Best gifts from Mom not under tree
December 27, 2004
My mother gave me a beautiful sweater for Christmas – a soft cotton sweater embroidered front and back with little flowers and French knot sheep on a green hillside with blue sky above. She bought it during our trip to Ireland last June.
Actually, I’d fallen in love with the sweater and tried it on while we were at a knit shop on the square in Donegal Town. However, after looking at the price and figuring the exchange rate, I decided it was way too expensive.
“Oh, Lorie, it’s perfect for a kindergarten teacher,” she said. “Let me buy it for you now and give it to you for Christmas.”
Later, at the Belleek pottery factory in Northern Ireland, she was buying Christmas ornaments for her five grandchildren.
“Which one would you like?” she asked me.
“Mmmm, the angel,” I answered, thinking – without saying it – that was the memento I’d want years from now when she wasn’t around, a sweet remembrance of her and our trip to Ireland.
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We returned from our trip at the end of June. Mom stayed here a few days before heading back home, leaving the gifts behind, to save packing them twice. She’d be coming back for Christmas. That was the plan.
A month later, near the end of July, alone at home, Mom had a heart attack. She called 911 herself, but died before the paramedics reached her. After five months, we are still reeling from the shock. How can she be gone? This was not part of the plan.
My mother very much lived every day of her 79 years. After Dad died last year, she told her doctor that she wanted him to keep her healthy until the day before she died. She certainly had no death wish; she just didn’t want to linger, wasting away and failing, as she’d seen so many other little old ladies in our family do. As my dad had done.
I believe that when it dawned on her that she might be dying, she was not scared, but merely surprised. I imagine her saying, “Just a minute,” and checking her ever-present to-do list: been to Ireland, house is paid for, kids and grandkids are fine, carpets are clean, hair is done. “OK, I can go now.” Moreover, I’m sure my dad was there, smiling, holding out his hand and telling her how much he’d missed her.
So even though it feels more like a punch in the stomach, I guess this was a gift, too. We didn’t have to watch her fade away into someone we didn’t know and who didn’t know us.
I’m also grateful for gifts that never showed up under the tree – those she gave every day for more than half a century.
Mom was the role model of a cheerful, loving, unselfish wife, mother and friend. I thank her for the gift of a firm set of priorities and an example of how to make a happy life with whatever raw material is given to me.
You see, Mom always looked for the possibilities. She was the champion at making something from nothing – nothing, that is, except imagination, hard work, love and hope. Her creative juices flowed into every endeavor, whether it was my wedding dress, a birthday cake, a baby quilt, a stained-glass project or the remodeling – or at the very least the redecorating – of every house she ever lived in. I thank her for the gift of a can-do spirit and the obligation to leave a place better than I found it.
Mom smiled at and talked to strangers, which of course, mortified me as a teenager. Nevertheless, she believed that you had to keep making new friends because old ones keep moving away or dying. Thanks to her, I know how to make friends.
Consequently, as I begin 2005, my first year on the planet without my mother, I’ll look to Mom for the example of how to be in this new, slightly emptier world. I’ll look for a lesson to give meaning to this loss.
Here’s what I think Mom would say: Take nothing for granted – not next Christmas or next week or tomorrow. Say, “I love you” with every good-bye. And shop early, because you just never know.
Lorie Smith Schaefer teaches at Seeliger Elementary School.