there and two and too. If you’ve read my blog long enough, I’m sure you’ll see the many grammatical errors that still slip by, even when she did have the time to proofread them for me. She taught me how to be polite, and assert myself when necessary. I’m still working on that one. And she also gave me a great sense of humor. She and I both can look at difficult situations and find something funny.
While she didn’t directly teach me about ecology or environmental activism, she did instill in me an appreciation for nature, animals, plants, and a fondness for the simpler aspects of life, like a sunset, or the lingering smell of fresh-picked basil on your fingers. This appreciation has grown into a passion for our environment and the desire for me to protect it. She often referred to me as her “earth-child” to friends and colleagues.
She also taught me that the best way to accomplish new things is to go into them with a positive attitude. I’m still working on that. Empathy! She blessed me with an extra-empathic personality that has helped me to “feel-out” people and situations better than it seems many of my peers are able to. I’m often the quiet observer that knows more about you than you might think. And, unfortunately she also blessed me with flabby arms. I can live with that.
I could go on and on about all her life accomplishments; her magnificent tours at Woodlawn Farm (the Underground Railroad Site), her literary contributions to College Hill, her support for the theater guild, her volunteer hours to Pilot International, and the children she touched when she taught. However, the most enamoring attribute she had was her love of and for the fellow human being. No one who ever met her could say anything negative about her. This is in all honesty. She absolutely gave herself to others. And if I can do that only half as well as she did, I’ll feel accomplished.
“I’ve always felt that if I have made you feel better about yourself by knowing me, then I have been successful in my life.” My mom e-mailed me this a few years ago.
One lesson, or piece of advice she gave me that profoundly affected my life was this: Aaron and I were approaching the end of our college careers and were debating his father’s offer to start a new life in Oklahoma. I talked with mom about this several times, explaining how much I loved southern Illinois and places with local food systems already set up, and a local network for environmental stewardship. I could name so many places where ‘people like us’ were plentiful. I’ve always had an interest in P0rtland, Oregon. Durango, Colorado has the most beautiful and abundant farmer’s market I’ve ever seen! Rural towns in southern Missouri’s wine country were appealing as well. However, as my wise mother astutely pointed out; those places already have people like you. You need to go somewhere where you’re needed and make a difference.
My aim is not to offend anyone locally from this area, but southwest Oklahoma is a food desert and I’d love to be a part of a solution to that problem. I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to pan out just yet, but my mother had faith in us and our mission. So be it! We’re trying to do our thing here in Oklahoma. Besides, if you live in paradise, where the heck would you go on vacation?
“Don’t be discouraged by the world. Do good anyway!” ~My mom
We got to the hospital in time to survive a roller coaster of emotions and future scenarios of life with and without mom. My older sister and brother and I spent a lot of time together, which was good, but with doctors and hospital staff explaining hospice and quality of life decisions, which was bad. She had been a smoker for a large part of her life, and even though she had quit over 10 years ago, the damage had been done. Emphysema turned to COPD and she had to tote around an oxygen canister off and on for the past 8 years. Her breathing was terrible those last few days, which caused her heart to work extra hard, making the doctors believe she was having a heart attack. After the heart results came back, we were relieved that hers was fine and believed that her lungs may get better. Then the news came that her lungs would not get better. I am so absolutely grateful for the one day that she was able to share with friends and family without a breathing mask on, and conscience awareness. Friends and family came to visit and there was so much love in that room. No one was ready for her to leave yet but we all appreciated the time we had to say our goodbyes. I held her hand as she took her last breaths on the evening of the 16th. She was 69 and was blessed with 3 children and 4 grandsons.
There will forever be a whole in my heart because she was only a part of my life for 30 years. And, a blog post will never be good enough to encompass the entirety of love that we had in our relationship, but she’d be happy to know that I celebrated a few of the many traits she bestowed upon me in the time we had together. My mother will continue to live inside of my heart, my flabby arms, and my conscience as we dream big and do good. Rest in Peace, Mom. 8/29/45 – 6/16/15