Friday, May 04, 2012

Thanking Mom

As a child I was unaware that my mom was a relatively young woman. She was comparatively so much older than me.

When I was young, Mom knew everything and met my every need. She was the sage I went to when I needed wisdom, the physician I turned to in time of injury or illness, the psychologist that helped me deal with issues, my personal chef, teacher, ethicist, religious mentor, enforcer, judge, friend, and everything else. Mom was my go-to person.

I didn't go do Dad for these things. I loved Dad and I knew that he loved me. But Dad was a strict northern German that seemed angry with me more often than not. If Dad wasn't displeased, my best bet was to avoid him lest I do something to alter that balance. I mainly tried to stay out of his way. I have a few mental scars from the times I failed to do so.

Don't worry. Dad and I developed a great relationship once I was able to relate with him at the post-graduate level where most of his thinking seemed to occur. But as a child, Mom was a big part of my life.

Mom told us stories of her childhood. Born on the great plains of the Midwest, the second to the youngest of a dozen children. Then raised during the Great Depression in a podunk hamlet in a barren region of northern Wyoming. Learning about the big world out there when she spent a year in her mid-teens living in California working as a nanny for her brother and sister-in-law. Graduating high school with the handful of kids she had known since she could remember. Moving to Salt Lake City and working as a clerk, before serving as a missionary for the LDS Church in Germany, where she met my father.

Mom told us about living on a farm, dealing with farm animals and multitudes of siblings and relatives, and working at the soda fountain in a drug store. All of these seemed like tales from another world to me—like something out of a fantasy novel.

As a kid, it seemed like Mom was always working: cooking, doing dishes, cleaning the house, doing laundry, bathing children, doing projects and helping with dinners at church, and on and on. But she also took plenty of opportunities to read us books and to tend to our personal needs.

Things changed as I got older. Like other youth, I eventually discovered a new level of independence. Mom was still there for me, but she was no longer my sole source for everything. I often pushed back against perceived demands and restrictions.

When I served as a missionary for two years, Mom faithfully wrote to me week after week, just as she had done with my older brothers. She regularly sent me care packages. After getting home, Mom was still there for me, even when she didn't agree with some of my choices.

One episode I will never forget is what Mom did for me the day after I first went on a blind date with my future wife. Mom chatted with me about the event because she could tell that I was acting quite differently than I had following other dates.

Mom gently teased out of me the fact that I was quite smitten with this young lady. Cupid's arrow had found its mark. "Maybe you should send her a card thanking her for the date," Mom suggested. (This was before the advent of electronic social networks.)

Mom gave me tips about what a girl would like as I went about making the card. I felt pretty good about it by the time I was finished. The young lady was, in fact, quite impressed with the card. (As a side note, she had the same idea and had sent me a card too. It didn't take too long for us to turn from dating to courting.)

I watched as Mom added the role of grandmother to her already busy life. She went to great lengths to dote on each grandchild. She always tried to ensure fairness in the treatment of each grandchild. But that was challenging because their ages ended up spanning 2½ decades. For many years, Mom worked hard to host increasingly large family gatherings.

Both Mom and Dad did lots of work to prepare to serve as missionaries in Dad's native Germany. They worked hard in Germany. Things slowed down after they returned, but Mom still did lots of work.

Then Dad had a stroke. No one but Mom and God will ever fully understand the challenges Mom handled as she cared for Dad over the following year and a half. Dad's passing brought grief. But it also brought blessed relief from the immense burden under which Mom had labored.

Four years into widowhood, Mom has slowed down more. She has dealt with many health challenges. She can't do some of the things she used to do. But she still tries to send holiday and birthday remembrances to each of her sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren.

Despite the natural adversities presented by the aging process, Mom is still a great example and a deeply caring individual. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude for the things that Mom has done and continues to do for me. In fact, I will probably never realize most of what she has done for me.

Mother's Day is still a week and a half away, so this post is a bit early. It's just that I have been thinking a lot lately about how much Mom has blessed my life (not the least by giving me life to begin with). Simply saying thanks seems too trite of a way to express my gratitude.

But I guess that's the way of life. We rarely get the chance to adequately repay those that do so much to bless our lives. All we can do is to pass it on. I hope that some of how I have lived my life reflects honorably on Mom.

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