Best Friends and Lessons Learned

The cute lady in this photo is my Mom.  Her name…Mildred Rentz… and she was the world’s most incredible Mom.  I am really having a difficult time speaking of her in past tense, because she was and forever will be my wonderful Mom.  The photo above shows Mom with onions from her garden.  I was really impressed with the size of those onions!  I truly do not think I had ever seen such bounty from Mom’s garden.

A few facts about my Mom…she was widowed at age 32, and had three small children.  I was 8 months old when my father died suddenly of a heart attack.  Our society did not know the things about health and wellness then as compared to now, and sometimes the methods of cooking did not exactly fit the “heart smart” category.  Nevertheless, the three of us were her children, and she was determined to take care of us as best she could, so that we could then take care of ourselves.

Mom was a retired school teacher.  I cannot remember a time in my young life when Mom was not teaching in a school somewhere, and she continued to do so until she had completed 30 years in the profession…several years of teaching math in grades 5-7, but a long stretch of teaching second grade.  I remember seeing her paycheck occasionally, and thinking that the $300 I saw was an enormous sum of money.  I truly have no idea how she made it financially, but I always had piano lessons.  I always had those things that would further my music career.  It was amazing.

The past several months have been incredibly difficult for me personally.  First, losing my husband Bill…my best friend, husband, soulmate, lover, and confidant.  Now…four months later…losing my Mom…another “best friend” who had always been the listening ear and the selfless love that most people would yearn to have encountered at least once in a lifetime.

Mom was in a retirement facility, and she was always busy, busy, busy…doing her “work,” as she often said. Her work was visiting people in the retirement home and taking them a goodie bag occasionally.  She took great joy in creating this little bag of her favorite things:  peanut butter cheese crackers, Big Red gum, a Little Debbie cake, maybe a few Bugles, and…life was good.

After my husband died, she began to talk more and more  about death and “going to Glory.”   She had a couple of TIAs three years ago, and clearly stated that she was not ready to “throw in the towel.”  However, she had changed recently, and I noted the sadness in her voice.  For an energetic school teacher who was constantly “on the go,” living a life of painful legs and failing memory was not fun for her at all.  She was getting more and more feeble, and she knew it.  “The legs have taken me almost as far as I can go” was a favorite statement, and I suppose it was true.  One day after such a discussion, I asked her, “Mom, do you have joy at all these days?”  She replied, “Oh, yes I do!  I can sit on my porch and watch the geese flap their wings!  They are really something to watch…to see those communication skills, and see how they take care of their young.”  We would talk about some of the things she had seen that day, but the joy was a bit short-lived, as she continued to realize that walking was more difficult, and she needed more and more rest in the afternoon.

Mom disliked taking naps, because when she awakened, she never knew what day it might be.  You see, the TIAs had taken away so many abilities in my Mom that had to do with “telling time.”  She never really knew what day it was, and she sometimes went for meals several hours late.  It broke my heart, and I always tried to call at the same time each day, so she would have a point of reference for the day.  The confusion grew, but I always tried to connect on some topic that she would enjoy…most had to do with things that happened when she was much younger…the things most older people can remember well.  Of course, she repeated lots of stories, and I listened over and over.

She was quite remarkable, my Mom.  She went back to college at 72 years of age to take Spanish, because a family member is from Mexico, and she wanted desperately to communicate with her effectively.  Though her Spanish was never fluent, she did quite well, and enjoyed studying her new language.  Well into her 80s, she would study her Spanish every night before going to bed.  It was incredibly important to her that she continue the learning process.  The TIAs took that ability as well.  She was unable to process the language, and she found that her beloved crossword puzzles were no longer her friends.

It is a sad thing to live for so long that life no longer has its joy and happiness, devoid of the zest for living.  As an 80 year old, she loved chasing the grandchildren in yard games, and she found great joy in her gardening skills.  Because of dry weather, she would lose her garden at least 75% of the time, but she continued trying, for the sheer joy of watching things grow and change.  However, at 93, these were no longer joyous days. They were just tough days.  Tough days of misery.

And so…a couple of weeks ago when I spoke with her, she let me know that life was becoming more difficult than she wanted to experience, and I asked, “Mom, do you just want to die?” She answered enthusiastically, “YES, I DO!”  At which time I said, “Mom…that’s okay.  It is time for you to do whatever you want to do about your life.  You have taught us how to live and take care of ourselves.  You have loved us, and we have loved you. If you want to die now, that’s okay.”

We had a memorial service for my Mom because she LIVED…not because she died, and I was never so proud to be her daughter.  I was also proud of her…for she was a courageous, kind, loving, precious soul, and her “work” was done.

Rest well, my sweet, wonderful Mom.  You taught me well, and I will always remember the lessons learned from one of God’s marvelous angels.  Godspeed…