November 29, 2010

Can I Still Wish Her Happy Birthday? You'd Better Believe I Will!

I wrote this yesterday...p.s. this is long - and I can't say I'm sorry for it. It's not even close to being a complete record of her life.

This morning, I wrote the date, November 28, on my daughter's Sunday School sign in sheet and felt my breath catch in my throat and my eyes begin to tear. November 28 is my mom's birthday. She would have been 60 years old today if she were still with us. What a party that would have been! I took a deep breath and changed the subject in my head till I could find a private place to grieve.

For those of you who don't know, my Mom died 4 years ago this fall from colon cancer. When her doctors discovered the cancer, it was stage 4 and had devoured most of her liver as well. A childhood friend of mine is a DO who happened to be working in the hospital where she had surgery just after her diagnosis. He told me that it was rather a miracle she was still alive when the cancer was discovered. Leave it to mom to be the exception. She was a rather exceptional person.

True to her personality, she decided she wanted to live - and live she did - for another 15 months or so. She chose to undergo a major right resection of her colon and chemotherapy. Despite constant pain (as much as possible, she wanted to be unclouded by pain meds), she proceeded to live as she always had - full steam ahead. Encouragement from her daughters to rest went unheeded. She didn't want to miss anything. Looking back, I can't blame her.
 Mom with four of us - missing Janelle.

This is one of the many things I miss about my mom on a regular basis. She had an unabated desire to do her best at everything she attempted. More often than not, she hit the mark and succeeded beyond everyone's expectations (except her own - since she always believed she could do better). Of course, just being a  mom made her an overachiever. She was delighted to when she gave birth to a daughter first (she'd always wanted sisters) and didn't stop having girls until she had five! "No", she'd answer to those who asked, she wasn't "trying for a boy".

The memories I have of mom are varied - sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes inspiring. Here are a few - especially for those of you who loved her with me.

Mom was born into a hard working mid-western family. The only girl amidst six boys, she did the work girls did on the farm - cooking and baking from early in the morning throughout the day so those hard working cowboys could eat and get back out to the field. She often wished for a sister but never did get one.

Mom met and fell in love with my dad in her early twenties. With a twenty-one year age difference, theirs was a May-December romance. Through good times and some not-so-good times, our parents believed in the commitment they'd made and chose to love through the hard times too. They were a good example to us. 
30+ years together and still having fun 

My mom was a lot of fun. She loved to laugh and have parties. She always told us our friends were welcome anytime, and they were. Over the years, thousands of people filed through our front door for food, swimming and other fun. She loved to play games and laugh. When I think of her, I often see her in our house, cooking or baking, making homemade salsa, laughing and telling guests, "Mi casa es su casa" & "there are the glasses, make yourself at home". She really meant it. Our home was a place people knew they could always find a welcome. It took me a while to realize not everyone lives this way. She was also really silly. She always reminded me of Lucille Ball - though she would HATE that comparison.
 See what I mean?

Mom taught us music from a young age. She took piano and dance as a girl and it stuck. Probably that nun rapping her fingers with a ruler during her piano lessons made forgetting impossible. When my sisters and I were small, we would stand around the piano for hours, singing together and fighting over voice parts. If you knew us, you probably saw us wearing matching outfits and singing, "I've Got Peace Like a River All the Way" at some point.

She was a great teacher. Mom's love of and skill for music snagged her a job as a music teacher at our school. She usually taught K-8th grade general music and several choirs at once, who usually won honors at whatever music conventions they visited. She didn't finish college - but I think it drove her to constantly seek more knowledge in her field. She was the best music teacher I've met. She knew how to translate those lines and dots on the page into something real and beautiful that touched the souls of the kids in her classes and choirs. I still know many of the people I knew at my small elementary and high school - and many of them are still singing or participating in music in some way.

Oh - and she coached the high school cheer squad. How do you like our awesome outfits?

Mom loved beauty. She searched for it daily, possibly unconsciously, and pointed it out to us. She saw it in the hummingbirds she fed outside her kitchen windows, in the music she sang and directed, in the little treasures she found while thrifting, in the people she loved and nourished.

Mom loved a good bargain. Memories of coupon clipping, driving to different stores and multiple kids standing in line to get a bargain, are part of our family's collective experience. Plus, as she said, she shopped at thrift stores before it was cool. It paid off as she fed our big family of seven or eight (2 parents, 5 girls and 1 grandma sometimes). I'm following in her footsteps because trolling through the local thrifts is a favorite past time of my girls and I!

Along those lines, Mom didn't believe in getting into debt for incidentals. They got into debt early in their marriage and paid it off completely - no bankruptcy filing for our parents! From then on, other than their house, they paid cash or they didn't buy it. We do the same at our house.

She believed in striving for excellence. Whether in her classroom or at home, Mom did her best. She taught this to her family, her students and lived it herself. 

And with excellence - she loved to win. Music festivals, driving (YIKES!) or playing cards (she could talk some serious smack), Mom wanted to win. If you were there, you know what I'm talkin' about.

She loved her family to distraction. We always knew she loved us and believed that we could accomplish whatever we put our minds to. She told us often. This included ME ('cause I was her favorite), then the rest of the girls, her sons-in-law (all three), grandkids (just kidding about the favorite, she loved us all the same - wink, wink).
I think Dad was taking the picture

She gave generously to anyone who was in need. Babysitting for exhausted new moms, financial support for anyone who needed it (even though she was a teacher at a private Christian school which = not a big salary), meals for families who'd had new babies - or lost a loved one, or moved to our neighborhood, or who'd had surgery. (She was a great cook and her candy making skills were unequaled). She gave free haircuts to teachers, missionaries or people who just looked kinda shaggy. She swept up a lot of hair from under the twirly chair in the kitchen!

If you're wondering about how in the world she did all this, the answer is, early mornings. She got that from the way she was raised.

She was strong. Remember her mid-western family with German roots? For her that meant smart, hardworking, early rising, frugal, generous, stoic, determined, no excuses. She gave birth to five children without an epidural, raised said five children to be strong, upstanding members of society, taught thousands of students about God, music and responsibility (Yes, you really got a 0 if you missed a concert to go on vacation after signing a choir contract), stayed married for 30+ years, passed a kidney stone (she said that was worse than birth!) and finally, made it through an excruciating illness like a trooper. And, she still had a sense of humor. Seriously, she's my hero.

My mom believed - I mean BELIEVED - in God. It's because of her faith and what she taught us that I learned about integrity, truth, strength of character, loving my neighbor, service, faithfulness, tenacity, a second chance and forgiveness. It's the foundation of who I am today. She also believed in the power of prayer - especially for poor misguided people who claimed they didn't like chocolate - or dessert. This was a serious issue she felt needed spiritual assistance.

My mom was full of life - and love - till the day she lost her ability to rise from her bed. Some people would change what they were doing if they found out they were dying. Not my Mom. She was already doing what she loved. She was giving a piano lesson to a young music student when her body finally gave out. She fell into a coma shortly after that. We all circled round her till she breathed her last.

But it's not those days that I think of the most - though the memory of her frail frame (that couldn't be my mom!) and the gasping breaths of her failing body haunted me for years.

No. I think of my mom all the time - but the anniversary of her death is not a trigger for me. If you'll pardon the Star Wars reference, "the force was strong in that one"- and it's a living, vibrant picture of my mom I remember most. And all she taught me through that living.

And my thoughts of her are usually happy. I think of Mom when I clean my house (she trained us well!), find a great bargain, tickle my girls (like mom used to), listen to (or sing!) breathtakingly beautiful music, dress my daughters for church, , hear her voice coming out of my mouth (Ack!), kiss my husband (she loved him cause he is "AWESOME-no-other-reason-really"), cook (she was my first teacher), or look into the green eyes of my youngest daughter (she reminds me so much of mom!).

I miss Mom when I wish I could call and share something funny the girls have done or ask advice or just hang out and go shopping - and I can't call her up and talk. I miss her when I'm writing the date on my youngest's Sunday School sign-in sheet and suddenly realize it would have been her 60th birthday.

While I feel the mistiness of tears and an ache in my heart over saying goodbye to my mom, in my opinion, far too early, mostly I am grateful to have known her as long as I did. All that she did and taught me, follows me through my days - thank goodness. She was an amazing woman.

Happy Birthday, Mom!


  1. beautifully written. Your mom was fantastic!.

  2. What a sweet Birthday Letter! I am sure she would have loved it and I can tell she would have been proud of you!

  3. Wow! First of all I didn't know she had passed! She was definitely an amazing woman...she is now looking down on all of you amazing girls and your families. While enjoying her peaceful time in heaven...let's say with my mom. This caught my eye I read it and brought tears to my eyes, cause u described her so well I am sure there aren't enough words to put to her and the type of person that she is/was.

  4. Monna you did a fantastic job writing. Your Mom
    was an awesome lady and friend. I miss our Saturday morning chats and was just telling a friend how much I missed her today. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Love you,
    Aunt Sue

  5. Monna....I am just sobbing! This post was so beautiful and a wonderful tribute to your mom! She really did raise some mighty fine women!


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