A Bittersweet Birthday Gift

Every year since my mother passed away, I can’t help but think of her on my birthday.  It was on my 50th birthday that I was by her bedside, 2000 miles away from friends and family.  It was a very poignant and bittersweet birthday.  It wasn’t at all how I planned to celebrate turning 50.

50-birthdayJanet, one of my friends had planned a birthday party for me—something I was looking forward to for weeks.  It was going to be a big celebration, with invites to women who had all jointly participated in a series of emotional healing classes.  It was how I really wanted to mark this major birthday milestone in my life.  But God had other plans.

An Unexpected Trip Back Home

I had not seen my mother in several years.  We didn’t have much of a relationship.  Her mental illness had driven a wedge between us.  Over the years it didn’t bother me much—on the surface.  I told myself it was all for the best.  Deep inside though, I carried a lot of guilt and shame around my relationship with my mother.  It was my choice to turn my back on her.

I never knew what it was like to have a mother to confide in, to mentor me, or to teach me how to be a good wife or mother.  I certainly didn’t think I needed one either.

joann-ny-2

My mother, JoAnn, circa 1956.

Then came the dreaded phone call.  You know the one.  When bad news is delivered, shaking your world.

My mother had a major stroke leaving her partially paralyzed and barely able to talk.  Medical decisions were made to give her the care she needed and life returned to status quo.

A few months later, after she had another medical emergency, I felt it was time to go.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but somehow the Lord was getting hold of me.  I needed to be an adult and face not only the difficult end of life decisions for my mother’s sake, but I also had to face my own pain.

A Change of Heart Towards Mom

I arrived in the St. Louis area on a roundtrip ticket with a return flight home a few days before my 50th birthday.  Seeing my mother that first time was difficult.  She didn’t look like herself.  She was pale, thin, and aged.  Years of bedridden medical care and living in a nursing home environment had turned her into a much older looking woman.

Despite her limited ability to speak, her eyes said “I love you.”

My heart ached for her.

My days were split between time with my mother and in meetings with her healthcare team.  Day after day I immersed myself in my mother’s care and living environment.  Occupational speech therapy was underway.  Hospice care was recommended and initiated while I was there.

Every night I talked with friends and family back home.  Their prayers gave me the courage and the strength to carry on each day.

When the time came to leave, I couldn’t bear the thought.  There still seemed like too much to do.  I didn’t know when or if I would see my mother alive again.  I didn’t want any regrets. God was softening my heart toward my mom, giving me compassion and empathy for her.

A family reunion with mom.

A family reunion with mom.

My sister-in-law, Carol, came to the rescue.  She sensed my angst.  Carol made arrangements for me to stay longer and made plans for us (my brother, her and myself) to return in December, for one last family reunion.

When it came to telling Janet about my plans to stay and to cancel my party, she made it easy for me too.  Janet was very understanding and loving.  She offered up prayers and to throw me a party another time, when I was ready.  (That party was five years ago and had a totally different meaning and feel to it.)

A Bittersweet Birthday

When my 50th birthday arrived, the day wasn’t outwardly that much different than any other day of my visit: time with mom, feeding her, gently massaging her feet and legs, talking with her care team.  Inwardly though, God was reminding me of the significance of the day.

It was bittersweet.  I couldn’t help but think that she brought me into the world 50 years ago and cared for me day and night as a baby.  She helped me to start life well.  Now I was returning the gift to her—helping her to end life well.

My final gift to my mother on this trip was the gold cross pendent I received from my godmother for my first communion.  I treasured that gift for decades.  But now, as I left my mother in God’s hands, and returned home, I wanted her to have something to cling to—to remember me.  It was my promise to her to return again.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

A Legacy of Healing

That bittersweet day was eight birthdays ago.  My mother passed away 15 months later.  I made two more trips back home to see her before she died.  Each time her health deteriorated more and more.

That first trip opened my eyes to her suffering.  It opened my heart for the healing between us—much of it never verbally spoken, but shared in the gentle touch of my hands and the tears in our eyes.

So on my birthday, I feel especially close to her.  She didn’t know it then, but she gave me the most memorable birthday gift.  And for me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  It’s the gift I give to others who are also helping their parents end well.  But really it’s the gift we give ourselves, if we are open to walking through the pain and turning healing to hope.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT)

For more on this story, purchase a copy of Journeys to Mother Love, through my site, or through your favorite book seller.

Another Life Lost to Cancer too Soon

I recently heard of another friend losing their battle to cancer. Her name was Mary Ann. She was a part of the group of friends I hung around with back in Illinois at Monmouth College. We were all feeling a loss as the news trickled across Facebook last week.

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

Mary Ann was a brave woman fighting for her life against cancer. Fighting that is until about two months ago when she found out that her cancer had spread to her liver. She posted on Facebook: “We have decided to move to hospice care instead of putting me through more debilitating treatments that could possibly shorten what time I have left to spend with friends and family.”

That post sent shock, sympathy, and sadness through our college network of mutual friends. She was in my thoughts and prayers ever since.

Remembering Mary Ann

As I reflected on my friendship with Mary Ann, a woman of Chinese descent, I dug out old Christmas cards and annual holiday portraits from a filing drawer neatly organized and stuffed full of such items from friends and family over the years. It’s one of those things that my husband would probably prefer that I get rid of. But on that night they served me well to pay tribute to my old college friend.

On her wedding day, 1997

On her wedding day, 1997

Mary Ann was young—a mere 56 years old when she passed away. She found love later in life than most of the college gang, marrying her husband Jerry 16 years after graduation.  By that time I had already moved to Seattle and had a 2-week old baby. A trip back to Illinois for the wedding was not possible. They vacationed in Seattle once, and we spent some time sightseeing with them.

In 2005, Jerry and Mary Ann adopted a baby girl from China. Every year since then she sent photos of their darling daughter. At first it was photos of their small family, but it soon turned to photos just of her daughter.

One year she wrote how she loved receiving our annual letter and wanted to do the same herself. Multiple times she indicated her desire to start scrapbooking. I don’t think she ever did. But she did tell me one year that she was hooked on rubberstamping. The year that they adopted their daughter, she sent a nice typed letter describing the adoption process:

Mary Ann family After a year of completing various paperwork for the U.S. and Chinese governments and 6 months waiting for a referral, Jerry and I traveled to China in February of this year to receive our daughter.

We spent about 2½ weeks in China waiting for passports and visas for her. During that time, we did a little sightseeing and spent time getting to know each other. We were lucky to be able to spend a day visiting the childhood village of Mary Ann’s father taking lots of video and photographs to bring home to her dad and siblings.

It has been a fun year watching our daughter grow and learn things on her own and from her cousins. We have been discovering all the family-friendly places in the area.

We have truly been blessed this year.

My heart aches for this young girl now, just entering puberty and without a mother to see her through the years of seeking her own identity and independence. I pray that the Lord will heal her heart over time.

College Memories

Mary Ann and all of my Monmouth College cronies have been in my thoughts a lot lately. Earlier this summer I was working on some page layouts in my scrapbook from our 25-year reunion. That was in 2006, and was the last time I saw Mary Ann.

That reunion was a marvelous experience for us all. I had been in Seattle for almost 20 years by then. It was before Facebook and social media was popular. Our main contact was through holiday cards and letters or an occasional email. Being back together after so many years was a priceless experience. We shared memories of the past and laughed so hard at times I cried. It was like we had never parted. (Below are some memories from that reunion weekend.)

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I miss those days—days when we didn’t have to carry such heavy burdens and responsibilities, days when we lived, dined, studied, and played together. We were a creative bunch—involved in the college newspaper, yearbook, radio station (me), theater, or music.

The one thing many of us had in common was meeting at the Christian fellowship group, Ichthus, our freshman year.  It also helped that the girls all lived on the same floor in McMichael Hall. We became best buddies.

Mary Ann was only at Monmouth for two years. She was in a nursing program that required a transfer to Rush University in Chicago after her sophomore year. But she returned on occasional visits and remained close to several group members.

When marriage entered the picture for us, some of these girlfriends were in each other’s wedding parties. At my wedding in 1983, Mary Ann greeted guests as they arrived and had them sign the guest register.

Final Thoughts on my Friend

My parting thoughts of Mary Ann go back to an email exchange we had about a month ago. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to write her about the healing aspects of writing.

I want to encourage you to write as you feel led for your family, leaving them something that will help them when you are gone.  Maybe you could write a letter for your daughter on her wedding day, or other significant milestone.  I know it won’t be easy.  But please rest assured that whatever you do, it will bring them closer to you and keep your memory and love for them alive.

I was glad to hear back that the hospice people were helping her to write. Unbeknownst to me, Mary Ann passed away a week after that communication.

Writing this now doesn’t feel particularly eloquent. (I wonder what grade my former English professor would give me.)  But with the recent knowledge of Mary Ann’s passing several weeks ago, I felt compelled to write—to somehow give back a little bit of Mary Ann—to her friends and family, or just to the old gang from Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

I don’t know the kind of impact my life has had on these friends and comrades from the past. I know I’m not the same person that I was back then—none of us are. Although we are thousands of miles apart and our lives have rarely intersected over the last few decades since college graduation, I know we all treasure the memories of that special time in life that we shared together.

The next time we gather together at a reunion, we will all have a hole in our hearts and sadness to share over her parting. We lost a true gem of a woman when Mary Ann passed away. She was caring, gentle, funny, and most of all brave.  If I close my eyes and think of her, I can still hear her cute giggle.  It brings a smile to my lips and tears to my eyes.

Mary Ann, your brightness shines from Above on those whose lives you touched. Rest in Peace, my our friend.

Being First: A Graduation Legacy

Last week a class of 115 students proudly walked across the stage of our church auditorium to receive their diplomas from a new high school in Washington State.  My son was one of these students in the first graduating class of Nikola Tesla STEM High School.  Naturally it was a proud moment for family and friends in attendance as well as the faculty and staff.

What it means to be firstBeing first, the administration had the opportunity to create a graduation ceremony that was unique and fitting to this academic community of STEM scholars.   The evening had many memorable highlights and surprises.

What it Means to be First

One of the surprises was an essay penned by each of the graduating seniors to the prompt: “What it Means to be First.”  Their essays were alphabetically listed in the program in the order that they would later walk across the stage to accept their diplomas.  It warmed my heart to read my son’s essay while waiting for the ceremony to start.

“Being first can mean going before others into the unknown but can also mean to claim a reward for your efforts.   Being first to graduate from STEM fits both of these definitions.  While I specifically am not the first, I am among them; the entire graduating class is the first.  We will be the first to claim our reward from the school for the years of work we put into our education and the first to leave this school and begin our lives as adults.  Our teachers will be the first to watch us go and the first to be proud for the students they invested years of their lives into.  Our parents will be first to say goodbye as they help us prepare for what lies beyond high school.  And we shall be the first to be grateful for all of these investments of time and energy as we remember the time we spent here for the rest of our lives.”

My son later shared that he easily wrote that essay as an in-class English assignment.  That was significant because many times during the school year he struggled to get a start on his writing assignments.  He would stare at the blank page for long periods of time.  This short essay was a gift to read and re-read knowing that it marked a breakthrough in his writing, and possibly his ADHD barriers to creatively express himself.

STEM 2015 Yearbook

STEM Yearbook

Graduation Speeches that Inspired

Graduations are full of speeches intended to inspire students as they start on their next level of education or venture out into the world.  These speeches were no exception.

We heard from the Superintendent of the school district.  As a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed her speech as she compared their journey to chapters in a book and identified the students as authors of their stories.

Student speeches followed.  A pair of students spoke on the phases and milestones that this first class journeyed through to get to this point: school construction, developing clubs and extracurricular activities, defining internship opportunities, naming of the school, and more.  That was followed by two more student addresses.

The second speaker creatively wove famous quotes from 50 other historical speeches and famous movies.  He quoted Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a Dream speech.  He cheered on the graduates exclaiming: “Live long and prosper” and “May the force be with you.” The audience broke into bursts of laughter throughout.  It was highly entertaining.

Below is a short video clip of a few graduation highlights created by the Lake Washington School District.

As much as I enjoyed those speeches, it was the faculty address by my son’s English teacher that meant the most to me.  Throughout her speech she wove the theme of the “Odyssey” by Homer, an ancient Greek poem about Odysseus’ journey home after the fall of Troy.  (The senior class chose to read this because they entered STEM starting with their sophomore year and missed reading it as freshman.)

It wasn’t the story that she told, but the examples she shared of memorable student moments that again hit an accord with me.  That was because his teacher anonymously shared something my son did in class.

Faculty addressA Compassionate Heart

Several weeks prior, to celebrate this teacher’s birthday, she held a Poetry Café.  Students were asked to bring in a favorite poem or one that they wrote and to share it with the class.  That night at the dinner table, our son told us about that day and what he did—heeding to his heart.

At the graduation ceremony, his teacher got choked up when she spoke these words to the audience:

“A quiet student stood in 3rd period, a student not many had heard from.  This was in a Poetry Café.  When the student stood, he stated I don’t have a poem I just want to tell you how much you mean to me.”

I felt the tears start to well up inside me too—proud Mama tears.

This teacher made a difference in my son’s life.  English was not his favorite subject, but English was his favorite class while at STEM.  She was his favorite teacher all three years and made English interesting to him.   When she signed his yearbook days before, she said he always made her smile and referenced the Poetry Café.  She wrote that my son worked so hard and she was extremely proud of him.

GraduationOn the eve of graduation I sent her an email telling her too how much she meant to my son.  She encouraged him throughout his high school struggles with his ADHD and instilled confidence in him.  She believed in him.

Then a few days ago I made one final stop at the school to see this teacher and give her a personalized copy of my book, Journeys to Mother Love.  We talked about the Poetry Café again.  She went on to share that one female student in the class told the teacher several times how touched she was by what my son said and that it made her cry (like it did the teacher).

My son has that way about him—kind, compassionate, and caring.  Someday a young woman will look past his shy demeanor, connect with him on more than a surface level, and sparks will fly, but not yet.

His teacher and I parted ways with a hug and tears welling up in our eyes.  Oh, to be a teacher and collect those special memories—knowing that they made a difference in a student’s life.

A School with a Heart

Back to the graduation…following the faculty address by my son’s English teacher, the student’s ceremoniously walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.  With a small group of graduates, they were able to add another memorable highlight to the ceremony.  There wasn’t one person who shook the hand of each student or even a rotation of teachers handing out diplomas.  Somehow they arranged it so that students received their diplomas from a teacher of their choice.  He proudly smiled for the photographer and received his diploma from his English teacher.

IMG_2619Before the customary switching of the tassel from one side of the mortar board hat to the other, another surprise awaited the parents of these fine graduates.  They had each written their parents a thank you note (another English assignment).  They were challenged to quickly find their parents in the crowd, give them the note, and return to their seats.  (You can’t do that in a large high school!)  More tears were shed in reading our son’s hand written note thanking us for our understanding of all he went through to complete high school and that he was grateful for how he was raised.

For the last three years of my son’s life, he forged a path of firsts with the other students at this school.  In a world that is continually more and more focused on ‘likes,’ attention on achievements, and social media presence, it’s nice to see that my son has his head in the right place…and that is in his heart.

I’m proud that is the legacy he left Nikola Tesla STEM High School.

Congratulations STEM Class of 2015 Graduates!  And thank you teachers and faculty for making STEM a school with a heart.

A Mother’s Day Gift for my Sons & my Readers

The last time I saw my mother alive was five years ago over Mother’s Day weekend.  As I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, these trips back home were instrumental to my healing.

My First Manuscript

That story is very sacred to me.  The writing was covered in prayer by my closest friends.  It was written through tears of joy.

“Walking My Mother Home” was my first manuscript submitted to a publisher.  I was nervous about sharing it with the world.  Only a select few ever read the submitted manuscript.  And it wasn’t until Cathy Lawton, the publisher at Cladach Publishing, notified me that they accepted my story that I even read it again myself.

Toasting the acceptance of my manuscript with a friend, January 2012.

Toasting the acceptance of my manuscript with a friend, January 2012.

In 2012, while the book was still being edited, I decided to give the manuscript and an accompanying letter as a gift to my sons for Mother’s Day.  I had a heartfelt conversation with them after my mother’s passing the year before, and tried to explain the significance of what happened to me.  Now with the imminent publishing of the story for the whole world to see, it was time to give them some more personal insight into my healing and my journey to mother love.

A Gift to my Sons

Dear Boys,

As Mother’s Day approached this week, I’ve been reminded many times that the last time I saw my mother alive was on Mother’s Day 2010.  A lot has happened in our lives in the two years since then…

Since you are males, you will probably never understand the bond between a mother and daughter.  But you will marry one day and will have to understand and be caring with your own wife and the relationship that she has with her mother.  I hope and pray that I can have a loving relationship with my daughters-in-law too.

As you know, I didn’t have a close relationship with my mother, not so much by choice, but by natural consequence because of her mental illness.  As my mother neared the end of her life though, God made it very clear to me that I needed closure and restoration with our relationship.  The attached manuscript is that story.

What I hope and pray you will see in this story is the same thing I want others to see—how following God’s will for our lives, through the good and the bad, leads to amazing blessings.  I want you to embrace opportunities when God wants to use you.  It won’t be easy.  But that is where the biggest blessings come into play—when we are stretched beyond our comfort zone and have to rely on Him.  He shows up when we lean on Him.  We just have to trust Him.

So as I start on my writing journey, I wanted you to know that is exactly what I am doing.  I am trusting that God is behind this and that He will use it.

I love you both dearly.  I hope and pray that when you look back at your lives that you will remember that legacy that I want to leave for you.  I want you to trust God and follow Him all the days of your life.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

With all my love,
Mom

With my sons on the Seattle waterfront, Mother's Day 2012.

With my sons on the Seattle waterfront, Mother’s Day 2012.

Paying the Gift Forward

If you already own a copy of Journeys to Mother Love, I’m sure you will agree that mothers of all ages can relate to these stories.  If don’t own the book, you can purchase an autographed copy here.

May your Mother’s Day be filled with blessings and hope from the Creator of motherly love, our Heavenly Father.

Mothers-Day-Flowers

The Last Time I Saw my Mother Alive

Mother’s Day 2015 marks the 5th anniversary of the last time I saw my mother alive.  As I approach this anniversary and invite God into my healing and memories of this day, I am struck by the circumstances surrounding that trip back home to Illinois.

Mom & me, first visit back home, November 2009.

Mom & me, first visit back home, November 2009.

Prompted to Visit one Last Time

As I wrote in “Walking my Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, the decision to visit my 79-year-old mother was a difficult one for me.  I kept her at arms-length for most of my adult life due to her mental illness.  The Lord had prompted me in later years to restore that relationship.

I hadn’t seen her on Mother’s Day for decades.  Her stroke ten months prior left her paralyzed and unable to speak.  She had been on hospice for the last six of those months.  The waiting seemed endless to me as my mind would drift to my mother’s suffering 2,000 miles away.

Out of the blue in April 2010 I got a call from a nurse at my mother’s nursing home.  Mom had bruising on her right leg.  It was either a sign of a worsening internal medical condition or uncharacteristically rough treatment by the nursing home staff.  An investigation was underway to determine the cause.  Either way, the answer was not going to be welcome news.

That call was the catalyst that sent me on my journey home to see my mother for the last time.

Not Quite What I Expected

When I arrived at the nursing home to see my Mom on Mother’s Day weekend, I wasn’t prepared to deal with the amount of decline in her medical condition.  The easiest way to describe what I experienced on that visit is to share an email I sent to a pastor at my church after my return.

“Thanks for asking about my mom.  The best I can say about her is that she is stable.  They are trying to keep her comfortable and free of pain.  Her leg is immobilized and will never heal.  They only get her out of bed once a day now—instead of twice—if at all.  She mostly refuses to be fed and is hooked up to a feeding tube.  She’s had that since November, but when I was there then I was able to at least feed her.

It was extremely difficult.  I didn’t realize how much she had deteriorated.  She said my name once.  One of the highlights of my trip was being able to take her only living sibling (a sister) to see her.  While my 50th birthday in November was an amazing day with her, Mother’s Day was quite the opposite.  I’m unsure why God nudged me to go, but I know I gave her some happiness for a brief time.”

My aunt praying for my mother.

My aunt praying for my mother.

Joy and Sorrow

I remember one of the fun things I was able to share with her on this trip was my change of hair color.  My own health condition had improved (chemical sensitivity) and I could color my hair again with a natural hair product.  The last time she saw me my hair was salt and pepper (shades of gray).  This time my hair was a vibrant red, not much dissimilar to her own hair color that I remembered from my youth.  I know it pleased her (and my aunt) to see it.

I left her with two physical gifts for Mother’s Day.  One was a bracelet, and the other was a 10-bead bracelet type rosary known as a decade, to replace the lost rosary I gave her on a previous visit.  They weren’t much, but I wanted to leave her with a small memento of my love and our time together.

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

Saying goodbye on this trip was much harder than before.  My siblings and I had such a beautiful visit and parting farewell with her on our last visit.  I didn’t understand why God would allow her to suffer like this.  Leaving then in December 2009, I thought her time was imminent.  Now on this Mother’s Day in 2010, I just wanted it all to end—not for me, but for her.

“Please Lord, let her pass peacefully in her sleep and don’t prolong this any longer,” I prayed as I walked through the hallways of the nursing home on my way to the car.  The next time I would walk these corridors would be to meet staff to plan her memorial service after she passed away nine months later.

Beauty from Ashes

My prayer wasn’t really answered as I had hoped.  God did orchestrate a beautiful passing for her though.  My brother Glen and his wife were by her side.  I was able to pray over her through the phone.  She felt my love as she left this earth, and she had it with her those long months as she waited for the Lord to take her home.

When I returned back to Illinois to bury my mother in February 2011, the staff at the nursing home gave me her personal affects.  After residing there for seven years, my mother barely owned anything, and there was nothing of intrinsic value.  One trinket that did make it home with me was the bracelet I bought her for Mother’s Day.  It now resides on my dresser inside the prayer box that holds some of her remains.

IMG_2436

The bracelet is tarnished and broken, similar to how I felt throughout much of my life.  But on that day in February 2011, I felt peace and joy.  Her passing helped me to see that she didn’t leave me a legacy of mental illness as I feared, but one of hope and healing.  That is what I treasure on Mother’s Day and every day since her passing.  God restored beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3) and turned my mourning into gladness (Jeremiah 31:13).

Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 2

In Part 1 of this post series, I wrote about my 3rd annual letter to my mother after her passing, and shared an excerpt.  Does writing a letter to a deceased loved one seem like an odd thing to do?  I wondered that myself.

Chapter 3 is Verna's story.

Chapter 3 is Verna’s story.

I got the idea from Verna Hill Simms, author (Water Under the Bridge) and contributor to Journeys to Mother Love (along with me).  In her story, “Take Care of Your Mother,” she described how she writes a letter to her deceased mother every year on her mother’s birthday.  At the time our book was published, she had written over 30 letters.

Wisdom from an Older Woman

I reached out to Verna, who will be 94 next month, to ask about her annual practice.  We had never communicated in the past, so I was delighted to receive such a timely and thoughtful response to my email.  Here is Verna’s response:

“I write to Mother because she loved getting mail and I do too. I feel it is another way I can keep her memory alive for my daughters and grandchildren. Hopefully after I am gone the letters will be read and perhaps kept. I have a few letters my mother wrote to her sister around the time I was born and one my paternal grandmother wrote when I was 2 or 3 and I prize them.”

“Keep her memories alive!”  Yes, that is it in a nutshell.  Writing to our deceased loved ones is a way of keeping their memories alive.  It is not just for our benefit, but as in Verna’s case, maybe our letters can be handed down and treasured by future generations as well.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

My mother lived her last seven years in nursing homes.  I took up writing letters to her.  She couldn’t easily read them and so the nursing staff would read them to her.  Because of her health, she couldn’t write back to me. (I received a few of my cards and letters to her with her personal belongings after she passed away.)

letterI have a stack of letters from my mother dating back to my days in college.  I have read them from time to time.  I didn’t appreciate them much in my youth, but now I have a new lens—one of a mother whose children are leaving the nest and is learning to let go.  Her letters comfort me, as I see her love for me in new ways.  They keep her memories alive.

My letter writing has also turned to Rosa, Pedro’s mother, in Spain, commencing with the terminal diagnosis of her mother four years ago.  Rosa and I still communicate through the aid of an online translator in our letters across the globe.  These letters keep our relationship alive though 5,300 miles apart.

Unfortunately, letter writing is becoming a lost art.  It is sadly being replaced by short bursts of text messages beeping on our phones!  (But that is a whole other blog post.)

Benefits of Writing a Deceased Loved One

Because I started this practice of writing my deceased mother for continued healing of my mother/daughter wound, there are parts of my letters that are too personal to publically share or pass on to my family.  However, my annual letters are definitely a way to keep my mother’s memories alive.  It is a way to honor her life and her legacy by taking time out of my busy schedule to spend deliberate and thoughtful time with her.

When I asked my therapist about this practice she gave me lots of clarity and insight on why this is definitely a healthy practice, and worth continuing.  Since my mother had a nervous breakdown when I was 6-years-old, I never really got to know her as a person, nor as an adult.  By writing my mother now,

  • I am letting my mother get to know me.
  • I am having an adult conversation with her.
  • I am building my empathy as I see her through the eyes of an adult.
  • I am identifying who I am and learning more about myself.
  • I am having a relationship with her spirit, not the mentally ill woman she was. (It even feels sacred!)

Love to you Mom, and Happy Birthday!

Hearing these things gave me more confidence in pursuing this annual tribute to my mother.  We weren’t close while she was alive.  Her nervous breakdown when she was 35 years old changed the trajectory of our lives, separating us emotionally for the rest of her life.

Don’t Forget

I don’t want to forget her.  I don’t want to forget the legacy that she left me.  So I choose to keep that alive by writing her every year.  More than that, I am writing about it here on my blog, to inspire others to likewise turn healing into hope.

My mother would’ve been 84 last week.  Happy birthday Mom!  It’s been great getting to know you!________________________________________________________________________________

Verna Hill-SimmsMore about Verna: Verna Hill Simms, started her writing career at the age of 80 after answering a small ad in her local newspaper to form a writers group.  She joined the Jefferson County (Missouri) Writer’s Society, saying it has been one of the best decisions she ever made.

Verna’s book, Water Under the Bridge, is a historical novel, published by Rocking Horse Publishing in March 2014.  Her book is mostly fiction, but a lot of the story mirrors the life she led in the 1920s along with her friends.  Water Under the Bridge is available in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  For more about Verna’s journey into publishing, click here.

Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 1

Every year I mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing by writing her a letter.  For the past two years I’ve published excerpts of those letters online to model healing and vulnerability, and hopefully to inspire others to do the same.  Those posts still rank among the most popular posts I’ve written.

JVB TributePreparing to Write

This year’s letter, written on the eve of the 4th anniversary of her passing, was just as hard to write as the few before.  I warned my family days in advance that I would need some time to myself to do this annual practice.  I had hoped to get away and work on the tribute scrapbook I started after her passing, but those plans fell through as well.

My family went out for the evening leaving me alone with my laptop and Zoe, our miniature Schnauzer and my faithful companion.  In the past I had written her about the changes I was going through internally, and the decision I made to take medication for my ADHD.  The latter decision was only possible because I had finally dealt with my fears of medication due in part to what I witnessed in her lifelong struggle with mental illness and psychiatric drugs.

What to Write About

This year, I pondered why I was writing her again.  Was it a healthy thing to do—write a letter to a deceased person?  I knew that letter writing was a good tool for healing.  I used it before in my spiritual and recovery related classes.  But what was the purpose in writing an annual letter?  I sat with that indecision briefly, prayed about what was on my heart, and proceeded to pen my longest letter yet to my mother.  (It seems I had a lot to say!)

Our happy family, before mom’s nervous breakdown, circa 1964.

Growing up without the emotional stability and attachment from my mother has left me longing in many areas of my life.  I’ve gotten some of those maternal needs met through my Sisters in Christ and my long journey to love with my stepmother as well.  Questions still linger though that are specific to my family of origin and what I didn’t get from her.

For instance, my mother spent many years seeing a psychiatrist.  She never shared what happened in those sessions.  I do know it was something that she looked forward to every week.  I’ve re-entered the therapeutic process myself to deal with the effects of my ADHD and to support my son’s similar struggles.  I too have come to look forward to those weekly visits and have more empathy for what my mother must’ve been going through.  I imagine it was her lifeline, as my counseling sometimes feels like it is for me.

Reading my Letter

I chose to read my letter to my counselor and ask her my nagging question:  “Is this healthy?”

She loved my question and enjoys watching how I am integrating the challenges I am facing as I come to terms with my ADHD.  Her response to my question was a resounding “yes!”  She went on to explain how my letters are catalysts for continued healing from my mother wound (by offering my forgiveness) and is bringing great revelation into who I am as a person (and connecting it to my mother).  Those were welcome words to someone who at times feels like I am walking around in a state of disequilibrium.

The main point I finished my letter with was how my mother’s faith changed mine as well:

“The faith steps that I took to minister to you in your final months, and to bury you, gave me such a depth of trust in the Lord.  It brought me back to Him in ways that I wouldn’t have possibly considered in the past.

It led me to Spain (and France), not just to meet Rosa and see the sights, but to pray for His people there.  He prepared me for that and met me there…

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

…If I have any legacy or fruit of righteousness that will grow in those countries, you will have it too.  Your faith planted the seeds for me.  I hope you are privy to that now and have a glimpse into what lies ahead for the Church. 

…Thank you Mom for your faith, for investing in me when I was young, and fighting the good fight until the end.  Your story is important.  I pray that in time, I can share it to a larger audience, and that it inspires others to embrace forgiveness and healing so that they too may live with the eternal Hope that comes from Above.

Love,
Ardis”

In Part 2 of this post series, I’ll address other benefits of this annual practice and introduce you to another author who has been doing this for over 30 years.

A Journey to Brother Love, Part 2

Same father, different mother, but the same physical DNA runs through me and my half-brother. Thankfully, it’s our spiritual DNA (the Holy Spirit) that gives us the Power of Healing.

Journeys To Mother Love

With my brothers in 2014 My brother and I with our half-brother (center) in 2014

In the post, A Journey to Brother Love, Part 1, I shared how as an adult I was shocked to learn I had a half-brother. I only met him once, 18 years ago. The opportunity arose to meet him again recently. I didn’t want any regrets, so I traveled to see him.

From the moment we were reunited, my brother was friendly and open, even greeting me with a hug. It felt very welcoming. He is a charming and engaging man. Yet for me, the time spent together was surreal.

What do you say? How do you communicate with a brother who was raised by maternal grandparents since he was two years old because his mother died and he was abandoned by his father (my father)?

Does he even want relationship with me (us)? After all, we were…

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A Journey to Brother Love, Part 1

Breaking the generational pattern of abandonment is not easy, but there is Light and Hope along the way. Where is your healing journey leading you?

Journeys To Mother Love

1996 Reunion With my father and brothers in 1996

Recently a new pathway of healing opened up to me: a “journey to brother love.”

My father married many times and had children from multiple wives—my siblings being the last. I grew up knowing about an older half-sister, but never met her. I didn’t know about a half-brother I had until 18 years ago when my father reunited with him after 52 years of separation.

I was in my early 30s, just starting my own family when my father called to tell me about my half-brother. It was an ‘Oprah’ type story of amazing coincidences that led to their reunion.

I felt like my world had been turned upside down.

My father invited me and another sibling to meet him. The half-brother lived across country and was making a trip to our area. I eagerly obliged, or maybe obeyed is a better word. This…

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On Mission for God, Part 7 ~ Review & Gratitude

I am struggling! It’s not like last year’s return from Spain.  But I am at a loss on what to write about my trip and how to re-engage in my writing discipline since my return two weeks ago.

I’m not sure what’s up with that. Writer’s block?  Writing fatigue from the mission?  Spiritual attack?  Or just plain brain drain from the last eight months of intense planning and preparations?

The one thing I am reminded of is to have an attitude of gratitude. So I cannot help but write a post about how grateful I am to have experienced another trip of a lifetime.

My Week in France

I am grateful for…

  • The Air France strike. My flight from Paris to Lyon was cancelled so I took the high speed train to Grenoble instead.  That provided me with more time to explore Paris.  I attended mass at Notre Dame, stopped by the Eiffel Tower for a quick photo opp, and bought some souvenirs.
  • The invitation from my American missionary friends to come to France to share my testimony at their church. My hosts showered me with their generous hospitality and acclimated me to life in the French Alps.  We explored nearby villages by foot and scoped out some old cemeteries.  They literally took me to new heights (on a perch thousands of feet above the valley and on mountaintops). God took me to new heights spiritually.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony at the Celebrate Recovery meeting In Grenoble. I met women who resonated with my story and shared my desire for spiritual revival in France.

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My Week in Rivas

I am grateful for…

  • The invitation from Pastor Josh Fajardo to come to his church in Rivas and teach about Celebrate Recovery. I hadn’t even met Josh at this time last year.  God beautifully orchestrated all of these steps.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony in front of a Spanish audience. This also provided the opportunity for Rosa and Pedro to attend and hear me speak in their native language.  It was an amazing blessing!
  • The connections that I made with people in the Rivas church, old and new friends, committed to life transformation through Christ.
  • The privilege to announce that the Spanish version of “Walking My Mother Home” was published as a gift to the church in Rivas.
  • The hope of continued partnership with the Fajardo’s, the church in Rivas, and that CR will take root in Spain.

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My Week in Madrid

I am grateful for…

  • The generous hospitality showered on me by my Spanish family, Rafa, Rosa and Pedro.
  • The hours of walking around Madrid and being able to physically keep up with it all. Some of my walks took me to sights I saw last year, but this time around I was able to appreciate them more fully and explore more leisurely.
  • The opportunity to visit and pray in several local churches.  I treasured each one and especially being able to attend mass multiple times.
  • The comfort and safety I felt with my family and in Madrid. I was able to explore one day on my own, taking the subway, meeting new people, walking to new places, and dining out by myself.  It gave me great freedom to experience Madrid in a new way.
  • The short visit with Pedro’s extended family allowing me to reconnect with a niece who stole my heart last summer and Pedro’s grandfather. We enjoyed the giving and receiving of gifts.
  • The ability to give signed copies of my Spanish story to Pedro’s family and that it can now be shared electronically with other friends and family.
  • The closure and peace I had leaving my Spanish family. I have no idea when I will see them again, but I am trusting the Lord to bring us together in His timing.

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Most of All

I am grateful…

  • To the Lord for allowing me to be His Hands and Feet on the ground in France and Spain, and for perfectly putting all of the pieces into place for me to go on this mission of hope. I am grateful that He stretched me outside of my comfort zone and has grown my faith in new life-giving ways.
  • To everyone who prayed for the mission (before, during or after) and for all of the generous donations that allowed me to follow God’s call to Spain.
  • To Timberlake Church for donating $1500 to cover the cost of CR launch materials for Free Methodist churches in Spain.
  • To the CR leader team at Pine Lake Covenant Church for sponsoring and supporting this mission across the globe.
  • And, to my family for taking care of the household for three weeks and supporting my call to Spain.

thank-you

Yes, today is Halloween, but let’s not forget to be thankful for the blessings in our lives. Don’t wait for Thanksgiving.  Let’s start a season of thanks-living.  What are you thankful for?

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Looking for updates on the CR mission to Spain, check out the blog post series on the ministry site where I serve,  celebraterecoveryontheplateau.org or re-blogged here.

  • 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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