I look for things to be grateful for every day. I’ve found life works best for me when I start and end my day with gratitude – for big things and little things. If I’m having a less than great day, all I have to do is remember even a few of my many, many blessings, and I can chase the blues away. Many people make a habit of keeping a gratitude journal all year long, even if it’s just jotting a word or two on their calendar or diary each day. Some people keep an official journal and write complete sentences and paragraphs about their blessings. In November, even more people make it a habit to post something for which they are grateful every day on their Facebook pages. Any of these are great ways to count your blessings, and I recommend that if you’ve never tried this exercise, you start now, for the rest of the month (or the year).
Today I want to share with you my gratitude for my mom, Pinky Dodson, and for the love that she shared so freely with my dad, with my sister and me, and with all of her friends and family. Mom died a couple of weeks ago, peacefully passing over from this life to the next on a rainy Friday afternoon. She had been living with Alzheimer’s disease for the last five (at least) years. I thought I had said goodbye to her a long time ago, because I thought she had sort of stopped being ‘mom’ – she was not the Mom I had known, anyway. What I learned upon her death was that she had never stopped being that MOM, even though it was hard to see it sometimes.
We were so lucky! In the memory care facility where mom lived, most of the residents do not recognize their loved ones – husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, or friends – but Mom’s eyes lit up every time I visited her. Although she hadn’t called me by name in years, she proudly told her caregivers that I was her daughter. When my sister and I were both there to see her, she knew I was the ‘bad one’ (and I was). She knew that she had become a great-grandmother – not that she was OLD enough to be a great-grandmother (she was four days shy of 86 when she died) – and she even got to meet sweet little Elliot this summer. On the day before she died, she rallied enough to touch the screen of my iPad as I showed her photos of Elliot and her grandchildren. She knew, and she made sure I knew she knew.
When I was growing up, I never thought of my mom as brave. She was just Mom – she made us dinner and read us stories and played games with us. But she was so much more! She was my Sunday School teacher, when no one else would teach Sunday School. She was my Girl Scout leader, when no one else would volunteer to lead a troop of unruly 4th-6th graders. She was either my sister’s class or my class room mother every year, when no one else’s mom would raise her hand. You get the picture – she was THAT mom – the one who allowed other kids to have the privileges that she wanted us to have, because that’s what it took for us to have them.
I grew up in Paducah, in extreme western Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Illinois. Back in the day, the only bridge across the river was the extremely narrow Irvin Cobb Bridge. You could see the water through the grate as you drove over the bridge – my sister and I loved it – but Mom HATED driving across that bridge. However, she loved taking us for outings to the hills and state parks in southern Illinois, and to get there….the bridge had to be crossed. So Mom would load us and our picnic lunches and our friends up in our giant station wagon, and off we would go. Teeth gritted and hands in a death grip on the steering wheel, probably not breathing until we were safely on the other side, Mom would cross that bridge, because it was important to her that we were able to enjoy a day outside in nature, together. And because no one else’s mom was brave enough to do it!
Mom taught us that it was important to be independent women – not that we didn’t need men or a husband, but that we needed to be able to survive without a man, if it came to that. She wasn’t just talking the talk, either. After my daddy died suddenly twenty-one years ago, Mom picked herself up and survived – no, she thrived – even while missing Daddy every day. One of the other great gifts Mom gave us was that she taught us the importance of friendship, and she taught us how to have friends by being a friend. Mom had so many friends, and they weren’t just her contemporaries. She had friends of all ages, and from many different areas of her life. She taught me to value people for who they are, and not to expect them to be like me.
Mom was a lifelong learner, too. She went back to college to earn her Masters in Education when I was in high school, and she earned that degree a year after I finished college. She changed careers from being a stay-at-home mom to being a teacher to becoming a social worker at age 50. After Daddy died, she started her own business as a floral designer. The summer before we moved her to live with us, she was still attending flower show judge courses, traveling out of town to attend classes and entering arrangements in flower shows all over the South. I remember driving her to a course she attended in eastern North Carolina, and she told me that she thought it would be her last course – that it was becoming too hard for her to get to all of them. As it turned out, it was her last course, and I don’t think she remembered a thing about it, even on the drive home. It was on that trip that I knew something was really not right with Mom.
Even these last few years, when her quality of life was negligible, when she was living in a ‘home’ with people she didn’t know, when she had to depend on others to help her with basic daily functions, when she was wheelchair bound, when we had moved her away from her friends and her home, she ALWAYS had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye when I saw her. She was a favorite at the ‘home’ – she rarely spoke, but she shared her sweet smile with everyone. She didn’t make trouble, and she seemed mostly content. She would still talk to me, and I could always make her laugh. Every now and then she would come out with some four-syllable word, used properly and in context, and I would know she was still in there. Until the last week of her life, every single time I left her, I would say, “I love you, Mom”, followed by “See you later, alligator”. And every single time, I got “After a while, crocodile”. And I know she loved me, too.
I thought I knew what it was like to have ‘lost’ her already, but I was wrong. I miss her terribly, and I’m so glad she was my mom. I love you, Mom!
Challenge 179: Exploding Photo #p2PExplodingPhotoC
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