With Dignity and Grace
She fed me, bathed me, changed my diaper and gently held me.
I fed her, bathed her and held her to my heart, until her pain-filled journey ended. And mine began.
I know I should be thankful for every day I had with her, and I am. But when I least expect it comes a missing so great that it takes my breath and sends me to my knees. I bite my knuckles to hold back sobs, and tell her that I miss her, love her and want her back. But God makes no deals.
My Mother was a magnificent woman with dignity I can only dream of having. She never complained. Pain seized her organs and held them hostage for three years. From time to time I could coax her to take a couple of Aspirin. No drugs, right up until the end. Cancer claimed her body, but she would not let pain medication claim her mind.
At her knee I learned to love all living things, cook, sew, and make something out of nothing. Dad was usually gone, working away from home, or busy breaking horses if he was home. Mom was never too busy for any of her ten children.
Rising before the sun on a desperate farm in Idaho, she brought life to the land. She watered it, tended it, and willed it to provide. She gathered eggs, made breakfast, and baked bread; all before the sun began to bake the land. Later, she smiled as we slathered butter and honey onto golden slices of bread, hot from the oven, laden with love from her hands.
We talked about those hard but good times, in those final quiet mornings. We sipped coffee, and laughed like girls, and pretended that things were not so bad.
From piles of photographs, I met my aunts and uncles before life wore them down. She breathed life into images pulled from drawers and a sacred wooden photo box. She told me stories from her childhood. She and her older brother Ralph sold carrots from Grandma's garden to make a dime that would take them inside the world of Hopalong Cassidy in a darkened cinema.
They were very close, even through high school. That all changed when the Japanese dropped a bomb on Pearl Harbor. Mom and Uncle Ralph promised to visit each other and stay close as adults. They hoped their children would be close cousins. Uncle Ralph did not make it home from America's fight for mankind. That was her first big heartbreak.
When the twinkle in her eyes turned to tears, I steered her back to silly pictures of her with one foot up on the running board of a car. She was beautiful. And that smile, oh my!
She tried to get all of her girls to be cautious about life, not to jump into anything too soon. We would all smile at that. After all, Dad and Mom met one night after all the young men started returning from war. They eloped eleven days later! Grandma did not approve, but she knew it would stick.
There was hard, hard work on our farm. And it was laced with tragedy. Mom gave birth to Susan, a beautiful baby with black hair and big brown eyes. She was a fussy baby and doctors did not discover that she was born with a hole in her heart. One short year later, God called her home, and Mom’s smile was never quite as bright.
We buried two more tiny souls in the following years, LuAnn and Lisa Joy. Once when I was eight, I angrily asked my Grandma why God took away Mom's babies and made her cry. She gave me an answer that gave me strength and understanding. She told me that they were too perfect, that they did not need time on earth to be tested. During those early mornings when the sun had just painted the Butte pink and gold, Mom and I talked about losing those tiny angels. She told me Grandma’s words were a comfort to her as well.
Mom gave me the strength to believe that we are all a sum of our experiences, and the people who love us stay with us forever. I look into the mirror and try to find bits of her in me. I see them in my sisters.
If every child could live in the radiance of a woman with such quiet dignity and intellect, the world would be better, richer and a far more giving place. And she was funny! A dry sense of humor and quick wit helped us through many a crisis and helped make this final journey more bearable.
One afternoon I helped her out of her new-fangled electric chair, and into her wheelchair. We rolled into the bathroom, and I tried to help her onto the seat. I sort of lost my balance and all but sat in her lap. Instead of panicking, her dry wit took over, “I’m sorry, Connie, you will have to wait your turn. I am afraid this seat is taken.”
Indeed, the seat was taken, by one of God’s favorite children. There was never a stray that she did not take in, whether it was an animal or a child. To know my mom was to know unconditional love and acceptance.
When time ran down, robbing us of tomorrow, it was no less painful just because doctors had told us to expect it for months. One day, Mom simply told my sister that she was tired, ready to go. And she was.
There were no machine-engineered good-byes, just the loving warmth of family, the caring hands of hospice, and four daughters at her side. She knew we loved her. We told her, told her and told her. And she told us that over the time it took to complete this last leg of her journey on earth, we had given back way more than we took from her.
It was the only lie she ever told. She was a woman filled with goodness, and grace, right up to her last breath, her hand in mine.
* "With Dignity and Grace" first appeared in "You Are Not Alone" a Canadian anthology of hope. Published by, One Thousand Trees.
Connie Timpson is an award winning journalist who traveled the world, bringing home a little something to make her heart fuller from all those who shared their fears, dreams, and demands. She is a free-lance writer, speaker, author, and an ardent believer that we learn the most when we listen. Connie believes that every human being has something extraordinary about them, a gift, a talent, or way of looking at the world that is unique. She believes only land mass, and beliefs, separate us. Understanding can bridge that gap. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband, three much loved cats, song birds, and tiny tree frogs providing an amusing chorus of wonder.
Connie Timpson is the author of: “You Are EXTRAordinary – Three E’s to an EXTRAordinary Life” (Amazon) “Kissed by Blue Moon”- Night Magic Falls to Earth – a children’s story of believing in wonder (Amazon) “Quest for the Dark Crystal” – To Heal a Rupture in the Universe – a tale of loss and gaining all the wonder of the Universe (Amazon) Connie’s personal story of caring for her mother who died of cancer “With Dignity and Grace” is nestled among the pages of a Canadian anthology, “You Are Not Alone – 52 stories of Hope. (All proceeds to benefit hospice care.) http://www.connietimpson.com/Connie Timpson.com
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