In The Blink of An Eye

I’m thinking of my dad today for some very special reasons.  It’s been 6 ½ years since he went to heaven after fighting cancer for 8 years.  Dad was the one of the godliest men I have ever known.  He was so kind, selfless, and loving.  He was firm in his faith, never wavering through all the ups and downs of life, including his two bouts with cancer which finally took his life.  Yet despite his strong faith and his deep trust in the Lord, Dad seemed to have a great fear of death. 

None of us looks forward to dying, so on many levels we could understand his dread.  As he weakened and the end was coming nearer, he still seemed to struggle more and more with his uncertainties.  Finally one evening my brother John spent some time alone with Dad, talking to Dad about what was on his heart.  It was during this conversation that John was able to gently lead Dad to really express his concerns about dying.  One of Dad’s biggest issues was that he wondered what he would say to Jesus when he first saw Him.  We all just smiled and shook our heads when we heard that.  There he was again, not worried about his own pain but instead concerned about what he would say to his Lord.  And how like Dad that was!  He was always the ultimate planner and organizer, so for him to face this uncertain encounter with no plan or idea of what it would be like was very hard for him to handle.  Plus it very much showed his humility as he felt completely unworthy to stand before Jesus. 

Something else that was heavy on my Dad’s heart was the fact that he would be leaving my mother.  They had been inseparable during the 22 years of retirement they had enjoyed together.  Then when dad was put in a hospital bed, Mom slept in their bed right beside him and they held hands through the rails.  Dad knew that Mom was really showing the signs of Alzheimer’s in ways that we hadn’t seen.  He kept trying to find ways to tell us about it without Mom hearing him because he was so worried about what she would do when he was gone, and he wouldn’t be there to help her.  Part of his letting go was hearing our words of assurance that Mom would be cared for and that he didn’t need to worry about her.

But it wasn’t just that Dad was burdened about leaving Mom alone.  It was also that he was very concerned, almost fearful, of him being without her in heaven.  He was so close to her, so dependent on her in many ways, that the thought of being without her……even in heaven…..was nearly unbearable to him.  So on the night that John talked to Dad, he told Dad to remember that God said a thousand years to Him is but a day.  John said, “Dad, I really believe that when you go to heaven it’s going to be like you blink a couple times and then Mom will be right there with you.”

I don’t know that anything comforted Dad more than those words and that thought.  Later that night, as Mom and I sat with him in their family room, he very softly and slowly shared that thought with us…..and he sweetly smiled as he said it.  His soft, gentle smile….full of the hope that the separation from his Beth wouldn’t be so long after all.  We all know it was that night when Dad felt released to go on to heaven.  He knew that everything would be all right, and that Mom would join him in the blink of an eye.  Several days later he left this earth for heaven.

I’m thinking of my Dad today, and definitely my mom, for another very special reason.  Today my mother also left this earth for heaven.  She and Dad are finally together, whole and healthy at last!  I can’t imagine the joy they’re both experiencing right now to be with Jesus, and to be together for eternity.  Jan told me that Mom opened her eyes, eyes that had been shut for days.  It was as if she saw something.  Then she closed her mouth, closed her eyes, and was gone.  Did she see heaven?  Did she see Dad, grinning from ear to ear?  Did she see her Savior?  What precious and awesome thoughts those are!   

So while we cry at having to say goodbye to our last parent, we can’t help but smile and be so happy for her and for Dad.  Oh my goodness, I would love to have seen that reunion!  Someday we’ll join them there, and we’ll have so much joy and so much fun.  But until then, while we will sometimes weep and we will often miss them both, we can smile at God’s sweet goodness and rejoice over the certain hope we have of life together in heaven.  
 

Hey Mom, you and Dad have a great time up there! 

When we all get there, I do hope the Lord lets us sing “Oh, It Rained, Rained, Rained” again, just to torment dad. 

We’ll all see you in a couple blinks of an eye.    

The Meat Goes ON the Rice!

I stood in front of the greeting card display a couple weeks ago, locating the various categories of Valentine cards that pertained to me.  Husband….sons…..daughter…..friends…..special ones.  I paused at the “mother” category, and then skipped over it as I continued my search for just the right card for each person on my list.  Sometimes it takes forever to find just the right sentiment, and today was one of those days.  I decided on several cards, but there were still some unchecked names on my list.  “Well, I would just have to go to another store and see what choices they offered,” I thought as I went on my way.

I later made a new list in my “brain notebook” that sits in my cool ThirtyOne notebook holder.  It’s the notepad that’s just like the one Mom used…..the one she called her “brain”……..with all of her lists and her scribbled notes.  Just like Mom.  Like my mother used to be.  And there she was, once again, in my life and in my memories……although she is still living, but not like we all knew her. 

My new list consisted of items that I hadn’t been able to find on this day of shopping, and among them were three Valentine cards yet to be chosen.  As I looked at those names, I knew that one was missing, and I felt guilty.  My mother was not on that list.  I had overlooked that section earlier that day, on purpose.  Why get a card for my mother?  She is now deeply affected by Alzheimer’s.  She doesn’t know any of us.  She doesn’t even know that she has children at all. 

Not only that hard fact, but my mother doesn’t know what Valentine’s Day is all about.  It wouldn’t affect her one bit to not receive a card, and it wouldn’t affect her one bit TO receive a card.  And further, my mother doesn’t even know what a card is or what it is for.  It’s all tragic and sad and completely impossible to believe that this is true of my mom.

 
My mother was beautiful, and she was gifted in so many ways.  She was an extremely hard worker, and organized to the max.  She even washed her dishes a certain way, and taught her four daughters to do the same.  I thought of this fact one night last November when our dishwasher sat broken and useless in its place in our kitchen.  I filled the kitchen sink with hot, soapy water and began to place the dishes down in the suds.  I smiled as I thought of how Mom taught us to wash the dishes in a certain order and even to put them in a particular place in the sink.  Obsessive?  Maybe.  But it makes sense, the way she taught us, and I thought as I washed my dishes that night…..in my mother’s order……that I bet each of my sisters would load their dirty dishes into their sinks exactly the way that I was placing mine that night. 

My mother’s teaching and her influence go far beyond how to load the kitchen sink, certainly, but it’s in those practical ways that I find myself often drawn to her.  One of our favorite stories about Mom that make my family laugh is the one about the time that Mom and Dad had all of us over for dinner when we were visiting.  Mom had cooked beef in gravy with rice on the side.  She set the line up as a buffet, and she watched carefully as either Bethany or Martha….don’t remember which……put their rice on the plate and then put the meat on their plate separately from the rice.  Mom pulled herself up to all of her maybe 5’2” frame and announced loudly, “The meat goes ON the rice!”  We all wanted to burst out laughing, and we did roll our eyes when she wasn’t watching……but we all loved her for it.  That was Mom.  “The meat goes ON the rice!” is now one of our favorite sayings.

Now Mom doesn’t even know what rice is…..or meat…..and often doesn’t know what to do with the meat and the rice that might be on her plate.  Jan sent us a video last night of a recent visit with Mom.  She wasn’t sure that we would want to see it, but we told her yes……please send it and let us see our little mother.  It was heart wrenching and sad to see her so completely unaware of anything and anybody.  To see her showing fear, shaking and scared.  Our mother is gone.  The woman who bore us and raised us, and instilled in us so many amazing values that were her own, is now gone.  But her body is here, and she is loved by all of us……and excellently cared for by Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie.

It’s all we can do…..love her and care for her and definitely to pray for her.  And for me personally, to buy her that card.  Yes, I added her name to my list and I went to the “Mother” section of the Valentine cards.  I found just the right card, surprisingly enough…..one that talked about what my mother had done, not what she was doing now.  And what she HAS done is plenty!  All of her children and grandchildren are reaping the benefits and blessings of all that my mother HAS done in her life well lived. 

I really know that I sent her that card, not for her, but for me.  I needed to remind myself of all that my wonderful little mother was, and of all that she is still doing in my life today.  In that way, I honor her, though she is unaware of that. 

Remember now:  The drinking glasses are washed first, then the plates and the silverware…..with the silverware in front and the plates behind them….

And the meat goes ON the rice, for crying out loud!
 

The First Snow

 

The first thing I did when I got up this morning was to look out the window to see if we had gotten any of the possible snow that has been talked about over the past few days.  If you look hard, like between the cracks of our brick walkway out back, or on our roof, you can see a little faint dusting of snow.  It’s just a tiny bit, but it would have been enough at one time to keep up our old family tradition.

 

My mind goes back on this cold morning to other cold mornings of my childhood.  I remember how Mom would always be up very early, faithfully fixing breakfast for Dad before he left for his job at the railroad station nearby.  Then she would do the same for us, getting five breakfasts ready for us kids before we left for school……and somehow getting herself ready to head out the door for her own job.

 

But in the fall or early winter, there was often one magical morning that we would wake up to the sound of Christmas music.   Christmas music didn’t start playing at our house full time until after Thanksgiving.  One holiday at a time, please, in the King household.  However, there was one moment that Christmas music was played before the allowed time…….one day that it was perfectly fine to hear the early strains of We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

 

That time was on the occasion of the very first snowfall.  It didn’t matter if the first snowflakes fell in October.  If there was a bit of snow falling from the sky, Mom would put on a Christmas record……and if it was in the morning, we would wake up to the sounds of Christmas in the house.  And we knew…..we knew without even getting out of bed……that there was snow on the ground.  Of course, we would rush to the windows to see if there was enough to allow us to stay home from school, but there rarely was.

 

Mom and Dad loved snow.  Even when we all moved away from home, there was that one special day that our phone would ring and when we answered we would only hear a Christmas song being played.  None of us would have to guess or wonder what that was about.  We knew!  It was Mom and Dad announcing with delight that they had gotten the first snowfall of the season.  We all had a little contest going, hoping that we would beat them to the punch and be the one to call first with that Christmas music playing loudly, holding the phone up to the speakers so that they could clearly hear it.   Then we would put the phone to our ear and hear them say, “You got snow?!”  Yes, we got snow and it’s so beautiful, and on and on we would go…..laughing as if this was the greatest day ever.  And it was, in a sense, for Mom and Dad passed their love of snow on to all five of us children……and it was simple and sweet and so much fun to share that first snowfall of the season tradition over the years.

 

But it makes me a little sad this morning to know that I can’t call Mom to share my first little snowfall with her.  Well, I could call her…..but she would wonder who I am…..and why am I playing that music to her……and just what is that song, anyway?  Mom has Alzheimer’s and she doesn’t remember our old family tradition.  She doesn’t even remember our family.  So a phone call like that would only frustrate and confuse her, and would be upsetting to me as well.

 

I’m thankful for the sweet memories, though.  For the special traditions that our family had, as all families do.  I’m thankful that during the time Dad was dying of cancer, God allowed him to enjoy lots of snow during that November.  I remember him sitting in his wheel chair at their sliding glass doors, watching the snow and enjoying the hungry birds crowding their bird feeders on the deck.  Thankful that he got to see the beautiful Christmas tree all decorated the way he loved and listen to the pretty Christmas music.

 

It makes me realize how much we need to cherish our families and our times together, for it all goes by so quickly.  We live together for such a very short time before everyone scatters.  Brothers, sisters, children…..living here and there in this busy world.  So build the bonds of family strong while the children are young……develop the traditions…..and stay in touch over the years.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!  It’s a little early, but there IS some snow on the ground.  If you look real hard, you can see it.  But it’s enough.

Singing With Our Mother


My mother was raised in the little coal mining town of Welch, West Virginia.  Born in 1926, she was the last of six children born to Guy and Lillian Hollandsworth.  Grandpa was the principal of the school in Welch.  He and Grandma worked hard to raise their six children deep in those West Virginia mountains.  They instilled in them a love for God; a love for family; a love of culture; and a love of good music.  
Mom, fourth from the right on the front row
I loved hearing our mother talk about how she met my dad.  They met when Mom’s brother, Luther, married Dad’s sister, Mary.  Beth saw in Jack the sort of man she had never come across.  He was kind and thoughtful, a man of quality to whom she was drawn.  And as they became acquainted, they each learned something that helped seal their interest even further……they both loved classical music.  Dad was just a farm boy from Oakvale, West Virginia, who worked for the Norfolk and Western Railroad………and Mom, from a coal town deep in the mountains, was teaching Home Economics.  But quality music was important to them, so their mutual love for the same music was important as well.
Our home was full of music as we were being raised in Princeton, West Virginia.  It seemed that music was always playing on the old record player, and later the newer huge stereo cabinet in the living room.  Most of what we heard was classical, but Mom and Dad also loved the hit musicals.  I bet all five of us kids still know the words to the songs from Sound of Music, Carousel, South Pacific, and Oklahoma.  Christmas was full of beautiful and fun Christmas music.  I remember children’s records full of fun songs, too. 
Mom, on the far right, as part of the Laidley Hall Trio, 1946-47
Mom, fourth from the right on the front row
Mom didn’t just love to listen to music.  She also had a beautiful voice, and sang in choirs and madrigal groups during her high school and college years.  She was an accomplished soloist and sang in many area churches for revival services and other occasions.  A favorite song of hers…….her signature song, really……was “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”  This is the song she was singing in a little church during a revival service one night in the early 1950’s.  Jimmie Jones was preaching that night.  Mom stood up to sing, and God used the words of that song to pierce her heart.
 
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Refrain:
Than to be the king of a vast domain,
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
As Mom sang those words, she knew in her heart that she had never asked this Jesus into her heart to be her Savior.  She knew that she was standing before those people singing a lie with her beautiful voice.  She walked down the aisle that night during the invitation, and Preacher Jimmie led her to the Lord.  Dad had accepted Christ months earlier but hadn’t said much to Mom about it for fear of angering her.  Now they were united not only in marriage, and children, and their love of music…….but they were spiritually united in their love for the Lord that grew and grew over the following years.
Now our family had the completed element of being raised around God’s Word, and being active at Johnston Chapel Baptist Church where Preacher Jimmie was our pastor for all of our growing up years.  Now, too, were added beautiful hymns to the music that graced our home every day.  
All of us sang and soon we children were singing together for church.  I remember one Saturday that we even sang…..live!…….on our small town radio station.  We sang and Preacher Jimmie preached, and I have no idea how we sounded way back then.  We continued to sing as we got older, and were known as the King Sisters when John left.  And during all this time, Mom was still singing solos and blessing many with her pretty voice.
Many years have gone by since those days of early marriage and raising five children.  Dad went to heaven in December of 2008, during the season of Christmas carols and Christmas joy that Mom and Dad loved the most.  And now our mother has Alzheimer’s, lives in assisted living, and doesn’t know any of us five children or our spouses……or her grandchildren or great-grandchildren……or even her Jack, her husband…..Dad.  We can’t ask her for advice or ask her to tell us a familiar family story or ask her for a favorite family recipe.  All of that is gone.
Gary and I went home a few months ago.  Everyone was there except for Jimmy and Kathryn.  As we gathered at Jan’s house, near the end of our day with everyone, I suggested that we sing to Mom.  A friend of mine, Bev, had told me about singing to her mother who had Alzheimer’s and how her mother remembered the words……and it was their last real connection.
So we stood around Mom that evening at Jan’s and we sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”  To our surprise and delight, Mom joined in.  She knew most of the words, and then to our complete surprise, she sang the descant at the end…….her voice still beautiful and sweet.  You can click on the link below to see the video of her singing that song.
We sang a few other hymns as well, and then we decided to see if we could make it through our family song…….Dad’s favorite song……”Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus.”  Again, Mom sang most of the words in her sweet voice.  And at the end, as you can hear in the below link, she tried to describe how special that song was.  She couldn’t put her finger on why it was special……she couldn’t remember exactly……and she couldn’t find the words……but she knew.  Deep inside she knew that this song was a very dear part of our family, and a dear part of her Jack……of Dad.
I’m so thankful that we sang with Mom that evening.  We were all blessed beyond measure for that time with her.  Her heart was happy as she sang.  What memories those songs stirred in all of us, including Mom. 
Memories of wonderful parents who taught us about the Lord…..who filled our hearts and our home with music……but more importantly, filled us all with love.  And over the years, as we’ve all experienced both joys and sorrows, we can fall back on the love they gave us and the Lord they made sure that we knew personally.  Many parts of our early life are gone…..and now the Mom we’ve always known is gone……but the hope we have in Christ will never be gone.  The certainty of heaven will never be gone, where we can sing together forever! 
Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday.  She will be 88 years old……and she won’t know that it’s her birthday…..or how old she is.  But as friends and family gather around her, I hope that she knows how much she is loved.  And I hope that she joins in as everyone sings “Happy Birthday!”  
I bet she will, with a smile on her happy face and a twinkle in those beautiful eyes. 
We love you, Mom!  Happy Birthday!
And thanks for showing us over the years that you really meant it when you sang, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”  And that we needed to mean it, too.   

Mother’s Recipes


I’m a child of the 50’s and 60’s.  It was for the most part still a time of innocence and good old fashioned values.  Growing up on North Third Street in Princeton, West Virginia was an experience that I dearly treasure.  There at nearly the top of third street sat our house, with large maple trees out front and apple trees in the back.  We were surrounded by neighbors, most with kids the age of us King kids.  I remember riding bikes, skating, playing hop scotch and jumping rope in the street, sledding in the winter down the Lockhart’s hill, climbing trees, having sleepovers with friends, and playing kick-the-can until our parents called us in at night.  It was a wonderful, carefree childhood. 
Certain sounds and smells carry me back to that time.  When I smell fresh mowed grass, I think of Saturdays when Dad or John would mow the lawn.  Then I can almost smell Mom’s pinto beans, onions, cornbread, and fresh tomatoes out of their garden.  That was a summer Saturday routine at our house.  So many of the highlights of my youth seem to end up in our kitchen where Mom worked her magic.  Our kitchen was the heart of our home.  We cooked and ate and talked and laughed and cried in that one room. 
Of all the things that my mother did so very well, I think her cooking is the thing that we and others remember the most.  Mom was an expert seamstress, a great organizer of our home, a responsible director of the school food service programs in nine WV counties in later years, a college graduate, and she was a beautiful soloist.  But oh, her cooking……
I can still see our kitchen table overflowing with her homemade rolls, ready for her to package and put in the freezer.  She cooked in bulk and cooked ahead because she was just that organized.  Down in our basement, there were two upright freezers full of all sorts of goodies and essentials.  Not only did she freeze, and also can, garden vegetables and fruits, she also made endless dozens of cookies and then froze them in empty coffee cans.  Who can count the number of trips we kids must have made to those freezers, where we would open the door, crack open the coffee can lid, and snatch a frozen cookie…….and then breathe into it as we held it in our mouth, our breath thawing each bite just enough as we ran back outside to our play.
Inside those freezers were stacks of her homemade pizza crusts, each crust separated by waxed paper from the one underneath.  There were little bags of frozen homemade pizza sauce in just the right proportion for each pizza, as well as bags of frozen toppings such as cooked hamburger or sausage, pepperoni, and cheese.  Her pizza was the best!
I’ll never forget how she would bake hamburger on large sheet pans and then cut our hamburgers into squares.  And because you shouldn’t put a square hamburger on a round bun, she made her own square buns.   She even made hot dog buns, and somehow got the recipe for Dairy Queen chili, to boot!
Who of us can forget preparing for Thanksgiving dinner?  Mom’s Cranberry Jello Salad was a staple every year.  She would let each of us kids take a turn at her food grinder, dividing up the cranberries and the whole orange slices equally between us.  We would then turn the handle of the grinder as we listened to the popping of the cranberries and the squishing of the oranges.  The experience is just not the same now with the whirring motors of our food processors.  But it all comes back to me in a rush every time I taste that salad in my own kitchen.
Sunday dinners were always a large affair, with a roast or maybe some fried chicken, and all the fixings.  Often we would have a pastor or a visiting missionary eat with us.  Then we would eat in the dining room and use her good china.  She even had autumn china that had leaves on it, which I thought was pretty amazing.  She taught us the proper way to set a table…….fork on the left, knife on the right with the serrated edge facing the plate, and then the spoon. Drinking glass on the right, above the knife and spoon.  We all knew Mom’s strict rules, too.  Do NOT take seconds until the guests have had seconds.  Do NOT put your elbows on the table.  Do NOT interrupt the conversation.  And by all means, do NOT look at each other and start laughing during dinner!!  That was the hardest one to obey, trust me!  Laughter was always just seconds away at our house.  
  
Sometimes when money was low at the end of the month, Mom would make fried mush for us to eat.  We just loved it, all buttery and soft.  Mom was embarrassed, though, and we never understood why until we were older.  And sometimes after church on a Sunday night, we would all sit around the table and drink her wonderful hot chocolate while we ate buttered toast.  
We never left for school in the mornings without breakfast.  But it wasn’t only breakfast that Mom made sure we had.  She would also have us open our Bibles with her, and she would then read the devotional Our Daily Bread with us before we left to hurry off to school.  We would follow along with the scripture in our Bibles as she read, and then we would listen to her read the devotion, and we would pray.  
I have some of my mother’s recipes.  Actually, I have many of her recipes.  I spent a year at home between college graduation and marriage, so I took lots of time at home to copy her recipes.  Most are in my hand writing.  
I especially treasure the ones that are in her handwriting.  They are bent and stained and are becoming hard to read as they fade with time, but I would NOT trade them for the best typed recipe in the world.  Not at all!  For her handwriting makes me feel that I have a part of her with me each time I use that recipe.  
Our mother gave each of us, however, the most important recipe there could ever be.  She taught us how to live, teaching us about the proper ingredients and the instructions of living life in the right way.  It went far beyond how to behave at the dinner table when company was there.  It was much more than how to cook a meal, clean off the table, and wash the dishes in the unique way that she followed………and that I bet each of us girls still follow today.
Our mother taught us how vital it was that we ask Christ to be our Lord and our Savior, which we each did at an early age.  She made sure that we knew the importance of beginning our day with time in the Bible and in prayer.  Dad left for work very early so it was up to Mom to be sure that happened……and she faithfully did just that, even when she had to go to work as well.  She taught us to consult the Bible about decisions; to let God have the final say when we wondered what to do about all the issues we faced as we grew up; and to be faithful in attending church, not letting any other activity be more important in our lives.
She taught us girls to be modest, and what to look for in a husband.  Her favorite quote, which she shared many times with me, was – “God gives His very best to those who leave the choice with Him.”  She taught us to handle life’s good times with thankfulness and the bad times with trust.  And she showed us how to handle any situation…….ANY and ALL situations…….with humor.  
Her recipes for life are hidden in our hearts, not written on a card and tucked away in a file.  Her five children, and hopefully our children, carry those values with us every day.  Those instructions are seen in our decisions, our values, our attitudes, our hopes, and most certainly in our laughter.  
Our mother doesn’t know us now.  She doesn’t remember Dad.  She is struggling with some health issues and with Alzheimer’s.  But the ingredients with which she raised us are, and always will be, a part of us.  Her life is bearing fruit in her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  It’s a sweet savor, more wonderful than the smell of her fresh baked rolls.
            “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of
            idleness.  Her children rise up, and call her blessed.”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  We love you.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Gary’s military career took us to many places over the years.  Many of our family were able to come visit us in the various places that we lived, including Germany.  Fort Huachuca, Arizona, was our last assignment before Gary retired.  We had lots of family and several friends that were able to come and spend some time with us while we were there, but one trip will always stand out as the trip like none other……….the trip that no one would want to re-live.
Our military housing on Fort Huachuca, Arizona
My mom and dad came out to see us in October of that particular year.  October in Arizona is usually a great time to travel because it’s not too hot and not too cold.  Since Dad didn’t like to fly, they drove for several days across country, all the way from southern West Virginia to southern Arizona.  Mom and Dad enjoyed traveling, so the long drive didn’t bother them.  They had decided to just take their time and enjoy each day.
Our backyard view –  Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Now my mother, years prior to this trip, had been diagnosed with a very rare form of colitis.  She would go for rather long periods of time with no problems, and such was the case before they left for this long vacation trip to Arizona.  She had been fine, so she didn’t even think about bringing any of her prescription medicine.  However, on the long drive across the country she began having problems with her colitis.  As soon as they arrived at our place, later that evening, Mom pulled me aside and told me that she would need to go the emergency room the next day to be checked and to see if she could get some of her medicine.  It really wasn’t a big deal, she assured me, and so I wasn’t alarmed.
The following day, I took her and Dad to the ER in the town of Sierra Vista.  She was examined and plans were made to get her unusual prescription filled there in town for her rare form of colitis.  This would take some time, though, so in the meantime the doctor gave her something else to take.  In addition, they noticed that her blood pressure was high……….so the doctor said that she would need to come back the next day to have that checked as well.
Over the next several days, we juggled Mom’s ER visits with our day trips around southern Arizona.  There is so much to see and do there, and they didn’t want to waste a minute.  Mom’s colitis, though, was not getting any better but was actually worsening.  And her blood pressure was still an issue, so back and forth we would go to the ER to have her checked.  We were also dealing with Aaron’s seizures and behaviors……but despite it all, we were having a great time as we saw the sights and went on picnics and enjoyed time together.
One day I drove us all up through the Coronado National Forest.  We ended up at the top, at Montezuma Pass, where we looked out over the gorgeous view.  On the way back to the van from the overlook, there was just a tiny little incline with very small rocks on the ground.  Dad usually took hold of Mom’s arm to help her in an area like that, but this time she had gone on by herself.  Before we knew it, she slid on those tiny rocks and fell down.  We rushed over to help her up, and she assured us that she was fine………except that her lower leg hurt.  As we drove down off the mountain, I heard her tell Dad that her leg really hurt and that she thought she should go back to the ER to have it checked.   Now Dad, who was the sweetest husband ever, proceeded to tell Mom that her leg was fine and that she did not need to go to the ER.  At this point, they had been to the ER so many times that some of the staff knew them by name.  Dad was hoping that their ER days were over, but it was not to be.
Coronado National Forest
As soon as I dropped the kids off at our house and left them with Gary, I drove Mom and Dad back to the now very familiar emergency room.  Dad and I waited while Mom was X-rayed…….and then we were both shocked when the doctor walked out to tell us that Mom’s lower bone in her leg was broken.  Broken?  Are you sure, we asked?  Yes, we’re sure, he answered.  So Mom’s leg was put in a splint, and we were instructed to be seen by a certain ortho doctor on Monday.  This was Friday, so we had the weekend to wait.  And now Mom couldn’t walk……..and her colitis was bad, which meant frequent and VERY fast trips to the bathroom.  Oh dear.
We also, for some reason that I have forgotten, could not get a wheelchair at that time.  So we would put Mom in Gary’s desk chair with wheels, and we would roll her quickly around our quarters to the bathroom when the need would hit…….which as I said, was often.  VERY often.
We also had another little complication on this ever more interesting vacation trip.  Remember that we lived in military quarters.  When the housing authorities decide to make repairs on your quarters, they don’t typically ask if they can make said repairs.  They TELL you when they are making the repairs, and you deal with it.  Before Mom and Dad’s trip, we were told that there would be a certain project that would start on such and such a day on our house.  Just a small project…………putting on a new roof.  Oh, and since they were fairly certain that there was asbestos in the old roof that would be removed, we would need to make plans to be gone from our house on that day.  Gone…….as in gone ALL day……so as to avoid the asbestos.
You can probably guess that the day of the roof removal was on that Monday……….the Monday that Mom was scheduled to go get her broken leg put in a cast.  I had planned a full day trip to Mexico for all of us so we could do what the contractors told us to do……..which was to be gone………..and so we could avoid the nasty asbestos……….and so we could show my parents Mexico and we could shop and we could eat and we could have so much fun.  Instead, we were trapped in our house with Mom in a rolling chair with her leg stuck straight out, careening up the hall like crazy people to take her to the bathroom……and contractors at our door bright and early, asking us when we were leaving.  I explained that we were NOT leaving, and these Mexicans were trying to understand until they saw Mom……….and then they knew.  So they instructed us to keep our windows closed and good luck.
Dad and I got Mom to the doctor, and she came home with a nice new cast…….and still with her colitis, as strong as ever.  I don’t even remember how high her blood pressure was at this point, but I’m pretty sure that Dad’s and mine was right up there with Mom’s.  At least now we also had a wheelchair, and so life was a little easier……..except that our quarters weren’t exactly big enough, especially the bathroom doors, for a wheelchair.  Boy oh boy!
The Mexicans were working on the roof and we had our windows closed, but we noticed the dark clouds that were rolling in over the mountains.  Surely not.  It couldn’t be threatening rain in Arizona in October.  Not with our roof off………not with Mom in a wheelchair and a cast.  Soon our doorbell rang, and one of the Mexican men stood there rapidly firing off his mixture of Spanish and English.  I knew enough to know that he was telling me that they were hurrying as fast as they could to beat the rain, but that most of the roof was still not rain-ready.  And as we stood there, they also told us to move our vehicles because they were spreading tar on the flat roof………and the wind was whipping up because of the approaching storm.  So now we had very little roof and we had blowing tar.  Yes, blowing tar.  The tar didn’t get on our vehicles that we moved, but it blew all over our yard and carport……..and it seeped into our storage room………..and it got tracked all over the inside of the house.
Then the rain came………a hard, blowing rain.  The workers all left………..and we were left with drips coming out of our ceiling all over our quarters.  We used trash cans and buckets and bowls to catch the water.  Which meant that now we had Mom with a broken leg in a cast and with colitis………bad colitis, remember………being pushed quickly up the hall to the bathroom while dodging buckets and bowls and trash cans……….and somehow making it with our help to the toilet.  Soon after this rain fiasco started, I heard Mom in the bathroom laughing.  There she sat on the toilet, with steady drips of water landing right on her head.  Well, at least it was one drip that didn’t need a bucket.  We just kept the toilet lid up to catch the drips, and handed Mom a towel to hold on her head whenever she had to go.
The next day the workers returned and I tell you no lie………the same thing happened.  It rained yet again!  We had to laugh at this point.  I was so thankful for Mom and Dad’s good attitude, especially Mom’s.  Dad was getting a little stressed, of course, as he worried about her and wondered how on earth they were going to get home to West Virginia.  Finally, the decision was made.  My sister, Jan, flew out to Arizona in order to ride home with them.  I picked her up in Phoenix, and on the drive down to Fort Huachuca she asked if I could stop to let her use the bathroom.  On down the road a short way, she asked me once again to stop.  When she got back in the car, I asked if she was OK……..and she sheepishly said that her colitis had flared up.  OH NO!!!!!  She made me promise not to tell Mom and Dad, and she said the next day that she was fine……….and off Mom, Dad, and Jan went to drive back to West Virginia.
From what Jan told us, the drive back across country was pretty much a nightmare.  One day she told me that she stopped counting at 27 the number of times they stopped for Mom’s colitis attacks.  Many bathrooms were not wheelchair accessible.  Some hotels didn’t have any handicap rooms available.  It took at least 5 days to get home………..maybe more………..neither of us can remember.  I do know that Jan said by the time they got home, Dad was totally exhausted and he looked grey.  Poor Mom was wiped out………pardon the pun, but she would totally love that.
But things were not over.  Nope, not by a long shot.  When they got back home, Mom ended up in the hospital with pneumonia!  Yes……..colitis, broken leg, and now pneumonia.  But wait……….there’s more.  While in the hospital with pneumonia, she developed a blood clot and had an embolism.  She was in the best place for that to happen, although it was still a miracle that she didn’t die.  Of all things, this was her second embolism.  She had one years earlier after toe surgery.  She must be some sort of statistical miracle for sure!
This long story is just to show that through it all……….through this absolutely horrible vacation……….Mom and Dad stayed calm and strong.  Especially Mom.  Her strong will and her sense of humor kicked in, and she never acted like she was down or distressed.  She joked about everything and made the whole situation easier.
And most of all, as she lay in that hospital bed after the embolism, she said that God comforted her by giving her the verse that became her verse.  I wrote about that verse yesterday.  Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.”  She said she lay there and just let her mind dwell on that verse.  She knew that God was in charge of all this craziness, and in charge of her health………..and that if she died, it would be fine………..and if not, then she would remember that He is God.
Tomorrow is Mom’s 87th birthday.  She has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten more than she remembers now.   I bet she can’t remember that disaster of a vacation…….and maybe that’s best.  But I’m thankful that the rest of us can think of it and remember what a testimony she was through it all.
We love you, Mom!  And we think of what you always said when you had these colitis episodes……”It’ll all come out OK in the end.”   HaHaHa!  That’s my Mom!

 

FADING AWAY

 

I called my mother on Sunday afternoon – Mother’s Day.  The phone rang a few times and her answering machine picked up.  Just as the familiar recording began, I heard Mom’s voice faintly say hello.  I knew then that I had awakened her from a nap.  I waited for the recording to end, for the beep of the machine to subside, and then I spoke to her.  She was confused for a minute as she tried to clear her mind.  Being roused from sleep always causes her to be very confused.  I told her who I was and that I just wanted to call her on her special day – Mother’s Day.  She was pleased, and as always, her ingrained politeness kicked in as she thanked me for calling.  It was almost as if she was talking to a casual acquaintance and not her daughter.
When I asked how she was doing, Mom told me that she had been in bed for awhile and that she really didn’t know why.  As we talked and her mind cleared, she was still very uncertain about herself.  Each time I talk to her, I can read between the lines and I know that she is failing mentally.  Actually, I don’t even have to read between the lines.  Her end of our conversations are most often very vague and this vagueness speaks so clearly of just how unclear she now is mentally.
We didn’t talk very long on Sunday.  Once the answering machine went off, she couldn’t understand me.  We said goodbye and hung up.  I called Jan then, and she told me that Mom was suffering from a bout of her severe colitis.  Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, take care of Mom as she lives in the beautiful assisted living center that she has called home for nearly two years.  They know all too well how her mental state is changing.  One of the saddest things that Jan told me was when Mom opened her Mother’s Day card from John and Jeanie, and she asked who John and Jeanie are.  It’s not the first time that she has shown that level of forgetfulness, but it’s always alarming to see.
When I call Mom and tell her my name, I’m not so sure that she always knows that this Patty is her daughter.  Her realization seems to come and go as we talk.  She never asks about our children by name but will instead ask me how the family is doing.  She is always pleased when I give her a report on Gary and each of our children.  Mom has that social politeness that is a part of her fabric, so she exhibits happiness as she hears about Aaron, Andrea, and Andrew.  But does she even know that these are her grandchildren?  And this polite conversation lacks the depth of familial closeness that we always shared.  Something is missing.
What’s missing is………Mom.  Her very being has slowly been drifting away as the effects of her dementia increase.  She is living and breathing and talking, but MOM is fading away.  We still have her with us, and yet we don’t.  It’s a different sort of death.  We watched Dad fight cancer for eight years……….eight mostly good years.  He kept his mind all through this time.  His kindness……his wit……..his dear humor and sweetness and awareness never left him.  We could still share life with him, hard as it was, even as his own life was slipping away.

But with my dear mother, there is very little sharing now.  There is surface talk and politeness, but the soul and the connections are mostly gone……..from her side.  For us – her children and grandchildren – we are always connected to her in ways that she probably no longer feels.  We must accept, though, that the motherly affirmation and expression that even as adults we still long for……..are for the most part gone.

So many times I have found myself thinking that I would call Mom and ask her for some advice……….ask her how she made a certain dish……..ask her for a bit of family history that I wonder about.  But then I know that most or all of this part of her is gone.  Forever gone.  This is a sobering realization.  My totally competent, amazingly organized and gifted mother, is now the one who needs Jan or Jeanie to organize and manage her daily life.

 

She no longer looks at her calendar and knows that March 20 is her anniversary or that May 2 was Dad’s birthday or that September 14 is her own birthday.  This past Christmas, Jan wrote a note that was taped on each of  Mom’s presents under her tree.  The note simply said, “Do Not Open.”  Yet shortly before Christmas day, Bob and Jan walked in to Mom’s apartment and found that she had opened every single present……….and was ready to put the tree away.  We smile as we see in that episode a side of our organized mother that is still there.  Let’s get the show on the road and then clean up the mess!

 

Mom’s wit and her love of jokes and puns is almost legendary.  Yet now, at least when I talk to her, she seems rather flat.  Conversation lags between us because she has trouble with making important connections.  It’s hard to find something to talk about when she can’t even remember what that thing is that her cat, Princess, sits in front of………and I gently remind her that it is a window.  “Oh yes!” she says.  “The window!”  And I am struck with just how deeply she is affected……….and how deeply then we all are affected by this fading of her mind and memory.

 

I love this picture of her, though, still working at The Hunger Challenge at Johnston Chapel.  Still serving and smiling and enjoying being able to help.  That part of our mother is still there, as is her kindness and her concern for others.  This exemplifies my mother to her core, and I’m thankful that she can still physically do these things, though somewhat limited.

 

This gradual letting go…….this sitting on the sidelines of her life and watching her gradually slip away……..is heartbreaking for all of us.  There is really nothing we can do but be there for her, as Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, are every day.  We can tell her about our families, even as we sense that she’s not sure exactly who we are talking about.

 

And we can, and do, tell her how much we love her.  Someday even those words won’t really reach her.  But we reach into our hearts and into our memories, and we recognize her value to each of us in so many different ways.  Our love for her is not based on her memory or lack thereof.

 

I also realize how important it is that I say to my children the words that I want them to hear from me.  Someday I may not be able to say them, even though I may still be here physically.  Words of encouragement, instruction, family history, and love………words I hope they store away in their hearts forever.

 

Our sweet little mommy is fading away, but her example and influence is as strong as ever.  In fact, her impact in our lives is eternal and we are all so thankful for that fact…..and for her.

 

We can smile through our tears and be thankful for all that she was…….and still is today.

 

 

Quilted With Love

Some of my earliest memories of my mother revolve around her amazing skills as a seamstress.   I remember being very young and seeing Mom sitting at her sewing machine, turning out something beautiful and seemingly perfect from all sorts of fabrics.  She kept us girls busy in those early years while she sewed by giving us pieces of felt in various colors.  From this soft felt we fashioned  clothes for our little troll dolls, cutting and fitting each ugly troll as if it was a priceless and beautiful doll.  Mom provided glitter and sequins and odd buttons for us to glue onto our awkward handiwork.  We stayed busy for hours laboring over our important creations.  I don’t remember all the mess we must have made, but I do remember laboring over our little troll dolls while Mom labored over her more important sewing jobs.   Mom made small, meticulous Barbie doll ensembles which she sold in a local craft store, and also made some for us to keep.  Yet her most loving works of art were the countless pieces of clothing she made for her girls to wear.
 
Every Easter we had new Easter dresses.  I especially remember the Easter that she made all of us girls pink gingham dresses – and then made one for herself, as well.  I thought it was wonderful to not only match my sisters, but to also be dressed like my mother!   I remember the trips to Penny’s in Bluefield, the bigger town that was near our hometown of Princeton.  I loved the escalator ride down to the bottom floor, where we would choose patterns and fabrics and buttons for our new clothes.  Never did we go to the ready-made clothes upstairs or enter a dressing room.  Our clothing was there amongst the bolts of fabric, waiting to be matched to patterns and later sewn into pretty dresses and jackets and blouses.  I do believe that I took the longest to select the fabric to match the patterns as I had such a difficult time seeing the finished product in my head.  I would stand there, rubbing the fabric between my fingers, trying to visualize a finished product that somehow wasn’t materializing in my mind.  I can imagine Mom’s frustration as I lingered there trying to make this important decision………..as well as the rolling eyes of my sisters who had finished this process long before I did.
 
Mom worked full-time after we were all in school, yet still managed to sew all of our clothes.  She was a natural at this art, yes, but it still took lots of time.  She would sew late into the night, her dedication undeterred by her tiredness.  I never gave enough thought to how tiring this effort must have been to her until I had children of my own.  How did she do it all?  I have no idea, really, but she did.  Her work was not only beautiful with matching plaids and perfect zippers and flawless fit, but each stitch was filled with a love that wasn’t recognized by us until years later. 
 
One of my most special memories was of the year when we were teenagers, and Mom made us skirts for Christmas.  I don’t know how many skirts she made, but there were quite a few.  Then she not only began looking for matching sweaters to wear with each skirt, but matching knee socks as well.  She did not give up this quest for the correct colors of sweaters and socks until each skirt had what it needed to make it a perfect ensemble.  We learned about this later, from Dad, who accompanied her on many of these trips.
 
Dad, who was color blind and absolutely no help when it came to matching colors of anything, would patiently take Mom on many of these shopping trips.  I can still see him standing silently on the sidelines in the fabric stores, hands behind his back and a sweet smile on his face.  He never rushed Mom or any of us, but stood there until we had come to the point of methodically selecting every button and every spool of thread.  I can still hear him say, “Did you know that there are 53 light bulbs in this ceiling?”  Or, “Did you know that there are 271 zippers in that display?”  Dear, sweet Dad!
 
John and Jeanie’s Quilt

When Mom and Dad both retired, Mom only continued her sewing.  She had sewn for her children, for grandchildren, for friends, for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, and who knows what else.  Upon retirement, she decided to take up quilting.  Of course, she was a natural at this skill.  She practiced by making her and Dad a lovely quilt, and then took up the goal of making each of us five children and spouses a quilt.  These gorgeous works of art were each sewn entirely by hand with no sewing machine used.  She had us each pick our pattern and our colors – there I went again, having to make this difficult visual choice!  Mom never wasted a minute in any day, and before long she was completing our individual, personal, 
gorgeous quilts.  Dad took her to countless stores and quilt shops, patiently waiting over and over again as she selected just the right fabrics.  Each stitch was a labor of love……….each completed quilt a perfect picture of her devotion to her children.  I keep my quilt hanging in our kitchen area so that we can see it every day and enjoy its beauty, and bask in the warm memories that it evokes. 

 
Mom made many, many quilts during the next few years.  She made quilts for missionaries; she made a special quilt for a dear friend who had no mother of her own to make her one; she made a quilt for the Prophet’s Chamber at church where missionaries 
stayed when visiting; and she made a memory quilt that has special fabrics and mementos from each of us children and our children.
 
 
Bob and Jan’s Quilt
Jimmy and Kathryn’s Quilt

Mom has Alzheimer’s now and lives in an assisted living center.  Tomorrow she will celebrate her 86th birthday.  Dad knew that Mom was showing distressing signs of forgetfulness before he passed away nearly four years ago, and he worried so about her.  He would be happy with her living arrangement now and with how well cared for she is.  She doesn’t sew at all now.  She’s even forgotten how to put her jigsaw puzzles together that she loved so much.  Sometimes she doesn’t remember all of our names, and definitely not the names of all the grandchildren and great-grands.   But she is sweet and she is happy and she still seeks to serve others.

 

Bob and Mary Beth’s Quilt
Gary and Patty’s Quilt

And just as our keepsake quilts will always be an heirloom to pass down to our children, even more so are the pieces of our lives that she shaped and fashioned together with her tireless love and effort.  She took care of us, providing the atmosphere of a happy and warm home to treasure as she sewed and cooked and played and laughed.  She made sure that we had family devotions every morning before school because Dad was at work and so it was up to her.  She took us to church when Dad was working late, and didn’t just drop us off – she was there, too, worshipping and serving.  She  showed us how to love and how to work and how to pray and how to laugh and how to persevere through hard times.  She exemplified great care in 

how she took care of her mother for 14 years, as well as her mother-in-law for part of that time.  And she loved Dad, totally.  She never left his side, especially for the eight years that he fought cancer.  Even when they no longer could share their bed they had slept in together for 59 years, she slept right beside his hospital bed, her arm and hand resting on him between the bed rails. 

These traits of our mother are the stitches that are sewn into our very being.  The pieces of our lives were begun by her, thought-out and cut, measured and pieced, day by day.  As the years marched on, the shapes of our lives began to unfold.  The beauty of the various patterns began to be seen.  These are the treasures that are eternal.  These are the heirlooms that have more value than any quilt will ever possess.  And while our mother may not remember much anymore about the details of the past or the present, we have the evidence in our lives of her love and her faith…………a beautiful quilt of a life well lived.

The Legacy

We just went on a very special trip to visit my mother. Actually, it was a surprise for her 85th birthday. And was she ever shocked when she walked into that banquet room at the steak house and saw all of her five children there, as well as many grandchildren and great-grands! The look on her face was priceless; the tears, hers and ours, were genuine; and the love shared was a treasure. I’m so thankful that all of her children were there for her and that we got to rally around her at this very important time. You see, it wasn’t only her birthday. She has also just moved into an assisted living center and so we were able to visit her beautiful new home, help her with a little of the settling-in process, and get a close-up look at her lovely surroundings and amazing staff.

One other thing we kids did while we were there was to meet at the home she just vacated. This home isn’t the place where she and Dad raised us five children. They sold our family home in 1996 in order to downsize and make their lives simpler as they aged. Through Dad’s two cancers, and two more moves, they continued to downsize a little more with each change. Now as I walked into the garage where many of her smaller items were sitting in boxes or on shelves, perched on chairs, or leaning against the walls, I was determined to approach this as objectively as possible. Even in the kitchen and the living room I was able to remain composed. However, when I walked into the bedroom and began to help take clothes out of her closet, I was overcome with emotion. This was the last home that she and Dad had shared together. This was where I had spent the last month of his life as I helped Mom care for him. Memories of that month, especially, washed over me. Mom is now living in a place that Dad never got to share with her. The change in her life is striking, and the end of one chapter is really the beginning of the last chapter of her life.

It would be easy to look at the “stuff” in the garage and scattered throughout the house and think, “Is this all there is now?” As we children divide the casserole dishes and Tupperware that she’ll never use again, or discuss what will become of the larger items later on, is there something of more value to my parent’s lives than just “stuff?” Eventually, Mom will perhaps have to downsize even further if she moves into the nursing care section. Bit by bit, her life is being sifted of all earthly belongings. Eventually, she’ll be left with absolutely nothing. On the day that her body ceases to live and her soul is in heaven, she will not take even one little spoon or one little memento with her. And what will matter on that day?

What will matter the most is that my mother knows Jesus Christ as her Savior. She has the confidence, as do her family, that she will join Jesus and my Dad in heaven. And we, her children, have the legacy of a godly heritage left to us by parents who dearly loved the Lord and dearly loved their family. While earthly items are divided, our godly heritage is safe in each of our hearts and homes. Now this heritage, this legacy, is being multiplied as we have tried to raise our children to know and love the Lord. There is no earthly value that could ever be placed on such a spiritual treasure! No executor of an estate ever oversaw a will that held anything more important than this God-honoring example that our parents have left to us. This legacy isn’t an item that will be put on a shelf in our homes to later be divided among our children, but is carried in our hearts and hopefully lived by our example and passed to our children each day of our lives. Thank you, Mom and Dad. You have left us rich indeed.