I had the honor of sitting with Mom during the last few weeks of her life. Even though she was not able to say much during that time, I had the privilege of meeting people and through them seeing my Mom through a new set of eyes. Though each story was different, they all carried a common theme. They told me how determined she was to beat her disease and how inspired they were by her courage and strength.
Right before I left the hospital with Mom to transfer to hospice, I talked to her nurses who had gotten to know her during her stay in the hospital, they told be of how bravely she sat in her hospital bed wearing a pink hat facing the most terrifying news with determination to continue to fight. But they also told me that even then she shared stories and pictures of her grandchildren and how proud she was of her family. Without fail, each nurse asked the same question, are you Zac's mom? No ma'am I'd say, I'm the other daughter, and without pause, they would all rattle off the names of my children. Mom had shared her stories with them, and listened to theirs. Even though she was so sick, she was still making the personal connections that characterized her life.
During her last few years, Mom came to live in Barnesville. As it turns out, most of those years were spent battling the cancer that eventually took her life. As I sat with her, friends from Sunday school and pastors from church came to visit and they all told me a similar tale; your mom inspired me, they said, with her determination and with her faith. Though she hadn’t know them for long, they told me what a big impact she had their lives. They all wanted to know what they could do to help, and I tried to let them know how much their assistance, companionship and prayers had meant to Mom during the last few years. Though it is difficult to express, finding this community of friends was critical to Mom at a difficult point in her life.
Then there were the friends from JC Penny's and Ulta who came to say goodbye, and though it was so difficult for them to see her that way, they came to let her know what an impact she had on their lives. She had mentored them, taught them, shared her stories, and learned theirs. Even after she stopped working, she stayed in contact with them and kept those relationships going. That was the kind of life Mom led, forming relationships with people that had a lasting impact on their lives and on hers. With tears in their eyes they let her know that having her in their lives had changed them in significant ways.
Though it seems like a long time ago, there was a time before she was sick when Mom was a successful career woman. Several years ago when she won a contest at work called personal best, I was lucky enough to stay with her at the Gaylord Palms hotel in Orlando. I met Mom's bosses and co-workers, who all told a similar tale. I am so proud to work with your mom they said. She is such an inspiration in the way she dedicates herself to her job. Then they all asked the same question. Are you Zac's mom? No, I would say, I'm the other daughter, and again, they knew about my family, and my children's names. They had seen pictures and heard stories and though we had never met, they hugged me as if I were an old friend. Then they would tell me that they were praying for Zac. They had his picture on their bulletin boards at work or at church and they were all saying prayers for him. They were all saying prayers for a little boy they had never met because they were inspired by the stories my mom had shared.
Before she was a successful career woman, Mom spent years as a single mother. Though I could not see it at the time, years later when I became a parent myself, I began to understand what a struggle it must have been for her to raise us into the competent adults that we are today. Even with the constant effort and care of two loving parents, the day-to-day challenges of raising children can seem daunting. Each time my husband goes out of town on business I have a new respect for the years that my mom spent raising us on her own. How lonely it must have been with just small children as company for someone who loved people as much as Mom.
Mom moved around a lot, it seemed as if she were constantly reinventing herself, but through each new version of her that I saw, the most important core remained. She lived a life where personal connections with people kept her going. I like to say that Mom never met a stranger, and each time she moved to a new city, a new job or a new house, she knew, almost immediately, the names and stores of all of the people she came across. From the lady at the bank to the man who sold her stamps, Mom knew the stories of the people around her. She took the time to make connections with them because she truly cared about people and wanted to know more about them.
Mom was something different to so many people,
Speaking wasn't easy for mom at the end, but she said two things that I will never forget, first she said, “I love you so much”, she didn’t want to go without reminding those of us that she left behind how much she truly cared for us. Then she said to me, “I'm not scared”. She knew that even though she was leaving this life, that the one she had ahead was so much better. And though she left us far too soon, she left us all richer for the having had the privilege of being a part of her life. She left a lasting impression that will carry on through her husband, friends, coworkers, children and grandchildren.
And so, though it is difficult to say good-bye, I hope we will all leave today with a renewed strength and determination. With a new appreciation for the positive impact we can have on the lives others by simply reaching out and caring about each person we meet.