The Perfect Gift & A Tribute to Friendship

If you follow my blog, you know that Rosa is my kindred spirit and ‘sister’ in Spain, whom I will meet two weeks from now.  I’ve been busy preparing for my trip to Spain, and while I knew Friday was Rosa’s birthday, I didn’t realize that it was her 60th birthday, or that a big family celebration was planned.

Rosa’s milestone birthday party brought up memories for me of my 52nd birthday party (a delayed 50th birthday celebration because of the events surrounding my mother’s passing as referenced in Journeys to Mother Love).  Rosa and Pedro attended that celebration via Skype.

It was a very emotional day for me.  It was my first birthday since my mother passed away.  Pedro surprised me that day with the first of his compositions written personally for me, Ardis’ Song.  I wept as I read aloud a story I had written about the connection with my Spanish family.

Pedro and Rosa join the birthday celebration via Skype.

Pedro and Rosa join the birthday celebration via Skype.

This story, “The Perfect Gift”, was the first writing assignment I tackled in my memoir class a few months before my birthday.  It was the one piece I wanted to have published.  To date, “The Perfect Gift” has only been shared at my birthday party and at a few Toastmasters meetings.  It is the piece I hope to share in Spain.

In honor of Rosa’s birthday, I’ve decided to post this short story on my blog.  When you’re done, I’m sure you’ll agree why I consider Rosa my kindred spirit and Sister in Christ, and why I am so excited to meet her.

The Perfect Gift

This was the long-awaited day of Pedro’s return to America.  Pedro was the foreign exchange student that our family hosted for a month the summer before.  Many of the past months were spent preparing for his return to our home.  On Pedro’s first night in America he was tired and jetlagged from his day of traveling.  He tried to stay up as long as possible to get his body in sync with the 9-hour time zone difference.  And of course he didn’t want to break with our tradition of exchanging gifts on his first night in America.

Pedro and the family all gathered in the playroom upstairs—just like last year.  Each family member opened their gifts from Pedro’s family.  I patiently waited as each person opened their gifts.  I had secretly plotted with Pedro over the last few months what to get them.  I was joyful as I watched each person open their gift and genuinely thank Pedro for his family’s thoughtfulness.

I knew as soon as I saw my gift that it would be a special gift—one that would tie our families together but I didn’t know how profoundly God had orchestrated it until later.  Our families had been through so much the last year.  Rosa, Pedro’s mother, and I both lost our mothers.  We had prayed for each other and encouraged each other from across the world—neither one of us speaking the other’s native language but by emailing our communications through an online translator.

The gift was a sterling silver cross pendant embedded with sparkling Swarovski crystals. As I looked at the cross I knew immediately that Rosa had picked it out just for me.  Although Rosa is Catholic and I am Protestant, we both have a strong faith that connects us.  During the several month period when our mothers were dying, Rosa and I sent each other encouraging notes and prayers to help each other through the painful process of watching and waiting for the inevitable to happen.  The cross was a beautiful reminder of how God had brought us together and how our mothers were both at peace as a result of our friendship.

Receiving the perfect gift, June 2011

The next morning as I got dressed and put on the cross, the first wave of its significance hit me.  My thoughts raced back to a visit with my mother in November 2009.  That was my first visit after my mother’s stroke—a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and virtually unable to communicate.  The timing of that trip had been so painstakingly planned as to not interfere with my previous commitments.  I was volunteering to serve at a ministry function and then one week later was my 50th birthday party.  I sandwiched the visit between the two events.  Days before the ministry event my mother had taken a turn for the worst and I feared that I would not make it back home to see her alive.

But my mother miraculously recovered and I was able to complete my ministry obligations.  On the plane ride to St. Louis I couldn’t help but think about what to expect over the next few days.  What state would my mother be in?  Would I be able to handle all of the medical decisions that needed to be made?  Would I be able to emotionally handle seeing my mother after all these years?  I prayed and prayed for God’s guidance and strength to carry me through those next few days.

I recalled how God had abundantly answered my prayers on that trip.  I remembered how after I arrived at my mother’s bedside that God gave me absolute peace about being there and compassion in serving and loving on my mother.  One of those first loving acts was to give my mother the cross pendant that I received for my first communion.  I had treasured that cross for over forty years.  It was a special gift from my Aunt Ardis who was also my Godmother.  My intention was to just let my mother borrow the necklace until I returned home.  I knew I’d never be able to physically part with it.  I also knew that even leaving it on my mother’s neck for the few days while I was there might lead to it getting stolen.  I had learned long ago to never give my mother anything of value because it would always mysteriously disappear from her room at the nursing home.

When the time came to leave, I made the painful decision to stay a few days longer.  There was just too much to do and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my mother.  It was just too soon.  I knew that staying with my mother meant cancelling my 50th birthday party.  It also meant that I would be spending my 50th birthday away from my family and friends.  As I prayed over my decision, God gave me more peace.  My birthday party seemed like a selfish consideration in light of what my mother was going through.  I knew it would be the best thing to do.

I spent my 50th birthday at my mother’s bedside.  I made the final arrangements for the hospice care to start.  I met with the chaplain.  I fed my mother, bought her flowers, read to her and massaged her feet.  It was a very bittersweet day.  I couldn’t help but think about how my mother brought me into the world and cared for me as a baby and now I was doing the same for my mother.

Mom holding my first communion cross.

Mom holding my first communion cross.

Every day that I was with my mother I would put the pendant around her neck.  Then at the end of the day, I would take it off again.  I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it on her overnight.  Then came the final good-byes.  It was the evening of my 50th birthday.  I felt God pulling on my heart and telling me to let go of the necklace—to leave it with my mother.  After the events of the last ten days, it seemed silly to even think of keeping it for myself.  So my last act of love for my mother was to give her that cross pendant.  As painful as it was, I told my mother that was my promise to see her again.  I prayed that God would honor that request.  That was the last time I saw that pendant.  Thankfully it was not the last time I saw my mother alive though.

So as I put this new pendant around my neck—the cross I received from Pedro’s family the night before—I felt God telling me that He was rewarding me for sacrificing that first communion cross for my mother.  I knew that God had replaced it with one that would have new meaning and special memories attached with it.  I was overwhelmed with joy at this new revelation.  I couldn’t wait to tell Pedro.  I couldn’t wait to tell Rosa.  While Rosa and I had journeyed together over the last few months as we prepared to bury our mothers, Pedro’s family did not know anything about my giving away my cross.  I truly felt kissed by God.  I was grateful for this tangible gift of His love and how He orchestrated these events.

Almost two weeks had passed since I had received the cross from Pedro’s family.  My family along with Pedro, were now vacationing in central Oregon.  So much had been going on since Pedro’s arrival that I didn’t have an opportunity to Skype with Rosa and personally thank her for her gift.  Pedro would Skype with his parents every few days, but each time I didn’t want to interfere with his family time.  But on this day, I had pre-arranged with Pedro to have some Skype time with Rosa.  Pedro and I sat on the deck of the condo with his ipad revealing video images of his parents 5,300 miles away in Madrid.

I was, of course, wearing the cross that day—as I had almost every day since I received it.  Rosa immediately made mention of it by pointing to my neck.  I didn’t need Pedro to translate that reference, but he did anyway.  I thanked Rosa for the necklace.  Before I could start to relay the story about my first communion cross, Rosa began to tell Pedro the significance of the cross to her and why she picked it out as a gift.  Pedro translated her story to me.  Pedro explained that Rosa’s mother had given her a similar necklace for her 50th birthday.  I was astonished.  I looked at Pedro with surprise in my eyes.

“Did you tell your mother the story about the cross?” I asked him.  “No, no, I didn’t,” he said.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  It only took an instant for that to sink in.  I grew more excited about her gift and about telling Rosa about the connection.  Pedro knew the story, so I told him to relay the story to his mother in Spanish.

I smiled as I clasped the cross in my right hand.  Again, I was recounting all the events of the last year that had happened between us—the miracles that God performed in the passing of our mothers, our friendship across the world and now this simple yet miraculous connection between us.  The cross was a reminder of our love for each other, our love for our mothers and our love for God.  This cross really was the perfect gift.

As we continued on with our skype talking about the sightseeing we had done and the activities of the last few days, I couldn’t help but remember the verse that God had given me each time He gave me one of these special moments to relish.  It was Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  That was exactly what I was doing.

Airport goodbyes, July 2011, the last time we physically (not virtually) saw Pedro.

Airport goodbyes, July 2011, the last time we physically (not virtually) saw Pedro.

© 2013 Ardis A. Nelson

The Rest of the Story

This piece went on to birth the manuscript for “Walking My Mother Home.”  In fact, the women at my 52nd birthday party prayed over me that day and anointed my writing.  The manuscript was written and submitted one week later.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

For me, this story is still unfolding.  It’s a lot to keep up with on top of my own family commitments and American relationships.  But this I know for sure, God has anointed this Spanish connection from the start and the next part of the story is just beginning.

Reclaiming Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day forever changed for me in May 2010. That was the last time I saw my mother alive.  It was also her last Mother’s Day.  Previous to that day I think the last time we were together on Mother’s Day was my senior year in high school—a span of 35 years.

Happy Mother's DaySeparated by Mental Illness

Over those many years Mother’s Day wasn’t something I looked forward to.  It was a day of obligatory cards or calls. She was remarried (again) and happy it seemed—that is until her husband died.  After that she drifted in and out of mental hospitals and eventually became a ward of the state.

I had tremendous guilt about my relationship with her.  I wanted a mother, but didn’t want her to be my mother.  Due to her mental illness and emotional instability she wasn’t able to teach me how to be a mother myself.  I had to figure it out on my own.  I didn’t hold that against her.  After all, I was pretty self-sufficient in those days.  I just accepted that she was mentally ill.  I chose to distance myself from her physically and emotionally and told myself it was for my own sanity.

Coming Together Again

My final Mother's Day gift to my mom

My final Mother’s Day gift to my mom

When mom had her stroke in 2009, God nudged me back by her side for two visits. The Lord was working on my heart on those trips.  As she lingered on hospice, living day to day with the aid of a feeding tube, God was making it clear His work wasn’t done between us yet.  That led me to that last visit on Mother’s Day 2010.

Between that trip—the last time I saw her alive—and the day she passed away nine months later, Pedro and Rosa, my Spanish family, entered our lives.  And the rest, as they say, is history—forever documented in Journeys to Mother Love.

Mother’s Day Reclaimed

Those first few Mother’s Days after she passed away were hard for me.  I deliberately spent them entrenched with my immediate family, to distract me from those painful reminders.  Now, I celebrate Mother’s Day with Rosa, as my kindred spirit of mother love—although it is one week earlier in Spain.

Mother's Day Gift of LifeAs strange as it may sound, I feel like every day is Mother’s Day to me now.  My mom’s death in February 2011 brought about a rebirth in me that forever changed the way I view my life and Mother’s Day.

It was as if her death brought me life, not because of any burden I was carrying of guilt or shame, as some might do.  It was because I got in touch with pieces of myself that were previously buried deep within me—parts of my identity that weren’t ok to express.   God revealed to me in her passing that I am beautifully and wonderfully made in ways like my mother that I couldn’t bear to embrace before.

So every day really is Mother’s Day to me, because of my gratitude to my mom, and to the Lord for giving me back my life.  I have reclaimed the real purpose of Mother’s Day in my life.  It is the incredible gift that mother’s give to everyone—the gift of life.

Regardless of the status of your relationship with your mother, my wish for you is a Mother’s Day that is filled with pleasant memories and gratitude to the one who gave you life.

Journeys To Mother LoveMore “Journeys to Mother Love” & Free Ebook

If this is the first time you’ve stumbled upon my blog, I encourage you to also check out journeystomotherlove.com, the blog hosted by Cladach Publishing, the publisher of Journeys to Mother Love.  This blog, dedicated to encouraging each other in mother/child relationship healing, is authored by the nine contributors to “Journeys to Mother Love”, and invites others to share their stories.

Now through Monday, May 13, 2013, get your free Kindle ebook of Journeys to Mother Love at Amazon.com.  Since this is free, after you’ve read the book, would you do me and my publisher a huge favor by writing a review? And don’t forget to subscribe, follow, like, pin, press this or share in your favorite social media!

May these stories inspire you on your journey to mother love.  Happy Mother’s Day!

A Tribute to Mom, Part 2 – Her Final Gift

When I started writing for a public audience, I knew that many of my initial writings and journal would potentially become published.  They were the basis for much of what I wrote in my story “Walking My Mother Home”, published in Journeys to Mother Love.  One year after the acceptance of that story by Cladach Publishing, and to mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I have decided to publically share her eulogy (unedited) as I gave it two years ago today.

It is longer than my normal blog posts, but I hope you’ll indulge me this sentimental opportunity to more publically honor my mother for the sacrifice her life became so that I would be free from the legacy of mental illness.  It was her final gift to me and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Giving the eulogy Mom's Memorial Service, February 2011.

Giving the eulogy Mom’s Memorial Service, February 2011.

And These Were the Words I Spoke

When I think about how my mom impacted my life and the legacy she left me, a variety of things come to mind, some more significant than others.  They have all made me the woman I am today.

I’ll start by sharing a little bit about my favorite times with my mother.  I have many pleasant childhood memories of us living in the Pacific Northwest.  I fell in love with that part of the country as a child and returned to it a few years after I got married.  It has been my home ever since.

When I was young, my family had a trailer and we spent most of our summer weekends at a beautiful state park in Western Washington where I learned how to swim.  After we moved to Portland, we would take the trailer to the Oregon coast.  This is where I hope to scatter her remains.

I have many pleasant memories of her taking us to the beach or to the pool while my father and brother John were out on the boat.  My favorite meal on those trips was always the fresh fried Rainbow Trout.  As an adult I have visited these beautiful places with my children.  Unfortunately, we don’t fish or camp, but I want them to sense the beauty of these majestic places.  Thank you, Mom, for those joyful memories.

My mom gave me my sense of style—always looking for a trinket to accessorize an outfit or to decorate my home.  When her wardrobe turned to hospital type gowns I bought her some scarves to accessorize them so she could have something feminine and special to show off her beauty and individual style.  And today one of those scarves is adorning the flowers.

She also gave me my love of photographs.  I have about 95 pictures lining both sides of the hallway in my home—each school picture of my kids and various family or vacation photos.  I love to take pictures and don’t go very far without my camera.  In fact, my favorite gift to give or receive is a photograph.  I think this ties in well with the sensitive side that I got from my mother.  I used to think I was too sensitive, but now I know that God uniquely wired me this way and it is a gift—something I share with my mother.

Final Remains

Keepsake with final remains.

The most significant impact my mom had on me was instilling in me the love of Jesus.  She was a practicing Catholic and took us to mass and catechism classes every Sunday.  As a young child, I don’t think I enjoyed attending the mass very much.  It seemed long and boring.  I didn’t understand it.  I do have fond memories though of the church changing to a ‘folk mass’ format during those years and really liking that.

When my parent’s marriage started to deteriorate, I also fondly remember the priest, Father Bertram, from the parish taking special interest in us kids.  He would take us out roller skating or to the carnival.  He made us feel very loved.

I left the Catholic Church as a teen and had many years when my faith was pretty non-existent.  Throughout those years, my mom would send me letters with her prayers for me and my family.  All of those prayers were answered when I found my way back to the Lord about 12 years ago.

Today I am forever grateful to her for planting those seeds of faith in me and not giving up on me.  I have a passion for Christ and His ability to transform us if we surrender to His will.  Thank you, Mom.  It is because of your faithfulness that I will join you someday in eternity.

Lastly, I want to share with you my gratitude to God for how he so perfectly ordained the last 18 months of my mother’s life.  My mother had a major stroke that left her partially paralyzed and barely able to speak.  It was a miracle that she survived that stroke.  I believe it was the intercessory prayer of my Aunt Mary, my mother’s sister, that kept her alive so I could see her again.

Since that time we made some very difficult decisions including the decision to put her on a feeding tube.  There were many times that I questioned that decision.  Thankfully though that decision was what opened up the opportunity for me and my brothers, John and Glen, to all see my mom.  We had that family reunion in December 2009.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to see my mom three times since that stroke.  Each time I was able to serve her and love on her in a way that I had never been able to in the past.  These trips were incredibly difficult for me, yet extremely rewarding and joyful at the same time.

Then six months ago, my family opened our home to an exchange student from Madrid.  Our families became fast friends and like family too.  Shortly after Pedro returned to Spain, he found out that his grandmother was dying.  His mother and I have been supporting each other and praying for each other and our mothers ever since.  Even though we don’t speak the same language we do serve the same God.

Pedro’s grandmother passed away 3 weeks ago.  Since Pedro and his family are Catholic, I scheduled a mass to be said for his grandmother.  I also had a mass said for my mother about two weeks ago.  Then a few days ago at the nursing home, someone shared with me, someone who knew her well, how my mother’s countenance changed to a more peaceful state about two weeks ago.  I firmly believe that God answered those prayers.

Cemetary burial of cremated remains. Mom’s final gift to me – freedom of the legacy of mental illness.

At that time, I was also praying that God would make it very clear to me when to return to see my mother—regardless of the outcome.  The time I spent ministering to Pedro’s family throughout their mourning process was really God’s perfect preparation for my mother’s passing.  It wasn’t just what I needed; it was what my mother needed to go in peace.

I’ve been spending time in Catholic mass the last few weeks, lighting candles and shedding tears.  While my heart’s desire may have been to be with her one last time while she was alive, and specifically when she passed, it wasn’t meant to be.  I could chose to be angry at God for that, but instead, I am grateful for the wonderful visits I had with my mom and grateful that I was able to just hop on the plane regardless and honor my mom this one last time.  I praise God for this opportunity, for the strength that He has given me to get through these days and that my mother is now in heaven with Carmen, Pedro’s grandmother.  They are both at peace.

Living Out My New Identity

Giving that eulogy in front of a room full of people I barely knew or didn’t know at all was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.  But like answering the call and writing my manuscript, I knew I had to do it.  It was an act of obedience.

It was a painful process to return home and integrate these new identity revelations into my life.  I accepted the uniqueness that God gifted me with and started seeing the world through the new lens of healing and with hope for the future.  Gone was the fear that I was mentally ill.  Today I am still grounded in my identity and uniqueness and don’t shy away from expressing my sensitivity or my faith.  This blog is one of the fundamental ways in which I maintain that voice.

While I’ve gotten used to being vulnerable in recovery circles and on my blog, it feels pretty risky to share my mother’s eulogy online.  So, if you got this far in the post, I hope you’ll take a moment to ‘like’ this post or share any comments below.  And if your relationship with your mother needs repairing, just remember that it is never too late for reconciliation and forgiveness.  Just pray and partner with God.  He will give you the strength and courage to do it.  (Philippians 4:13).

  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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