Mama’s New Grandchild

Today marks seven months since Jesus took Mama home. It also marks eight days since Mama’s youngest grandchild was born.

It’s been a bittersweet time for me. When my brother gave me the news that he and his wife had a healthy baby girl, I was elated! And then very soon I was in tears. Because Mama so loved babies! I’ve become a grandma twice myself in the last 22 months, and I know there is nothing like it!

I called Dad and told him I was going out to buy sweet girl things for the baby, before I went to the hospital for a visit. (They hadn’t wanted to know ahead of time the baby’s gender, so everything was generic at the showers.) I told him I wanted to buy some gifts to be from him and Mom, too. Because Mom would have done that. He agreed and told me to take as much money as I needed.

I looked in my daughter’s baby book. I saw the photo of Mom and Dad holding my little one, looking at her adoringly. I read the list of things Mama had bought for her. I blinked back tears and went shopping, looking for things Mama would give her grandchild…looking for things I would give my niece. I bought lots of tiny, adorable pink things.

I choked up several times, and blinked back tears, as I shopped and wrapped and drove to the hospital. And then I held my precious niece, so tiny and perfect, and all I could do then was smile! Babies have that effect on me. Holding a sleeping baby puts me in my happy place, and sadness evaporates, at least for those moments.

The next day I held the wee one again, when my brother and his wife stopped to visit Dad with her. Dad’s eyes are so bad he can’t see faces, but I asked Dad if he wanted to hold his grandchild. “Yes,” he said. “I want to hold her hand.” I arranged the baby in his arms and helped him find her tiny fingers. And he sat that way, for a long while, holding his granddaughter, while her little fingers clung to his big one.

I wondered what he was thinking. I blinked back some tears again, wishing Mama could enjoy this little one as well and wishing this baby wasn’t missing out on knowing her.

The next day I drove Dad to a doctor’s appointment. As we were driving he said, “You know yesterday when I was holding the baby’s hand?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I was wishing Mom could be there to hold her. You know how much she loved babies.”

“Yes, she did. I was wishing the same thing.”

“But then I thought if that book, Heaven Is for Real, is right, there are babies in heaven. Remember how the little boy met his sister who had miscarried, and he hadn’t even known about her before that?”

“Yes, I do remember that.”

Well,” Dad said, “If that’s right, then Mom has lots of babies to hold in heaven.”

“That’s true, Dad,” I said, through tears. “That’s a beautiful thought. I love that!”

And I do love that thought. I think of two of my own babies, lost through miscarriage. I guess I don’t know if babies stay babies in heaven or not, but I’m assuming they grow up. My children would be older now then, but they are with Mom!

And my nephew and his wife had some miscarriages in the last few years….I picture Mama loving caring for her great-grandchildren in paradise with Jesus! I take such comfort in these thoughts.

Mama is not alone. She is surrounded by loved ones and friends in the presence of Jesus! She has babies to cherish and hold. And I have to think Jesus would let her know about her new granddaughter.

Meanwhile, back here on earth, I’ll try to be the best auntie I can be and tell this little one all about her Grandma Nina! My brother assures me I’m in the starting line-up for babysitting.

IMG_4522

Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grieving These First Six Months

Today marks six months since Mama went home to Jesus. I’ve learned some things about grieving in these days.

I’ve learned, with God’s grace, I’m stronger than I thought. I’ve often wondered how I would ever go on when she passed. And yet I have. I’ve continued getting up each morning. Some days, especially early on, I didn’t get much done, through the weight of emotions, but I did get up. I did keep living.

And I was surprised I was able to buy and wrap Christmas presents even while I was planning Mama’s memorial service. I actually spoke at her service, something I never thought I’d be able to do.

I’ve learned I’m also more emotional than I knew. I can go along seeming fine, and a thought or word or picture of Mama can suddenly bring tears to my eyes. I mist and leak often. I choke up when sharing stories. I’ve learned that’s okay. It’s the new normal.

I’ve learned that genuine sympathy from others is healing. Each card that we received with a personal note in it was a comfort and read multiple times. Each meal or flower or gift given out of a caring heart made a difference.

I’ve learned it’s never too late to send a card or kind word. And that it’s worth the effort to buy the card and stamp and find the address and get the card in the mail. Because whenever it comes, even months after someone passes, it will bless a grieving heart to know they and their loved one are remembered.

I’ve learned that people who show up at memorial services help carry the burden of grief, and make it lighter and more bearable for the family. There is a tangible comfort in the presence of people who care enough to show up.

I’ve learned that when people you expected don’t show up, and/or don’t express care and concern, it can add to the pain and loss. As a friend said years ago at his mom’s funeral, “You find out who cares.” And you’re surprised by some that apparently don’t.

I’ve learned that when people share memories of your loved one it is such a gift. And that when relatives drive a thousand miles and risk ice storms to be with you, it is a priceless comfort.

I’ve learned that when you start misting up at odd times, people don’t really know what to do. But they don’t have to do anything. A sympathetic look is all that’s needed.

I’ve learned that even though I prayerfully did my best for Mama, and sought advice, I still wonder at times if I did all I could, or if I should have done some things differently. “What if…” questions sometimes taunt me. I have to remind myself that we were praying for wisdom. I have to picture Mama’s peaceful smile when she passed.

I’ve learned to remember Mama in my daily blessings. I think of her when I read the Bible she and Daddy gave me, the one her signature is barely legible in, because dementia had taken a toll. I think of her when I stir up her chocolate cake recipe or smell lilacs or see petunias.

I smile and cry when I look at old photographs. I feel her love when I notice our dresses in an old photo are made with the same fabric, and realize that she sewed the mom and daughter dresses…emblems of her mama-love.

I sense Mama’s delight in babies, as I play with my own granddaughters. I feel her smiling with me as I play with their toes, sing Jesus Loves Me, hug them close, or push them in a swing. Her legacy lives on.

I’ve learned that heaven is more real and precious to me than ever. And that knowing Mama is with Jesus in paradise, with no pain or tears, is the sweetest comfort of all. And knowing that all who trust in Jesus will be together with Him for eternity, is the greatest gift of all.

I’ve learned some things about grieving in the past six months. And on the toughest days I remember what Mama said a week before she passed, “God is here. He is bigger.”  I’ve learned these words are true. And I’m thankful.

 

10488171_701374999933733_2396007376847556359_n[1]

 

 

 

Mama Memories All Around

A couple days ago I saw that a purple iris had popped open in our garden right behind the house. I’m trying to remember if I got the plant from Mom, because she grew purple irises behind her house too. I can’t look at it without thinking of her.

So many things have that effect on me. I miss Mama. I miss the person she was before Alzheimer’s. I miss the quirky and endearing and even angry ways she expressed herself with Alzheimer’s. Any little thing, or nothing at all, can trigger a memory that makes me smile or tear up.

When I hang sheets on the line, I remember handing Mom the clothespins when I was young as she hung our sheets and how wonderful they smelled at night. When I bake a cake I’m usually using one of her recipes and thinking about her as I mix it up.

The petunias my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day remind me of Mama’s planters overflowing with petunias. The lilacs my husband picked for me from our bushes, shout of Mama’s love for them and how she’d fill big vases with bouquets every spring. The aroma that fills the house sings of Mama.

Today I was scrubbing our kitchen sink with Comet, and I smiled, because Mom used Comet. And somehow as I sprinkled it in the sink I felt connected to her, when she was younger and strong. I scrubbed the powder around and then left the paste to set for awhile, as Mom did.

On Monday we washed our sheets. After I stripped the bed, I thought about how it was a cooler spring day and how Mom would often open the windows and close the bedroom doors on such a day, so the bed could get a good airing as she washed the sheets. So I did the same. I smiled as I cranked the windows open.

So many things through out the day whisper or shout Mama to me. I’m thankful I had a mom who gave me so many sweet memories. She gave me lessons and smiles that linger. She gave me unconditional love that continues to comfort me through my tears. She taught me to believe and trust and follow Jesus which gave me certain hope for eternity.

Even when the memories make me cry, I won’t avoid them. I’ll embrace them. I’ll treasure each memory because they are gifts from my Mama. They are my heritage. And they keep Mama close to my heart.

I think I’m going to go pick that iris now and put it in a vase.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

11212775_10207752137988009_8680551553552430897_n

Making a Plan for my First Mother’s Day Without Mom

I’m planning ahead this time. My birthday took me by surprise– I was so emotional the day before and the day of. I was missing Mom and at the brink of tears much of the time. I didn’t think my own birthday would hit me that way. But I’ve been somewhat dreading my first Mother’s Day without Mama. And now it’s nearing like an ominous black cloud.

So I thought I’d take some time to think and pray and prepare myself. And here’s what I’m thinking I’ll do, God willing…

I’ll remember that grief will be what it will be when it chooses to be. I can’t control if or when the waves of emotion hit.  I’m guessing Mother’s Day will be especially hard, but I could be wrong. Some days I can talk about Mom and feel strong. Other days I’ve had upbeat songs on comedy shows push me to tears! I just don’t know. But it’s okay. The Bible says, “There is a time to weep…” If it’s time, who am I to say it isn’t? It’s okay to cry when I need to. My friends and family will understand.

I’ll go to church, even though I know they will be talking about moms. I’ll go to worship God and to love my church family. I’ll remind myself that I still do have a mother, she’s just in heaven before I am. She trusted and loved Jesus and is with Him now having the best Mother’s Day she’s ever had!

I will take time to be grateful for the wonderful mother God blessed me with and for all the sweet memories we made together. I’ll look at some of our old photos. Maybe I’ll sing some of our favorite songs or write a letter to her. Maybe I’ll eat Pecan Delights because they were her favorites.

I will take time to enjoy being a mother and grandma. I will cherish whatever moments I have with my family. I will hug my grand-babies as much as they’ll allow and tolerate. I will kiss their chubby cheeks and delight in their charming ways. I will listen to my adult children and appreciate the people they have grown to be. I’ll even try to believe the sweet things their cards say. I will soak in the joy of seeing them together and feeling their hugs and love.

If weather permits, I plan to spend some time outside relaxing in sunshine and nature. I’ll picture how Mama brought me a small bouquet of lilacs and crab apple blossoms about twenty years ago, when my husband and I lost a baby to miscarriage. I found such comfort in those blooms grown in Mom’s own yard and picked by her own hand. I’ll pick my own bouquet and bury my nose in them and remember Mama’s love and thoughtfulness.

I’ll take some time to pray for others who are missing their Mama’s too. And I’ll pray for those who are struggling with other losses and hurts. I’ll pray for a mom I know who just lost her teenage daughter to suicide– a pain I can’t even imagine. I’ll pray for a dear mom friend who recently lost her own mother to cancer and now is facing her own scary cancer diagnosis with such faith and courage. I’ll pray for a young mom I know who is battling serious and debilitating health challenges. I’ll lift up family and friends to our  Abba Father who loves us all.

I’ll remind myself to depend on God’s grace. God gave me grace to get through more than eight years of Mom’s declining with Alzheimer’s. He gave me grace to keep her in her home and help care for her as she was fading away. He gave me grace to kiss her goodbye and sit down with my Dad and tell him myself that she had passed. He gave me grace and strength to do and bear things I never would have believed I could handle.

He will give me grace for each day, each hour, each moment of mourning that is yet to come. “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” 2 Corinthians 12:9a (NKJV)

And finally, I plan to visit my Dad. And if I’m not choking up too much to speak, I want to tell him, “Thank you for picking such a wonderful woman to marry. She was an amazing mama and I’m forever blessed!”

cropped-img107.jpg

Featured Image -- 1131

Birthday Tears

I thought I was doing quite a bit better in this whole mourning process. I haven’t been feeling weighed down and on the edge of tears for the past month or so. Not that tears don’t sneak up on me sometimes. Because they do. But the emotions came in briefer blips, and haven’t been lingering for hours and days.

But even though the day is bright and sunny, the birds are singing, the apple trees are blooming and it’s my favorite time of the year, I feel the heaviness of heartache sitting on me again. I think it’s because my birthday is tomorrow.

It feels strange to me that my birthday would make me cry. It’s not about getting older. I think it’s because this is the first birthday I’ve had in fifty seven years without my mother. And I’m surprised it’s impacting me so much, since my mom hasn’t really known me for years. But there was still such a comfort in visiting her and just being with her.

Here are memories I wrote last year….

“Mom, it’s me– Cheryl. It’s my birthday today.”
Mama looks at me and asks, “What do you want to do?”
“I want to have a party with you.”
Mama looks at the massage therapist on the other side of her and raises her eyebrows and frowns a bit. It almost feels like she’s rolling her eyes at me.

But a minute later Mama reaches out and takes my hand. And she holds it securely for about ten minutes. And she taps my hand with her thumb as she holds my hand.
And I smile.
The massage therapist says, “What a gift!”
And I agree.

Thank You Jesus for my sweet Mama. For the life and love and example she gave me.
And for her soft hand holding mine today.

And here’s a memory from 2015…

I sit on the love seat and ask Mama if she wants to sit by me. She gets up from her rocking chair right away and shuffles over and plops down next to me. She leans her head on my shoulder and says something she’s never said to me before. She asks, “Will you take care of me?”
“Yes, Mama,” I answer. “I will take care of you.”

She pats my arm. She sings a bit of “I love you a bushel and a peck” with me.

I start “our” verse, “For God so loved the world…” I pause waiting for her to finish it.
But instead Mom says, “He did, I guess…”

I take out the bag of Mini Pecan Delights I brought Mom for Mother’s Day and we eat a few of them as we cuddle. And for a few minutes I forget about all the other challenges in life. And I soak in this gentle softness of sitting next to Mama.

12193321_10208387119422148_1403893446889809860_n

I miss Mama this year. I suppose I will every birthday. And I’m a little bit dreading Mother’s Day. But I’m so thankful for all the years I did have with my precious mama and all the memories that we made. I”m thankful for every word I wrote down, so I can picture and relive the moments again.

And I’m forever grateful that God DID so love the world, that He sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) And because of that, I know that even though I may miss a few birthdays on this earth with my Mama, I’ll have an eternity of birthdays with her to come!

1936193_1083751878362708_1849741565749206441_n

Mama’s Legacy

Four months ago today Mama had her last night on this earth. She was taking long gaps between breaths. Scary long ones. It seemed like she was taking her last breath a hundred times over. I remember shaking her arm and pleading with her to breathe. “Breathe, Mama, please breathe!” I felt like I was holding my own breath waiting for the next gasp to come.

I was crying and praying and calling for family to come over and be with us. And through it all I was somehow also praying for my nephew and his wife. Because I had gotten the message that they were at the hospital, in labor, struggling through the birthing pains of their firstborn.

Then I got the news. They had a healthy baby boy! I leaned close to Mama and said, ” You have another great-grandson, Mom! Simon has been born!” And I smiled through tears and prayed that Mama would make it past midnight, so she didn’t pass on his birthday.

And then, after hours of agonizing breaths, she started breathing regularly again. Only now there was a gurgling sound. And that was even scarier, in a different way. My husband called the hospice nurse, who got there about midnight. She confirmed that Mama was passing. It could be hours. “Make the most of this time,” the nurse said. “Talk to her.”

And I remember thinking, I’ve been making the most of this time for years now. I’ve spoken my apologies. I’ve expressed my love and gratitude. I’ve sung and read the Bible and told her stories of my life and hers. I’ve spoken to her about heaven and how beautiful it will be and who she will see there. I’ve reminded her that Jesus saved us and we trust in Him and we’ll all be together again.

I was thankful I’d said it all over and over again through the years of dementia. I only wish I’d said more of it while her mind was still strong. But I had taken the time to say every word I could think to say, every word I had needed to say, over and over again through the years. And now as Mama lay dying, I was at peace about that.

She never opened her eyes that night. I don’t know if she heard anything or not. But I played a CD of hymns and I held her hand and I told her I loved her, again and again. And I cuddled up next to her on the bed.

In the morning, as my daughter and I were giving her medications and repositioning her, we suddenly noticed she had passed somewhere in the process. The hospice nurse later told me this was very common. We cried. We sat on either side of Daddy and told him and we all held onto each other and wept.

I went to look in on Mama again, and I noticed a gentle smile on her face– so slight. And she looked so incredibly peaceful. It brought me such a comfort to see a peace I hadn’t seen for years– if ever. My daughter, and others, marveled at it, too.

And now we’ve been adjusting to life without Mama for the last four months. Last night I was babysitting my youngest granddaughter. I can’t see anything in her that resembles my mom, and yet she wouldn’t be here if Mom never had been. My sweet granddaughter is part of Mama’s legacy.

And then it dawned on me that God gave each of my brothers and I precious gifts, the same year he took Mama Home. He gave me my first biological grandchild in April. He gave my older brother his fifth grandchild in October. He gave my younger brother his first grandchild, as Mama was slipping away. And He gave my baby brother the news that he will be a first time daddy this July!

Mama, your love lives on! Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren are beautiful and strong! And I can’t wait to meet your newest grandchild this summer! Thank you for passing on a heritage of faith and love that is rich and warm and deep. Your heart beats on in the legacy you have left behind.

We will do our best to tell your great-grandchildren about you, Mama. And we will pass on the family recipes and songs and stories. And most importantly we will teach them about Jesus, and share the faith you shared with us. And someday, because of His tender mercies and our faith in Him, we will be together again.

My beautiful picture

My sweet mama with my baby brother

 

 

 

Mourning Mercies

The other day I went to Culver’s to pick up lunch. At the drive thru window I saw a young African American man that has worked there for many years. He gave me a bright smile and asked, “How are you?”

“Im fine,” I said, as I smiled and handed him some cash.

“How’s your mom and dad?”

“Mom passed away,” I said. He looked sad as he took my money and turned to the cash register. “Mom passed away, ” I repeated, and I tried to smile a bit, to show him it was okay to ask. And that I was okay. He nodded sadly as he handed me my change, and drink.

I pulled ahead to wait for my order. And the heaviness of mourning came over me. My thoughts flashed back to the past, when Mom was still able to get out, and every Tuesday I took her and Dad to Culver’s, and Dad bought us all lunch. I remembered sitting in the booth across from them, as they sat shoulder to shoulder. I thought of the managers who got to know us because of our frequent visits, and who were so friendly and kind.

I remembered how whenever Mom got up to use the restroom, or when it was time to leave, if there were any little children or babies around she would stop to talk to them. And I would wonder what the parents thought, as they smiled. Sometimes Mama would point her cane right at a little one’s face to tease them. Then I would apologize for Mama and draw her away.

There was something sweet about sitting in a booth with Mom and Dad. I’d run to refill their sodas. I’d order frozen custard cones when we were done with our meals.

Eventually it became too hard to take Mom out. I’d bring food home instead. And the managers and some of the staff at Culver’s would ask how Mom and Dad were doing. It was nice that they were known and thought of fondly.

Because so many of the people who have offered sympathy to me over the past few months never knew my mama. I’m so grateful for the love and concern they’ve expressed to me over my loss. I know it’s heartfelt and real.

But there is a special comfort in hearing from those who actually knew my precious Mama. Most of her friends have already passed on or moved away, and our extended family all live far away. When a former neighbor, who had moved out of state decades ago, heard about Mom’s death she sent a sympathy card. She shared memories and kind words about Mom that touched my heart. And I felt compelled to send her a program from the memorial service and a copy of the eulogy I had written.

I feel drawn to those who knew Mama, especially those of her own generation, when she was full of life and health. Like somehow if I connect with them I’m closer to Mom again.

But Mom’s best friends went Home  before her. And I picture them now welcoming her in heaven with hearty hugs and big smiles. I can see them sitting around a table, shoulder to shoulder, sipping tea and sharing stories and laughing.

And so I can smile, even though it’s often through tears these days. And I’m thankful for the friendly young man who asked about Mom and Dad at Culver’s. Even though he didn’t know what to say, I could tell he cared.

And there is a gentle mercy in knowing Mama is remembered.