I was talking to my Aunt Harriet on the phone the other day. She said, Aunt Vera always said, “’No one is a better mother than Nina. No one loves babies like she does!” And it’s true. My brothers and I are incredibly blessed that we were raised and loved by our mother. And she taught us so much through the years….
When we were young she taught us love and safety. She was always close by. Always caring. She was cooking her family delicious meals and sewing me sweet dresses. She signed us up for the Dr. Suess Book Club and fostered our love of reading. She was there to wash our scraped knees and kiss our owies away. She was there baking birthday cakes and hosting parties. She was there popping popcorn for Disney movie nights and making holidays special.
Mom taught us that knowing Jesus was important. She and Dad were faithful to bring us to Sunday School, and we earned perfect attendance certificates and badges. And we sat together after supper every night, while Dad read us Bible stories. Mom made sure we got to Bible School and to Bible Camp. I remember wanting lots of letters the first time I went to camp, so Mom sat down and wrote some to me before I even left.
And Mom taught us to laugh and wonder. As a young child, when I planted a plastic stem in some dirt, I was amazed to find that in a few days it had grown. When April Fool’s Day came along Mom dipped cotton balls in melted unsweetened chocolate. They looked delicious. One time she drove to where Dad worked and switched cars on him. And she liked to give her babies interesting things to taste like pickles and lemons just to see the faces they’d make.
When I started school Mom taught me that school was worth investing in. She sewed new dresses for me and bought me new shoes. She was the room mother for my class every year in grade school. She would bring in the treats for Christmas and Valentine and Easter parties. She would get to know my teachers too. And she’d have me bring them a loaf of her banana bread or a bouquet of lilacs from her bushes.
Mom was like that. She was a friendly person. She got to know most of the neighbors up and down our long street and some around the block. And when new people would move in she’d go over and welcome them. She would make a point to talk to people. And she cared.
When a neighbor across the street became wheelchair bound Mom would often pick up lunch and eat with her or take her out shopping. When her sister had cancer Mom called her long distance every night for years. Mom kept in contact with old friends from Louisiana and people she’d worked with in Minnesota. As Dad often says, “Once you are Nina’s friend, you are always her friend.”
Mom taught me that you could learn new things. When I was in sixth grade I wanted to learn to play an instrument. So Mom hunted down a used clarinet and had it refurbished for me. And she never made me quit practicing, even when I was squeaking terribly. She and Dad were there at every band concert through junior high and high school.
And Mom learned new things herself. She and our next-door neighbor, Ruth, a good friend of Mom’s, decided they wanted to reupholster some furniture. So they took a community education class together. Mom did so well at this, that it became a small home business for her. For years, with Dad’s help on some of the repairs, she was always reupholstering something for someone. She did a beautiful job at it too.
Mom taught me that family was precious. She would save up the money she made from reupholstering and babysitting and sewing and it would become the vacation fund. And except for one trip, vacation always meant going to Louisiana to see her family.
It didn’t matter if she had to sleep in the back of a station wagon or in a tent. It didn’t matter if the tent camper leaked and we needed plastic trash bags over our sleeping bags. It didn’t matter if the camp restaurant was closed and we needed to eat Jamie’s baby food. She would do it all cheerfully to go back and see her family.
When I was in high school Mom taught me about cheering your children on. She came to every performance night of every play I was in, usually dragging friends and relatives with her. When I was in marching band, Mom and Dad would often drive to the different towns the parades were in and watch and take pictures from the sidelines. Mom always gave me the feeling that she was proud of me. I’m sure she made all of her children feel that way.
When I got married, Mom taught me about sacrificial love and hard work. She sewed every gown in my wedding. When she couldn’t find the right color lace to match the satin of the bridesmaid dresses, she sent a sample of the fabric to Rit Dye Company and had them give her a recipe for making the right color. She sewed four bridesmaid dresses and two flower girl dresses.
And then a couple months before the wedding I had second thoughts about borrowing the dress I’d planned to. I asked Mom if she’d sew my dress, and she actually seemed delighted to do so. And she did a beautiful job. She also made all the food for the reception, except the cake. And she made lasagna supper for about fifty friends and relatives that evening, too! That night, my brother Michael woke up in the wee hours with a kidney stone. Who do you suppose took him to the hospital?
Mom was brave too. When she got the opportunity to do secretarial work again, after about twenty-six years out of the field, she went for it. She learned to use the computer, dusted off her typing and bookkeeping skills, and loved working for S***** Design, the same company Dad was working for as an engineer. Even after Dad retired, and Mom could have, she kept working for a few more years.
And then Mom started teaching me more than ever. It was hard to see her change. She began to struggle with cooking and sewing and writing checks. She would lose things often. She seemed confused. Finally we got Mom to see a neurologist. By that time she was very forgetful and I wondered if she’d even remember what the doctor said.
But the next day Mom called me. She said, “I have Alzheimer’s. Cheryl, I hope you never get Alzheimer’s.” That is the only conversation we ever had about it. But it continues to strike me that in the pain of that horrific diagnosis she was thinking about her children, instead of herself.
Through her journey with Alzheimer’s, Mom taught us so much. She taught us that we could still laugh, even when things are hard. I still remember a day years ago. I had helped her wash her hair and I was drying it when Mom started chuckling.
“What are you laughing at, Mom?” I asked.
“Oh,” she said, “I’m just laughing at myself.”
“But what’s so funny, Mom?”
She answered, “Darned if I know.” I laughed all day about that one.
Another time, just months ago, Annie and a caregiver were talking about boy problems. Someone said, “Boys never grow up.” And Mom instantly piped in, “Never, never, never!
She helped us laugh. But she taught us deep lessons in this time, too…
One time Mom had fallen and Dad called me to come over and help get her up. As I came in the door, I found her laying on her side cheerfully singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” And I thought, what a perfect example of what to do when you’re in trouble. Do what you can to get help and then while you’re waiting for your situation to get better, sing to Jesus. Remind yourself to pray and give all your problems to Him. Remember what a friend He is and that He is with you.
Another time, though Mom knew nothing about a family conflict we were having,she said out of the blue, “Keep the love.” And it felt like a message from the Lord.
Probably my favorite Mama lesson was one she taught us just two weeks before she passed. After a very scary night, when we were afraid we were losing her, Mama recovered and the next morning she said, “God is here. He is bigger.” And I’ve thought of that often over the last month and I’ve used it as my motto. God is here. He is bigger. He is bigger than our grief and sorrow. He is bigger than our stress and problems. God is bigger. And He is here.
And some of our best moments were with no conversation at all when she’d lean her head on my shoulder and pat my arm or squeeze my hand. She liked to lick her finger and try to wipe the freckles off my arm for me. Or we’d cuddle in bed and she’d rub and tap my back. There was such a comfort in her mama touches. And in just being with her.
And one last favorite—a few years ago I said, “I love you, Mom.”
She answered, “I loved you, too. Always.”
“You always loved me?”
“Yes, I did,” she said confidently. And even though she rarely knew my name anymore, I knew it was true. I knew she had always loved me. And I know I am so blessed she is my mom.
P.S. Dad especially wants everyone to know that Mom passed Home to Jesus with a gentle smile on her face and looking incredibly peaceful. He believes she saw an angel coming for her, which could be. I’ve never seen her look more peaceful and she looked just beautiful.