So much of who we are is based on where we come from, but today I’m thinking more about the beginnings, the in-betweens and the here-and-now’s. As I move into the autumn of my life, I think the greatest contribution, the greatest achievement we do toward making our time here on Earth important and bettering the world a bit is our children. Give them life, allow them to grow, be themselves, carry on family traditions and traits and values. Then they give you grandchildren! I’ve been missing my Mom lately. It'll be three Mother’s Days. Maybe that’s why I feel the need to write — to reflect on this lovely life cycle I am in.
I remember when I turned 50 — right in the middle of life! And I was so lucky to have my still-youthful-fun-to-be-with parents on one side and my two awesome adult kids who still thought I was fun on the other! Most of the time they still do, and now I have grandkids who think it’s fun to hang out with me!
As the years passed, I became the caretaker in the middle, helping out with the folks; helping out with the grandbabies. I was never a sandwich person (turkey, plain, with nothing on it), but there I was — an active member of the Sandwich Generation, which is defined as a man and woman simultaneously caring for parents and children and being pulled in two directions. I never felt anything but joy. These years became the time in my life I cherish most!
One summer I spent three weeks with my granddaughters in California and another two weeks with mom in Michigan. Like a “filling” rich in taste and texture, I was full of love, patience, smiles, excitement, helpfulness, hard work and yard work! We shared sunshiny days, wish-upon-a-star nights, rainy mornings and rainbow afternoons. No beach for mom, but I got her outside at midnight to do the “star light, star bright” thing just like the girls and I did. The three of us splashed in rainy puddles and weeks later I coaxed mom to rediscover how refreshing cool raindrops can be; so what if her hair and shoes got wet! I shared tales of old family history with the girls and played the old game of “bread and butter” with them as mom always did with me.
Staying with the girls while their folks were away, I drove them to swimming and gymnastics and hula lessons. We played tag with the ocean waves, rode bikes, shopped, read volume six of Nancy Drew and planted seeds in the garden. My cuties taking turns sleeping in the middle with me was the BEST! The easy-going pace and companionship continued at mom’s house. I drove her to errands and to her volunteer job in the hospital gift shop. We pulled weeds, planted perennials, played card games and took slow walks around the block. I heard more family stories, read large-print books and magazines and watched Lifetime movies with her each night. Mom bringing me coffee in bed each morning was the BEST!
Way cool. Just being me. Doing the same things in both places! Sandwiches spoil if you don’t use them. So when I got back home, I babysat my new grandson, caught up on my reading and gardening and helped build a rock garden with stones from my parents’ backyard. That summer I was an overflowing Dagwood sandwich savoring the strong and comforting threads of family connections.
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.
Almost three years later, still a plain turkey sandwich girl, I am touched that all five of my grandchildren met and knew her. Each one visited her home, napped on her lap or played at her feet. They ate dinner with her and drew pictures for her (all to her great delight). She commented that she was so lucky to meet them when each was born, but how absolutely wonderful that they were part of her life. And that they still remember her! My parents taught us the importance of family, allowed us to grow and become who we are today. Those traditions, traits and values we learned are so worth carrying on. From them, we gleaned how to parent our own children, and for me, being the oldest, how to be a grandmother! She also showed me how to age gracefully; to recognize that my children will one day be the man or woman in the middle of this ongoing life cycle. I hope I'll be as fun and youthful as mom and that my daughter will enjoy the rich and savory filling that spreads throughout the sandwich generation years.