Monday, June 06, 2016

Reflection: Remembering Mom Nine Years Later

It was nine years ago on this day that I cut off most of my hair as per Shawnee mourning tradition; one year later, I cut off the rest of it, and have kept it short since. It was just a little after 1PM when my mom breathed her last breath on this earth and went off to be with Jesus. I vividly remember those last hours in a hospital room surrounded by family and friends who had gathered to give one-sided goodbyes. The goodbyes were one-sided because my mom spoke her last words during the evening before. My last two-way exchange with her happened that evening. My last words to her that evening were “Goodnight Mom, I love you,” as I turned and walked out the door to her hospital room. Her last words to me were, “I love you” as I walked out of the room. She loved all of us so well.

In the weeks leading up to her departure, she had started calling me her warrior and my older sister her princess. To this day, when I hear the term warrior, I think of my mom, her battle with cancer, and her bestowing that name on me. She was one of the greatest warriors I have ever known, and she taught so many of us about what service and love look like.

Even during her last days, she was befriending the custodial and nursing staff of the hospital and looking to brighten their days. How she spent those last days was similar to how I watched her spend so many other days throughout her life. She was caring for others and speaking words of potential and hope into everyone. Those last few days, she shared visions with us, and so much joy. Her last morning and afternoon on earth, she was literally surrounded by people who loved her, who were praying with and for her right up to the point she departed this world into the world to come. Even at her funeral, it was less of a time of mourning and grief (although in our family culture we believe in slowing down and mourning in fullness), and more of a time of celebration and joy at heaven’s gain, as well as the fact that my mom would no longer suffer.

It’s nine years later, and as I write, the strong mix of emotions is just as fresh and as potent as it was on that early afternoon in a hospital room. My mom ran her race well and finished strong! She gave each of us who knew her a legacy and an example to which we could all strive to live in accordance—a legacy and an example of honor and compassion—a legacy of hope. I'm grateful that friends like Willie wrote beautiful songs like this one to help others who may not have known her get an idea of who she was. She was the kind of person people write songs about.

When Mom was diagnosed in summer 2006, her physician told her that she had a maximum of six months to live without treatment, and eighteen months with; she went to be with Jesus about 11 months after the news hit. When I talked to her about it she said the main thing she felt was sadness about leaving dad and us kids behind. She loved so much and so well.

A couple of months into her first round of chemotherapy, as her hair was starting to come out, she had made herself some bandannas to cover her head. The people of her church had gathered to pray for her and for another gentleman who had been diagnosed with another form of cancer. She looked that man in the eyes and reminded him, and all of us, “No matter what happens, we win!” That was exactly the kind of hope and faith my mom lived every one of her days with.

Each year, as the anniversary of my mom’s departure from this world arrives, I try to take some time to ruminate over different memories—not just of that last year, but of her whole life. The last months are among the most memorable because it seemed that every single one of those days, we had each committed our lives to living more purposefully. The beautiful irony of that intentionality is that it really wasn’t a significant shift for my mom or for any of the rest of us kids and dad. We lived the years leading up to her diagnosis with the same sense of service, compassion, and laughter—we were just more keenly aware of the limited time we had together after the diagnosis.

And today, as I think back on Mom and all that has happened from that last day with her till now, I am filled with joy and gratitude—her memory reminds each of us to stay on purpose, remember family, and look out for the needs for others. I pray that as the years keep rolling forward, that the rest of us who knew her will continue to live in that same spirit, and maybe that our lives will be a small piece of encouragement to others as well.

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