I am struggling with a few things this week. For one, I can’t believe August is already over; what happened to June and July? For another I had a ten-hour work day yesterday, which mostly consisted of finishing projects that were all overdue; I hate missing deadlines. And of course the week was filled with concerns about Hurricane Isaac. As far as I know, all of my friends and family in the New Orleans area got through the storm with little or no damage.
I can’t believe it has been seven years already since she died. That week was filled with repeated attempts to get in touch with my sister, who had evacuated in advance of Hurricane Katrina. Phone service was sketchy and it took several days to get reach her by phone. Those same days were filled with repeated attempts to find out what happened to my Mom and the other residents of the nursing home where she lived. That facility was in the suburbs of New Orleans and did not face the same serious flooding issues, but they did have water in the building after the storm. They had NOT evacuated, so now they were dealing with loss of electricity, lack of fuel for a generator and no way to adequately feed or treat the residents.
The nursing home moved their residents across the street to a hospital for a few days but that wasn’t working out very well either, so they put some of them, including my Mother, in “transport” and moved them to another facility in the northern part of Louisiana. I learned all of this via a chat room on a New Orleans TV station web site and finally found a phone number at the new location. Late in the morning of September 1st, after hitting redial hundreds of times, I was able to get through at which time I learned Mom had died a few hours earlier.
Mom was a remarkable woman and I know I did not appreciate that when she was alive. She was very independent but followed the expected path of her generation. She quit her job when she was six months pregnant with me and never returned to work. If she was of my generation I know she would have reentered the work force. She and my Dad were not exact yet they were completely in sync with each other. They respected each other, even when disagreeing. They loved each other till the end and showed it in little ways like holding hands and just spending quiet time together.
They both liked travel, but Mom was more adventurous. On one of their ‘senior bus trips’ Dad stayed on the bus while Mom joined several passengers on a short walk onto a glacier, just to say she did it. Mom was a story-teller and I’ve said many times that she was the inspiration for my storytelling habit. She was curious, opinionated and tolerant. She was in some ways horrified by parts of my life and would give me her opinion about them, but she accepted it all.
Mom was also a great role model for creative aging. She took art classes in her 60s and more at a senior center in her 70s. I have two of the only five of her paintings not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. She kept up with current events by reading the daily newspaper as long as she could. She loved being around people and did her best to talk with other residents and staff at the nursing home.
If you are a regular visitor to this blog you have probably seen the next part, but I think it is worh repeating. I delivered this short eulogy at her funeral. My sister and I decided to make that ceremony a celebration of her life, and it pretty much sums it up.
When we met with Father Ralph a few days ago, he pointed us in a wonderful direction for today. He said this should be a celebration of your Mother’s life.
My sister and I are so lucky to have had her as our mother, and there are so many things we could say about her. But in my mind, four things stand out above the rest:
1) She had a great sense of humor …. She loved a good laugh. One of my sister’s last memories of her was a few days before Katrina. Mom was sitting there at the nursing home laughing. My sister doesn’t really know what she was laughing at, but she was having a good ole laugh.
2) Mom loved to travel. And with the evacuation to north Louisiana and her return here in this casket, she traveled more during her last three days of life and the weeks since her death than she had traveled in decades. She is probably having a good laugh about that right now.
3) Mom paid me and my sister the greatest compliment a mother could pay a child … many times. She married late in life, especially for her generation, at age 39. She told us many times that her life really didn’t begin till she was in her 40s, when she had us.
4) One of the most important things in life is family. Up until the last year or so, she kept up with what was going on in your lives … the cousins, your kids, your grandkids. The Mary Kay sisters, the red car ... she even got to ride in the red Mary Kay car and she was aware of things that day.
And it means a lot to my sister and I that you are here sharing this day with us.
Mom, we love you.