Friday, May 8, 2009

Remembering the Woman who was My Mother

Mother's Day is this Sunday, May 10

Remembering the Woman who was My Mother
By Gina Graves, University of Missouri, Columbia
Special to the Heart Beat

My mother, Villa Graves, passed away on Friday, December 21, 2007 at 4:28 p.m. We had her at home and were taking care of her with the assistance of Missouri River Hospice. I was able to take a leave of absence for the month of December as Mom's condition grew worse. Each day she grew a little weaker and a little more tired of the fight. Tuesday, December 18, she could no longer speak and drifted in and out of consciousness.

On December 20th, my father Curtis marked their 55th wedding anniversary as he sat by Mom's bed, holding her hand, with the rest of us surrounding them. He told us how they met, their first date, and how he proposed to her. He told us a few stories from their early years of marriage.

As he ended his last story, he leaned over and gave Momma a kiss. He said, "It has been a wonderful 55 years with you, dear. I want you to know how much it has meant for me to share my life with you. I know it is soon time for you to move on and continue your journey into your eternal life. I love you and will see you again someday."

Friday morning, December 21, after taking her vital signs and giving her morning medications to her, I washed Momma's face and hands, brushed her hair, and straightened her blankets. I leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Momma, today is Friday, December 21. I know you're tired and you've had a long fight. If you want to go now, I promise you, we will all take care of each other."

At 4:28 that afternoon, she took her last breath as my Dad, brothers, sister, and I stood around her bed. My family all looked at me for confirmation as I checked for a pulse at her wrist, then her neck, and finally softly laid my hand on her chest.

I was in one moment desperately trying to feel a pulse because I couldn’t bear to lose her, and yet hoping she was at long last free of the pain and sickness of her cancer.

At her visitation, we celebrated her life with pictures: her first (and only) airplane ride on her 70th birthday and her first (and only) Harley motorcycle ride on her 71st birthday. We had pictures of Mom with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, taken at holidays and weddings over the years.

Of course, no pictorial collection of my mother would be complete without her wedding picture and the pictures of the many wedding anniversaries she and Dad celebrated over the years. In the back of the room, we had a continuous play DVD that showed Mom and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary celebration and Mom's 60th birthday party.

The continued outpouring of love and support by the community, family, and friends has been overwhelming and much appreciated. People have brought food, picked up Dad's mail, made phone calls, sent flowers, etc. So many people called, visited, sent cards and thoughts and prayers, not only at the time of Mom’s passing, but throughout her long illness.

It was all a wonderful affirmation of the woman who was my mother.

At Mom's funeral, my Dad stood up and read "Gone from My Sight" by Henry Van Dyke.

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone"

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

And that is dying...

In his own words, Dad added, “She was born in May as a spring flower, and then on the first day of winter she went dormant, until she springs to new life.”

Pretty good for an old farmer.

Mom and Dad visited my office before she passed away, and after that, Mom commented many times that she was glad I worked with such a caring group of people. I didn’t realize until later, part of her visit was to make sure I would be okay after she was gone.

My mother was a wonderful role model for me, long before I became of the age to appreciate it. Mom’s birthday, May 12, sometimes fell on Mothers’ Day.

What better time to share the final chapter of her story.

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