A Tribute to Mom, Part 2 – Her Final Gift

This week marks the 3-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Last year I shared her eulogy on my blog. It continues to be the post with the most hits (interest). I am sharing it again to commemorate the sacrifice my mother’s life became for me. May it inspire you to turn your healing into hope.

Making Me Bold

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,

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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!

It’s Not too Late to Forgive

I never considered mercy one of my spiritual gifts. In fact, I’ve never felt called to feed the poor, go on mission to a foreign country or minister to the health care needs of the elderly or terminally ill. Which is why I believe the trips I made back home to care for my mother at the end of her life were so transformational for me. God was giving me a heart of compassion and helping me to put aside my needs.

Then last year, during Holy Week, I traveled 150 miles south over spring break to care for my aged father. God was opening the doors for more healing and preparing my father to go in peace. I think forgiveness, and a letter I wrote to him before he passed, were key to that (excerpts in the “Journeys to Mother Love” blog post above).

My father would’ve been 95 this week. I’m very grateful I had that caregiving time with him.

Rest in Peace, Dad. And in case you’re wondering, I’m doing just fine.

Journeys To Mother Love

Like a scab ripped from the skin, my wound was exposed again. Why would I deliberately enter into that wound again? How could I think that it was really healed? A recent post, “I Forgive You,” by Catherine Lawton was the catalyst that prompted me to take another look. That, and the fact that I spent Holy Week last year caring for my 93-year-old father, sent my mind back to the months preceding his death.

Catherine’s post reminded me of how the words and actions of forgiveness were not something that was modeled to me when I was growing up. Tears weren’t allowed either. We were taught to ‘buck it up’ and move on. Reading that post took me back to the letter I had written my father a year before he died. My grief at that time was still fresh from my mother’s passing, and my healing…

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Acts of Service, Part 2 ~ Take Care of my Sheep

It’s Spring Break—a time when many families head off to sunny climates and fun-filled adventures.  With less than three months before I travel to Spain, I am staying put and working toward that goal.  But I have very vivid memories of my Spring Break trip last year.

It wasn’t exactly a fun-filled adventure. Yet it was an important next step on my journey to healing in my family relationships. I was away from home caring for my ailing father.  Considering what I went through with my mother, as mentioned in “Walking My Mother Home”, it felt like déjà vu.

CaregivingServing My Stepmother

My stepmother had been my father’s only caregiver the last few years and needed a break.  In recent months my father had significantly deteriorated, but they opted to keep him at home as long as possible.  Weeks shy of his 94th birthday, he spent most of his day in bed, used a walker to get around, his eyesight was waning, and his hearing was limited too.  Thankfully he was still pretty lucid though.

My father was a very proud man.  He didn’t want any help and fought desperately to keep his sanity and his dignity.  He was also mean-spirited at times, inconsiderate of others and had a strong need to be in control.  On top of that I was never very close to my father.  So one week of caregiving for him sounded like a recipe for disaster.

However, I had grown closer to my stepmother over the last few years and wanted her to get some time away.  She deserved it—not only because of his deterioration, but because I knew how hard my father was to live with in general.  This was my gift to her.  (My sister-in-law also made the decision easier for me by graciously offering her home to my son for the week.)

Helping HandsServing My Father

When my father woke up the morning after I arrived, my stepmother was already gone.  He knew I was coming, but nonetheless he acted surprised to hear that I was going to be his caregiver for the week—and he wasn’t happy about it.  That day was the worst.

My father’s anger surfaced right away and he said things I’m sure he later forgot he said.  (I guess that is one benefit of old age.)  It shook me up a bit—triggering the little girl in me and reminding me of how he used to scold and criticize me growing up.  Thankfully I was able to recognize what was going on inside of me and stood my ground with him.  He didn’t much like it.

It was in sharp contrast to caring for my mother.  She had suffered a major stroke and couldn’t talk.  I think that was part of the gift God gave me while caring for her.  With her schizophrenia, my previous visits were so emotional for me—never knowing what would come out of her mouth.  God had taken her voice and replaced it with eyes that spoke volumes in love and gratitude.

After the first day of butting heads and testing the water, my father started to accept my caregiver role for the week.  I knew his time was short so I embraced his storytelling a little bit more (the same ones I’d heard numerous times before).  This time though they didn’t feel the same.  My conversations were more deliberate and felt more significant.

My father and stepmother reunited at the end of the week.

My father and stepmother reunited at the end of the week.

A Change of Heart

Over the week, my father’s attitude towards me changed.  He expressed his gratitude for my taking care of him.  He told me how proud he was of the manuscript for “Walking My Mother Home” and his stories even helped me with the final edits for the publisher.

My father passed away three months later.  I know this time with him helped me to let go and get more closure in our relationship.  Although he never mentioned it, I think the letter I sent him about forgiveness on Father’s Day the year before (excerpts recently posted in “It’s Not Too Late to Forgive”), made a difference.  He was softening.  He was preparing to say goodbye.

The Unexpected Gift

It’s funny how I never really considered myself much of a caregiver—even with my immediate family—yet I ended up giving some respite to both of my parents at the end of their lives.  In return I received the gift of healing and restoration in our relationships.

On your road to your final destination, take time to care for others.

On your road to your final destination, take time to care for others.

Serving both of my parents in this way reminds me of the scripture where Jesus tells Peter (shortly after Jesus’ resurrection) to “take care of my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

You never know where God is going to lead you—in what kind of serving capacity.  I encourage you to be prepared to serve your parents while you still can—even if, like me, you don’t think you can do it.  It may be the gift you both need to let go and make peace with the past.

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).

Walking My Father Home, Part 2

Learning to Grieve

Grieving is such a subjective process.  If you think about it, most of us have not been taught how to grieve.  There are no preparatory classes for grieving like there are for other major changes in our life, like pre-marital counseling, parenting, childbirth or even becoming a member at your church.  There are a few grief classes like “Grief Share” conducted through churches or at local hospitals, but those are after the fact.

Generally we are thrown into it abruptly and have to figure out how to cope the best way we can.  If you seek professional help with grief or even look it up on the internet, you will learn about the “Five Stages of Grief” introduced by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.  Depending on the depth of grief one experiences, professional help is generally a good idea—especially if you become depressed or feel hopeless with your loss.

My first experience with death was the loss of my maternal grandmother when I was ten years old.  We had just moved 2,000 miles away from my father and my friends to be near my mother’s side of the family after their divorce.  My grandmother had a heart attack one night while I was staying in her home, they rushed her to the hospital and she died.  I had only known my grandmother a few months but we were inseparable.  I remember crying buckets of tears over that loss.  Over the years, other relatives passed away, but I was not close to them and there was no grieving to speak of.

Then came the death of my father last month preceded by my mother’s passing last year.  With those losses so close together and fresh in my mind, I have found myself pondering the grief process.  After spending a week tending to family matters and the memorial service out of town, my life quickly returned to its normal hectic pace.  I wrote a few blogs about my father’s passing, I sent photos and videos to family members and even listened to a few of my recorded conversations with my father.  For the most part, these things were done void of tears.  Then there were the occasional times where out of the blue I would just cry, for what seemed like no apparent reason.  It has been mystifying to me.

What I am most grateful for in this time of emotional ups and downs is that I am modeling something to my kids that I didn’t have modeled to me growing up.  Both of my sons have caught me in some of these tearful moments.  The first time they witnessed it, I calmly and tearfully explained to them that it is part of a normal grieving process.  Their concern and assurance of their love have helped me to integrate the loss.

The biggest lesson I have learned in my year of grieving was to offer forgiveness and reconciliation with my parents while I still had the chance.  The healing of those relationships made all the difference for me.  Having no regrets has made my grieving process easier.

So how long will the tears last?  I have no idea.  Everyone goes through the stages of grief at a different pace.  I am content with God’s timing on all of this and knowing that one day He will turn all of our mourning into gladness (Jeremiah 31:13).  Until then, I am carrying on with my life and embracing the healing process that God designed for us, one tear at a time.  Those who sow with tears  will reap with songs of joy. Psalm 126:5 (TNIV)

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    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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