Flash forward a few years, and I have two more grandchildren! Mom loved meeting these newest additions to our family — boy/girl twins! I retired from teaching to help care for them and to be able to visit Mom more frequently. She used a walker or cane at times, but was always up for something fun when I was in town. Having lunch out, go shopping, seeing a movie. Many days our conversations dissolved in fits of giggles since we shared the same sense of humor gene! But all good things must come to an end. By the summer of 2010, I'd been flying back and forth to Michigan to spend a week or so at a time with her every month (just as my siblings took turns sleeping over or checking in on her). But after several falls, we (and she) realized that she could no longer live on her own. She'd had rigorous rehab to get her back to living independently; but I think she grew to like and depend on the extra help and daily attention. This ultimately helped her make the BIG decision. We spent weeks asking her over and over and every which way — Do you want to do this? Move out of your home and into assisted living? “Yes,” she replied each time.
It was bittersweet, cleaning out and closing the condo. It was nice to know she was happy in her new place, but sad for us kids not to have "home" to go to anymore. Oh, the rich treasures we discovered! Daddy's war medals, Mom's journals and their old love letters! Notes and cards we'd sent her as kids, and old photos and mementos she'd saved from school, scouts and recitals. Thank you, Mom! How I wished I had a huge house to hold the old furniture —sewing machine, end tables, comfortable chairs, my grandmothers' China cabinets. All important pieces of the life that shaped me. But they're all in good homes now with members of my wonderful family!
She was delighted with her room where my brother and sister-in-law had placed some of her own furnishings and favorite things. She participated in activities like table volleyball and made new friends up and down the hall. She had the monitoring she needed, but otherwise was the same ol' Mom. Several months passed, but eventually I got the call: "Mom is fading......not sure what's up....come see for yourself." I didn't realize when I quickly booked a flight cross-country that I'd be spending her last 48 hours with her. Slouched in her comfy, gold armchair, a mix of protein bars and vending machine snacks by my side, I held the phone for her while she said her goodbyes and held her hand as she made an effort to tell me last-minute things. And then suddenly … my Dad and the angels were smiling … Goodbye Mom.
She once told me never to put her picture on the Internet. Well, guess what? We all posted photos that day. We wanted the world to know what a wonderful Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother she was. In the days that followed we celebrated; her six grandkids wrote beautiful messages to share from their tucked away books of childhood memories, five baby yellow roses represented her great-grandkids, and all of us gathered again and again to share stories, raise our glasses and laugh like crazy through intermittent tears.
Stories like this from last fall: "It's 1968 and Detroit wins the pennant! Donna is in the Country Squire laying on the horn to celebrate! Bill's telling her to calm down and all of Patton Street is going cuckoo!" Thanks to my kid brother for sharing that memorable moment from the past about our parents. He was nine years old at the time! We all love Donna and Bill stories from the good ol' days! Sometimes it's just a small thing that triggers the memory files in our hearts to spring open, but all are guaranteed to make us laugh and cry at the same time. We were all warm and happy that night in October 2012, knowing they were smiling down on their beloved Detroit Tigers!
It makes me happy now when I read old letters, recall childhood adventures and reflect with my sister and brothers on how awesome it was to have Mom for almost 88 years. We still love sharing tales and playing "remember when" every time we get together. We have mom's diaries and photos, my dad's medals on display and the family heirlooms.