Monday, April 27, 2009

Her Peace Was Good

Today we grieve. For my family we grieve our loss of Mom, our loss of Grammy Lois and our loss of Great-Grammy Lois. You come here today to grieve with us and by that simple act our grief is lightened. We thank you for that. Over the past several days we have gathered as families do and shared our memories of Mom. Shared together what we remember of our life with her and realized all over again just how precious memory is.

I remember suppers at the kitchen table in our house on Mabel Street. Mom and Dad and Penny and I in our seats, those seats assigned long ago by an unknown method all families use. As most of you know, food and cooking were not high on her list of priorities, but Mom cooked and every night we ate together. Invariably, if my father or any one of us said the steak was tough or the pork chop dry Mom’s response was, “My piece is good.”

That comment, her comment, ‘my piece is good’ is as easily applied to her life as it was to her supper. To Mom her piece of life was good. She chose to see it that way and by her example we learned to do the same.

Mom taught us a lot about life, about friendship, about love and about faith. She didn’t do this consciously, she did it simply by living, loving us and her friends and serving as an example. She taught us how to welcome people into our lives, not just for a moment but for a lifetime. Friendship wasn’t casual to Mom. Her ‘Club Girls’, women with a 60 year history of friendship continue to support us and until just a few weeks ago Mom talked of her intent to host club one more time. Friendships like that aren’t accidental, they’re intentional.

Friendship was simple to Mom, if she liked someone she invited them into her life. Once they were in, they stayed. Her ability to welcome people extended to my sister’s and my in-laws and Mom was delighted to be connected with the Hartmans and the Smiths and considered them her family as well as ours.

I can’t speak of Mom and not mention humor. Our family has a sense of humor that rivals no other. Mom told us once during a shopping trip that she never worried about being separated from my sister and I in a large store because all she had to do was wait a minute and our laughter would direct her to us. We don’t giggle, we jump into laughter with full force.

Penny and I come by our humor rightly, Mom and Dad raised us on theirs. Dry, spontaneous and quick with a comeback Mom could crack the veneer of any serious occasion, and often did. Her humor appeared at some of the most unexpected moments surprising those around her, and sometimes even those of us who knew her the best.

There were times over the past year or so when we thought we had lost our humor. Things just weren’t very funny. But it was there and it was Mom who found it first. When Medcu paramedics lifted her off the floor of her bedroom and checked her for a head injury they asked “Do you know who the President is?” Her response, “Why, don’t you?” Last week when I bent over her bed at the Barron Center, kissed her and said, “I love you, Mom,” she looked at me and said, “I don’t blame you.”

While we didn’t always know what to expect from Mom, there were times when she was completely predictable. At birthday parties or Christmas she was the first to suggest we open the presents, usually just after she had had cake or candy. We could all count on cookies in her cookie jar and candy in the silver dish on the end table. Mom had a sweet tooth. Cookies, cake, pie, candy the form was irrelevant. She loved sweets and Penny and I often found candy wrappers or candy itself in the pockets of her sweaters, jacket or slacks. One of the CNAs at the Barron Center took me aside one day and asked if we could bring in more pajamas for Mom. I was surprised because she had several pairs there already. When I asked why she said they didn’t like to put her to bed with chocolate on her nightgown. That was Mom.

As a girl Mom and her friends spent hours at the movie theatre. Mom loved the movies and Penny and I worried that Kenny and Jim would have to pass a test on Gone With the Wind before they’d be allowed to marry us. I was named for Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter and am thankful that my father stepped in and refused to go with Bonnie Blue! Mom carried her crush on Clark Gable well into her 70s, and shocked us all when she replaced him with George Clooney.

I look around this sanctuary today and realize how much of our life is tied to this church. Mom taught Sunday school, belonged to the Women’s Federation, sold books at the Church Fair and served on many committees. Dad was a Trustee and a Deacon and it seemed like they were always here ‘waiting on tables’. Immanuel is woven into the fabric of the Cash family and extends beyond to a larger circle of family and friends. Mom and Dad were married here and raised us in this church. Penny and Jim and Kenny and I were married here as were many of the Hartmans. Our last family gathering in this sanctuary was 6 months ago today when our daughter Michelle was married. Dad’s funeral was here 25 years ago and today we bring Mom full circle.

In recent months Mom talked a lot about her faith. It was rock solid and we are comforted to know through her visits with Deborah that she was not afraid. However, once again we got the unexpected when she announced to Penny last week that Jesus was a Baptist. As if this weren’t enough, she went on to clarify that even though the Catholics tried to claim him, he was a Baptist.

Mom was a lot of fun. She stirred competition between her sons-in-law by telling them both they were her favorite. She made it even more interesting when she included Penny’s brother-in-law Greg in the running. This favorite game spilled over to her daughters and grandchildren and has been the subject of much good humored debate. Penny and I called her bluff many times when we stood before her and asked which of us was the favorite. We both were. When Bill walked into her room at the Barron Center she’d wink and smile and ask him if he wanted to be her boyfriend. She particularly liked to do this if one of the young CNAs was within earshot. She’d drop a comment about her father’s six wives into random conversations just to see people’s reactions. When Penny and I would argue, as siblings do, she would tell us she didn’t understand why we fought because she and her sister Muriel never fought once when they were kids. We were 10 or 12 before it dawned on us that they didn’t argue because they never lived together!

Mom’s piece was good. She lived by the rules all her life and had a few of her own that she left with us:

Give your children two things, roots and wings. As long as those wings don’t take them out of Portland.
Surround yourself with good people.
Love simply.
Laugh often.
Neatness doesn’t count.
Faith is everything.
Some things just have to be done.
Life isn’t fair
If it’s not one thing, it’s two.
There is no such thing as too many books.
Chocolate really does make it better.

Rarely without a book in her hand or a smile on her face, Mom lived her life with simple grace and dignity. While others rage against what life offers, Mom accepted it all with thanks and joy and carried no sorrow for long. We could use more people like her in the world.

We heard Mom say many times, many, many times, “Getting old is tough, but it beats the alternative.” I picture her in heaven now and believe she’s changed her mind.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Life Well Lived....

We said farewell to our mother this afternoon. She died as she lived, surrounded by the people she loved. She faced this day with courage that I can only hope I have inherited from her. We held her hands and she held ours. She looked at us directly, one by one and then she was gone.

I don't know how I will live my life now, my life without parents, but I know I have a model by which to move on. It is trite and easy to say of anyone after they are gone that they were wonderful, that they loved life, that they touched all those who knew them. But for my mother all this is true.

We gathered at her house this evening, our family. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We did what all families do after a death, we talked of our time with her as we ate our dinner in her dining room. We told the stories we'd heard over and over again for the past few years and with their telling they wove themselves deeper into our family.

When dinner was over and it was time for us to leave each other we turned to her player piano, her cherished possession, the piano she played as a child, and we sang. Voices raised together in complete disharmony we sang Mom to heaven with Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Goodnight Irene. And with those songs I know she and Dad sang with us.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beside My Mother's Bed

There are so many thoughts that run through my mind as we struggle with my mother's dementia. I remember something my father said before he died (at 58). He had heart disease and knew his life expectancy was limited. He told me that one thing he feared was that when he died people would say, "He'd been sick for such a long time". I 'kind of' understood what he meant then. I truly understand it now.

My father was not a man who cared what other's thought or said about him so to think that what he feared was what people would say is to underestimate him. What I believe he truly feared was that his life would not have mattered. That when he was gone he would be forgotten and his time here, however brief wasn't meaningful. It was and as I sit at my mother's bedside and look at the same photo albums over and over again with her I see somewhere in the recesses of her blank eyes and expressionless face the same worry. I see her look at the pictures of her family and friends in search of confirmation that her life mattered, that she was here and it was worth it. I look at her now, under 100lbs, able to tolerate only sips of fluids and maybe a spoonful or two of blended food and want her to know that not only did her life matter but it still does. It matters to me and to my sister, to our husbands and our children, to her friends and to her Pastor. She matters to all of us.

She is taking morphine now. For people who do not live in my world, the world of healthcare, the mention of this drug means nothing more than she is getting a drug for pain. For my Nurse and Physician friends, thank you for understanding on a different level the implications of this new regime. You now understand my blog absence for these past days. I didn't know there were so many sudden changes in a chronic disease.

My sister and I still visit our mother at least 6 days each week but we no longer walk with her to the Dayroom for Oprah, tea and cookies. These days we take turns, one of us in the chair by her bed the other on her bed at her feet. We think she still knows who we are but can't remember the last time she said our names. I think of many 'last times' but didn't imagine my name in my mother's voice would be among them and wish I had recognized it when it happened so I could hold onto it now. Before I found myself at her bedside I thought of our lasts in much grander terms, I thought in terms of our last Christmas, last Birthday, last Mother's Day. I had no way to know then that those days, those events are where we put so much energy but in the end are of less importance than the other days, all those everydays.

When my mother dies I know some people will offer comfort by saying that she had been in a Nursing Home, she'd been 'sick' for so long. They'll say these things and think they are offering comfort. They will utter my father's fear. When I hear this what I will picture is my parents together, together in lives that mattered, lives that made the world a better place and I will hear their voices as they say our names.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What's In A Name?

Someone at the Nursing Home helped my mother make a Birthday card for me. It has my sister's name on it. I hate this disease.