It was 17 years ago this past September 14th that my mother died. I was 48 at the time and it had been years since Mom and I lived in the same city. In all honesty, although I am sure that she loved all three of her boys, Doug, my middle brother (I am the oldest) was undoubtedly her favorite. In my earlier years, this was tough for me to reconcile, but nonetheless, at least in my opinion, it was the truth. As time went on this became less important to me but Mom did live close to Doug and he provided for her in her later years. And that’s probably as it should be – he is a doctor and was instrumental in caring for her during her fight with geriatric MS during her final years.
Most of my memories from life with Mother were from our time on Claremont Avenue on the south side of Chicago. I remember the day that my great aunt died and as I came home from school, Mom was playing the piano, which I had not heard her do in years, and was trying to find a way to tell us about Auntie Lou’s passing. And then there was the way Mom adored her father and still called him “Daddy” until the day of his death back in 1972 when I was 19. I think she would have done anything for him – and her mother as well.
Mom was an only child and we lived about a mile away from our maternal grandparents. Grandpa had lost his own mother when he was 13 and ended up going out on his own at that young age. He put himself through school, including Northwestern Law School and provided for Grandma, Mom and even Mom’s Auntie Lou (Grandma’s cousin) for all the years of his life. He was hopelessly committed to family. In fact, my two brothers and I were raised from our earliest recollections to recognize that “you only get one mother to a lifetime.” And Grandpa was there to remind us lest we forget it.
I don’t think I ever realized how much Mom did for us as we were growing up. The washing of dishes, cooking, laundry, keeping the house clean and all the other things she did were kind of expected – to say nothing of caring for us when we were sick and loving us well all the time. I don’t think we ever appreciated what she brought to our lives. She was the one who taught us manners, how to act in public and how to appreciate the finer things in life. Make no mistake – Mom knew how to spend money and even enjoyed custom made clothes but she never did those things at her children’s expense. I think she may have liked it if Dad had been more financially successful, but that isn’t for me to judge – that was between them and I know that both of our parents made sacrifices so that we could grow up with things that they, particularly my father, had not enjoyed.
Dad never spent a night in a hotel or ate in a restaurant until he was in the Army. That certainly wasn’t the way Mom was raised – she was much more a child of privilege. And that was undoubtedly something of a hardship that Dad had to learn to deal with – and he did. When grandparents eventually passed away, Mom was the glue that helped make the arrangements and held the family together. She took care of her folks and Dad when he was diagnosed with cancer. And she was strong when he died back in 1978, when I was 25.
From that time on, she had the burden of all the decisions and never re-married. When she was diagnosed with MS she never complained although we all knew that it was taking a toll on her. That woman who relished shopping in the Loop, particularly at Marshall Field’s where she was the buyer in the “28 Shop” before I was even born, slowed down quite a bit and we no longer had to trot alongside to keep up with her. As time progressed, she became confined to a wheelchair and needed virtually live in help to make it day to day. Finally, on Sept. 14, 1998, she passed away. This was the first and only time that the family didn’t have Mom to depend on to make sure things were done correctly.
As I look back on that time, my brothers and I could probably have done things better than we did. But it’s too late to worry about that now – the time is past. However, I do miss the phone calls from her each Sunday evening at 9:42 pm and even though it has been 17 years since I have heard from her, I still find myself glancing at the clock, subconsciously waiting for Mom’s call.
Janet lost her Mom 2 years ago this past month. She and her sisters are still getting used to the idea of being “orphans.” And several of my childhood friends post images of their mothers or fathers who they are still fortunate enough to have – what a blessing to be in your sixties and still have your folks around. My memories are starting to fade into the background a little – it helps to write about my remembrances.
The verse for this evening is from Matthew 19:18-19, when a man asked Jesus what commandments he should follow. Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’’” That’s a tall order for most of us – at least it is for me.
My encouragement this evening is that God gave us mothers and fathers to show us the value of families. While it is the natural order of things for parents to pre-decease their children, we still grieve the loss of people we love – that’s the price we pay for caring. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t grieve. My prayer is that if you still have a parent living, you will appreciate the gift that you have – even if your relationship with them could be better. Also, that you will appreciate the sacrifices that parents make for their children. So life goes on – with memories of Mom and remembrance of her life. Have a great day in the Lord, and don’t forget, you only get one mother to a lifetime…