We read a lot about strong women these days – usually some mover and shaker who challenged perceptions to become the CEO of a mega corporation. These modern power players get profiled, but strong women have been around for ages. Mother’s Day reminds me of one.
My mother was modern in some ways, but old fashioned in others. She was an RN, who gave up nursing to live on a dairy farm with my father. They had eight children, of which I was the seventh.
When I was eight, our barn burned down, killing the majority of our herd. Two months later, my father had a heart attack and died. My mother could not dwell upon her grief at having suddenly lost the love of her life. She was left with children ranging from kindergarten to college. She found a job at a nursing home and rented out the corn fields to neighboring farms.
When my father died, my greatest fear became losing my mother. As I aged, my great fear slid to the back of my mind. It was always there, but everyday concerns pressed it to the back. One minute, high school girls were confounding me; the next, I was trying to figure out where to go to college. My mother let me sink or swim with the girls on my own, but she had something to say about college.
She walked eight different tight ropes, balancing between steering us to become productive members of society and giving us freedom to be who we wanted to be. By the time her last child reached adulthood, she had earned a life of ease.
She didn’t get it.
I was 22, and living on the opposite side of the country, when my mother told me she had cancer. She said it calmly; it was just another hurdle to overcome. Everything would turn out all right.
I moved back home. Everything was not turning out all right. Treatment seemed ineffective. She got thinner and weaker. Sometimes, she asked my help in walking. I, or rather my old fear, chafed at this. She had to fight harder; she was giving up too easily. For almost a year I pestered her to eat more, walk more, do everything that hurt, because she was trending in the wrong direction and I couldn’t deal with it.
One morning, my mother woke up in excruciating pain. She was admitted to the hospital. A few days later I got a phone call from Hospice. They wanted to arrange for a nurse to come home with my mother. I hit the roof. Hospice was for hopeless cases. We hadn’t given up hope. I hadn’t. My fear wouldn’t let me. I told them what they could do with their nurse.
Exactly one week after we’d taken my mother back to the hospital, the hospital called. The message was simple: Come quick. Things had taken a sharp turn for the worse overnight. It was an hour drive. I wiped my face the entire time.
Walking into the hospital room I stared my greatest fear in the face. All my hope had been pretend. I was running from fear, and the running was over.
Lying in the bed was the shell of everything my mother had once been. Even that shell was fading.
Throughout the day, my siblings trickled in, one by one. As each of them came through the door, I relived, in their faces, that first moment when I had come in. A new wave of pain came with every one of them.
The last, my brother, needed a ride from the airport. I volunteered to get him. When we got back to the hospital, I didn’t follow him into the room. I couldn’t watch that face again, the one I had worn in the morning, and had seen so many times throughout the day. I waited in the hall.
A minute later, my sister came out. “Mom died about five minutes ago,” she told me. My brother had missed her by a few minutes. So had I. I felt bad for him, but not for myself. I had already been there for as much of the end as I needed. Damn the end.
We went back inside and all gathered around the bed. All of her children – very different people as adults, but all devoted to the one who had raised them in their different molds. All of them equipped to make it on their own, without her, because of her.
A doctor came to talk to us. His single comment that I remember was this: “I’ve never seen anybody live so long with so much cancer in their body.”
The comment made me angry. I was angry at myself for having pushed her to fight harder when she was already fighting harder than I could imagine. I was angry at the doctors for not letting me know the enormity of the foe she’d been battling all along.
We made the necessary arrangements, then piled into cars to drive back to the house in which we’d been raised. I was still battling with my old fear and my new anger.
On the country road we traveled, we were stopped by a sight that was familiar to us all. A farmer’s fence was down and his cows were in the road. How many times, in the olden days, had our parents taken us young farm hands to round up our own cows who’d gotten out? It seemed like a message from them both. They were together again, and things were just how they used to be.
It was hard to be angry after that. My fear-come-true receded as well. I began to realize that I was strong enough to go on. To me, as to all of my siblings, she had given a piece of her strength. As much as we might want her help, we no longer needed it.
That was 23 years ago. I still miss her every day. But I miss her because of who she was and what she brought to our lives, not because of any old fears.
She made me face my biggest fear, and she gave me everything I needed to live past it.
What a beautiful story of love for your mother and of her love for all you kids. Wow, 8!
I can’t imagine raising eight children, and my wife certainly doesn’t want to imagine giving birth eight times. I still don’t know how she did it.
Absolutely beautiful, Scott. I am going through many of the same things with my own mom right now. So,thanks for this moving tribute. Rest assured those traits your parents passed on to you will live on through your own kids.
I wish you the best with your mom’s situation, Tom. I only wish my kids could have seen the example of their grandmother with their own eyes.
How proud your Mom would be of you to read these written words from your heart. Truly, one of the gifts mothers hope most to leave behind is the gift of knowing that they did a good job in helping their children to become strong & insightful individuals. To know that somehow you had a hand in helping your children to become good people. I am certain if your Mom could read this, her heart would fill with such pride, knowing who you have become as a man, a husband & a father. Thank you for this read.
I only wish I could have told her these things when I had the chance. But you never see all the things until after the fact. Rather than have regrets, I guess I’ll just try to say important things to my own children every chance I get.
This is a beautiful tribute to your mom, Scott.
Thanks, Sandy. It’s long overdue.
A loving tribute that honors your mother’s courage.
Thank you. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Beautiful tribute to your mom, Scott, A few tears in her honor down here in Cleveland.
Thanks, Stacy. I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day with your sweet little man.
I miss her every day
Thank you. You have a lot of company in that. You were a great friend to her.
This is an excellent piece of writing, celebrating greatness, drenched in honest emotion. Such inspiration to all of us, appreciating our Moms while they’re still alive.
Thanks for this one, Scott.
Sometimes, it takes years to see and appreciate the entire picture. If you are blessed with a great mom and enough time to understand all the reasons why, then please do yourself a favor and let her know.
So honored you chose to share this with us. How wonderful to see your mother through your eyes.
I only wish I could do her justice.
Scott, although I never met your mother I know how much all of you truly loved her. She was definitely a very strong woman to face everything that she did in her life, and raise the 8 of you. What a beautiful story! Love it!
I can’t figure out how she had the strength to birth the eight of us, let alone raise us. After all these years, I am still in awe of her.
Thank you for posting this as I am now an orphan, with both parents gone as well. Mother’s Day has always been hard since mom died in 2002. My father followed in 2008…..on Mother’s Day.
Dandelions have always been special between her and I ever since I was 4 and picked the white ones for her, only to cry when the wind blew the puffs away. I brought dandelions to put in her casket at her funeral 🙂
Belated sympathy for the loss of your parents. Putting dandelions on your mom’s casket was a touching send off.
Wow, this one left me a bit speechless. I remember your comment on a post I did about my mother’s passing a few months ago. I had no idea you had lost your mother to cancer as well. This post really struck a (heavy) chord with me: I’ve been back in the Netherlands since Monday and it’s the first time I’m back in my mother’s house since she passed away. That’s a bit of a surreal and at times uneasy experience, valuable as it is. Reading your words in my mother’s house had me gasping for air a little (though I wouldn’t say in a bad way, if that makes sense)
Anyway, thanks very much for sharing this. I’m very sorry to hear you lost your mother at such a young age. And she does indeed sound like a very strong woman who was deserving of living an enjoyable life longer than she was given.
I can very much relate to you and your siblings seeing those cows on the road after your mother had passed. Regardless of one’s beliefs I think nature and life have a way of communicating with us that way (whether that’s real or in our heads to me is not really relevant; the fact you lost your anger at that moment I think would be the important thing). My mother was very fond of hummingbirds; I lived on Curaçao for about half a year now and I probably see a hummingbird in my garden once or twice a week. Makes me feel a part of my mother is and will always be a part of Earth somehow.
Thank you for this post. I think it’s a wonderful testament to your mother and it’s a beautiful way to show us how one life can be forever relevant, and thus forever lasting in a way.
I am happy that the hummingbirds have found you. You’re right, it’s important to have that link, even if it turns out it was only in our minds. In this lifetime, we’ll never know the truth of it, but there are convincing moments of things beyond our understanding. To me, that is a hopeful sign.
I’m glad you got to visit you mother’s house. Though it might bring difficult memories, I think it’s the kind of thing that is good to do, especially after a little time has passed and you can examine your memories with more clarity. In the long run, I think it helps sort things out.
Thanks for sharing your experience, and I hope there’s always a hummingbird in your heart.
You sound like someone who’s talking from experience;) It’s a bit weird to be in my mother’s house again, and emotional, but not in a way that feels wrong.
Thanks for the hummingbird remark. I would wish a pair of cows on your doorstep every morning, but that sounds weird;) I do hope and trust your parents have a place in your heart and sometimes show a hint of their existence in whatever is nature’s way of ‘communicating’ with you. I sure hope that makes sense.
Wonderfully written, Scott.
Thank you. It was a labor of love.