Photo Essay: How do You Say Goodbye?

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My mom passed away a few weeks ago. She was never a sweet little old lady. Oh, occasionally she offered up a kind smile, but she was more of a no-nonsense gal. And she certainly wasn’t little. Not her physical stature. Not her personality. And positively not in the way she approached life. That’s why we were shocked when her nurse practitioner told us Mom’s kidneys were failing and she only had a short time to live. The diagnosis caught us off guard. Not our mother. The strongest woman we ever knew.

Nobody ever told Mom she couldn't do something. If they did she didn't listen. Strong willed even as a young child, she beat diphtheria. She helped raise four brothers and worked in the cotton fields of west Tennessee. 

She was never outwardly affectionate, but showed her love by providing us a beautiful home, kept us fed with hearty meals and was a fine seamstress. I recall the dress I wanted in Parks-Belk when I was a child. It was sailor blue and embellished with white trim. When Mom saw the price tag, far out of our budget, we headed downstairs to the fabric department. In no time I had a copy of that much coveted dress.

 Linda at eight years old in front of the playhouse Mom built me

Linda at eight years old in front of the playhouse Mom built me

If she’d been born a man, Mom said she would’ve been a carpenter. That’s why none of us were surprised when she decided to build me a playhouse. All by herself. She even papered the walls and laid linoleum on the floor.

But, she was tough too. Her motto, “There’s a place for everything and everything better be in its place,” came into play every Saturday as she vacuumed and dug things out from under my bed. And when I washed dishes and left food on any, she’d call me back to the kitchen to redo them. 

 Mom beside one of her beauty shops at Fort Campbell.

Mom beside one of her beauty shops at Fort Campbell.

She owned and operated two beauty shops at Ft. Campbell and later in her mid-forties, she started a wallpapering business. Along that time she became interested in real estate and very wisely used her money to buy properties to renovate and rent. She became an avid traveler.

 Mom's first trip to San Francisco.

Mom's first trip to San Francisco.

In the past ten and a half years she grew more demanding, unreasonable and less grateful. The times I had to call my sister or brother and cry about something or come home and rant to James seem innumerable. But even then there were good times, sitting on her deck on warm fall days and listening to the chatter of the birds or sharing a meal from Captain D’s.

 Mom at sixteen years old.

Mom at sixteen years old.

Once Mom became a permanent resident in the nursing home, things grew even more difficult as dementia took over and her hearing grew worse. She never stopped asking to go home, a request that broke my heart. But even during those days the Lord brought us comfort as we enjoyed monthly outings with her to restaurants, sometimes getting her nails done while we had her out. I remember Christmas Eve together last year. With the weather unseasonably warm, I pushed her wheelchair outside and we sat with our backs to the sun as she opened her gifts, her eyes lighting up with each one while she nibbled the homemade fruitcake and Chex Mix I’d brought. Once in a while she’d even say, “I’m so glad you came by today,” when I kissed her goodbye.

She knew how to pull every one of my strings until I grew furious, but she never failed to compliment a new outfit or purse or haircut.

 Mom at eleven years old.

Mom at eleven years old.

No, Mom wasn’t a sweet little old lady. She was a steel-willed woman to be reckoned with. But I thank the Lord for the tall lady with the straight back who taught me about perseverance and dignity and what it meant to work hard for what you want in life. As I think of her in heaven, her skin is once more smooth and fresh. Her mind is sharp, her spirit is healed and she’s busy at work for our Lord.