After someone you love dies there are many questions about them that suddenly seem unanswerable. Especially, when death comes without warning. Maybe you can’t remember what their favorite flower was, when they fell in love for the first time, or what parting advice they would give those who follow in their footsteps.
You frantically search your memory bank at a loss for filling in the missing pieces, berating yourself for not listening more intently. Somehow, this is heightened when you grapple with questions about your own mother.
Perhaps, you think of conversation you once had. How like most children regardless of your age, you selfishly shared your own happenings. While your mom, patiently listened intently focused on your well-being, never expressing her deepest desires or besetting fears.
With Mother’s Day approaching, the second without my mom, it could have been my experience to battle the frustration of not knowing more about her journey. After all, often our mothers don’t seem like individuals with lives of their own, until we have children. Then we realize the true sacrifice of motherhood is always putting your offspring’s needs first.
We take grandparents for granted, too. In explanation, when my maternal grandmother died in 1993, I was saddened by how little I knew about this dedicated nurturer. Despite spending a lifetime chatting, I was at a loss to sketch a complete portrait of her. I cried when I realized I didn’t even know what Gram’s favorite color was. Finally settling that it must have been blue, but I’ll never know for sure.
Unlike my grandmother, when my mother, Glenna Giesken Sprang left this earth on October 13, 2010, she didn’t leave any questions unanswered. Even though she died abruptly from a kidney stone gone terribly wrong, she had the foresight to write a memoir titled, “Reflections from a Mother’s Heart.” The then 74-year-old matriarch gave her children this unusual gift on Christmas 2006.
I didn’t read the 58 page spiral bound booklet when I received it. My life was moving at a fast pace, and I erroneously thought I knew most of what was recorded in it. Absentmindedly, I placed it in my white wicker magazine rack never realizing that when I sat down to study its pages, Mom would be gone.
Through a question and answer format, she shared countless childhood experiences, romantic memories, convictions about her core values, and an explanation of her abiding faith, despite some difficult days. Mom also expressed her belief that we all have our own unique story.
In some ways, I deeply regret not taking time to read this memoir while she was alive to discuss it with her in detail. In other ways, it has been such a gift reading it now. Sitting down with a cup of coffee and pouring over the booklet’s informative pages, has been like having one of our marathon conversations.
In explanation, for the last three decades of our lives, Mom and I lived 600 miles apart, and long-distance truly was “the next best thing to being there.” Through our phone provider’s family plan, we racked up priceless moments.
I also visited my mother in Philadelphia whenever I could, but it wasn’t often enough. Because I never imagined that she wouldn’t be here for the huge 80th birthday celebration that I had hoped we would have for her on May 3rd this year.
A very wise nurse once told me, that when we love someone deeply, “We always think we will see them one more time.” Besides, we can’t believe that the one, who gave us birth, tended our banged-up knees and broken hearts could ever leave us.
Despite the fact that she is no longer here, Mom remains in our hearts and in the legacy of her words. For example, in her reflections, one of the most important life lessons that she records is a reminder that, “….all things work together for good for those who love God.” [Romans 8:28]
Based on this Biblical promise, she writes, “When you’ve messed up…remember this. There is no mistake so big that God’s mercy is not bigger. I have found…that some things I considered failures turned out to be blessings.”
Another lesson, “Always try to leave a person…a little happier for having met you – encourage,” she advised. Based on this, my own parting advice is why not surprise your loved ones with a Mother’s Day extraordinaire? Don’t let those words of appreciation go unsaid.
If there are deep wounds between you and your mom, try to find it in your heart to forgive. This might be the greatest gift you can give to her and to yourself this year, because you never know when it will be your last. In parting, from the road less traveled, I wish you all the very best this Mother’s Day!
Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. This column was originally published in the Sidney Daily News on May 9, 2012.