This past May our mother passed on to heaven. We said our final earthly goodbyes to her on May 8, and thus began our year of those firsts. Many of you know them…….those first special days that you spend without that special person. Our first “first” came quickly. Mother’s Day occurred just two days after Mom’s funeral. Isn’t that just like life? Life doesn’t wait on us to get ready for the things that are hard. They happen whether we’re ready or not.
Our next first is tomorrow. Tomorrow is Mom’s birthday. She would be 89 if she had lived to see this day. I know, though, that none of us wish her back. We had been saying goodbye to her for a long time as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s overtook her brain and body. What a sad disease it is! Alzheimer’s takes a person slowly, robbing them of their essence and their personality and their memories. I’ll never forget going to see Mom last year, in June of 2014. When Gary and I entered her assisted living apartment with Jan, Mom not only didn’t know us at all, but she didn’t even show any joy that we were there. She would usually at least act happy to have visitors, but on this visit she was completely devoid of even that. For the first time, I did indeed feel like a visitor…..and an ignored one, at that.
Our visit that June was also the one where we gathered around Mom in the kitchen at Jan’s house as we sang hymns. Mom sang with us, surprising us all. That time was deeply precious to each of us, including Mom. Her eyes lit up as she sang. She smiled and she tried to express what she was thinking about each song. She remembered words very well, and we knew that each song resonated with her deep in her heart and mind.
Before we left that evening to go on our separate ways once again, Mary Beth wanted us to all put our hands on the table together, and take a picture. I’m so glad we did that. Something about that picture is so personal…..so tender. There is our mother’s hand, nestled among her children’s. Her hand shows the effects of age….of hard work….of arthritis. But her hand is beautiful. And us….our hands also show the signs of age that are creeping upon us. You can see some spots…..some lumps on our joints…..and several of us have that funny little finger that Mom had.
I look at that picture and I think of how Mom’s hand was always in our lives. From an early age her hands were ever busy with caring for us five children, and for Dad. I remember her hands cooking and baking, sewing and cleaning, caring for sick children and looking after busy children. She used her hands to show us how to make little troll doll clothes out of felt while she sewed real clothes for us to wear. She used her hands to let us turn the handle on the food chopper as she made Cranberry Salad for Thanksgiving. She used her hands to fill our table with huge baking sheets of homemade rolls while she pinched off little pieces of dough for us to happily eat. She used her hands to teach us how to set a table and how to wash dirty dishes after loading the sink just right.
Her hands wiped our tears…..and sometimes caused our tears as she spanked us for disobedience. Her hands worked to grow beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables, which she froze and canned and cooked and shared with others. Her hands taught us how to do the laundry and to fold the clothes correctly. Her hands taught us to iron whatever she had placed in our four baskets, each basket bearing the name of one of us girls. Where was John’s? J Her hands taught us how to clean a house, how to hem a dress, how to play some of her favorite card games, how to make a bed the RIGHT way, how to take care of our varied pets, and how to plan the many practical jokes for which she was famous.
Perhaps the most important use of her hands was when she would open her Bible in the early mornings as we all sat around the breakfast table. Dad would have already gone to work, so before we left for school, Mom would be sure that we all opened our Bibles as she did. She would read from the Our Daily Bread devotional book, reading the selected Bible passage first and then reading the devotion before we prayed. Her commitment to God and to us was never more evident than during that precious time together every morning.
Her hands made each of our wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses. Her hands cared for us after each of our children was born. Her hands loved and doted on her grandchildren and great-grands. Her hands knit literally countless numbers of Christmas stockings for family, friends, friends of friends, friends of family, pets……you get the idea. Her hands quilted each of us a totally handmade quilt after she retired. Then those always busy hands made, again, an untold number of quilts for others to enjoy. Her hands took meals to shut-ins. Her hands stuffed envelopes for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, for missionaries, and for church.
Her hands cared for Dad for eight years as he fought cancer. And it was her hands that he wanted to scramble his eggs that he loved during the final few weeks of his life. Only her hands would do, and I understood that totally as I stepped aside and let her do this thing that she loved so much. It was in their little kitchen that I noticed her hands doing things differently than she had ever done…..and I knew that the Alzheimer’s was lurking, waiting to overcome her in the following years.
Her hands worked hard to care for Dad during that final month that he lived. He preferred her hands above all others, but he knew that she was struggling, and so he allowed Jan and I to help as well. But it was Mom’s hand that he reached for as they sat on the couch. It was Mom’s touch that comforted him when he was so sick. It was Mom’s hand that he held as he lay in his hospital bed…..her hand reaching through the bed rails as she lay alone in their bed beside his hospital bed.
Jan took one last picture of Mom’s hands as she lay dying this past May. There they were, crossed on her lap, still and unmoving. She was nearing the end of her time on earth. Her hands, though, spoke volumes to all of us. I’m again so thankful for the picture that Jan took. Her hands showed the evidence of years of love and work. Now her hand’s work was done. It was time for her to rest.
But the work of her hands will never be done. Her work in our lives does indeed live on. So much of who we are and what we are is because of her beautiful hands in our lives. None of us King children would be who we are today without the influence of her godly, kind hands. Then our children, and their children, show the impact of Mom’s hands. What a treasure is to be seen in those soft, wrinkled hands!
I’m pretty sure that her hand is now holding Dad’s hand in heaven. I doubt that they’ve let each other go since she’s joined him there. Unless there’s work for her to do, and then I can totally see her using those hands to make something or to keep things straight. I wonder how many quilts she’s made by now?
The Proverbs 31 woman was described as one who works with willing hands. Our mother did just that, and for the rest of our lives we will benefit from her wonderful, willing hands in our lives.
Happy Birthday, Mom. Thank you for your beautiful hands in our lives. You will always be loved.