My mother’s day was made over the weekend by a visit from an old friend of my brother’s and his wife. While my brother hasn’t seen this friend in decades, my mom had seen the couple off and on through the years about town – or stopping by in her car to say ‘hello’ if she saw either of them in their yard. She thought the world of them but didn’t necessarily expect they felt even remotely the same.
When Christmas rolled around this past December, and they didn’t receive a card from my mom, it made them consider the last time they had seen her. Several things happened in the aftermath that kept her top of mind. Finally, my brother’s friend drove down by her house and knew immediately that this was no longer my mother’s home.
He went home and got online, started tracking down my brother, who owns a business, and managed to get his contact information. He made a call and they caught up over a 90-minute conversation with the vow of getting together soon. Next up was visiting my mom, now that they knew where she was.
Over the past year and a half, my mom’s life has changed radically. She got hurt, badly, in a fall at the beginning of 2017 and what started out as a simple lunch out with a friend resulted in my mother never going home to live in her house again. Can you imagine? You go out the door for lunch with a friend and never get to live in your house again. And the life you once had, the car you drove, your furniture, a ton of your possessions no longer is yours and, for the most part, because you can’t use them and don’t have space for them anymore.
With all of the changes – and just the process of growing older – I know my mother sometimes questions, like many of us do, what her place in the world has been. How much of what she’s done over the years mattered, and to who? Did she make an impact on anyone? How will she be remembered?
When life grows long and the world grows smaller, it’s hard not to focus on these things. We all want to feel that we have value and matter to others and that we’ll be remembered for those things.
Earlier this year, at a post-holiday gathering, some friends were discussing the passing of so many people that we loved. One friend said that she had been thinking lately about her mortality and what she would want after her death. Whereas once she was in favor of cremation, perhaps with her ashes scattered, she had now changed her mind. She wants a burial, even if it’s to be just her ashes, with a headstone to mark that she had once lived. Otherwise, who would know she had been there?
It was a thoughtful conversation and one that made me think once again about our legacy, our understanding of who we had influenced in some way or made a positive impact on – universal thoughts for sure. We want to know we mattered.
I think back on the weekend. It’s hard to describe the joy that transpired, not just for my mom, but really for me as well, which surprised me. I happened to be on my way down to visit my mom when her surprise guests came to her door. They were kind enough to wait for me to arrive so I could see them, too.
The effect their visit had on my mom, particularly as my brother’s friend recalled times at our family home so many years before, when he’d run into her at the supermarket or when she stopped by their yard, was transformative for her. It allowed her to see that regular daily interactions in her life had become good memories for others, for people she thought so much of and it made her happy.
That they took the time to seek her out, find out what had happened that made her move from her beloved home, came to visit and brought beautiful flowers and shared memories of my brother, of my father and mother, and me as well, made her feel such appreciation and so much joy.
For me, it was emotional as well. The years somehow seemed to melt away. I’d hazard none of us really saw what we look like now but rather someone we remember from so long ago. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of memories regained in just a short time.
I see how much moments like this mean to my mom, who has been blessed by kindness and care from people she’d never realized she’s touched in her life. She continues to make a difference in the lives around her. The former principal of the elementary school, where my mother served as a paraprofessional and substitute teacher at until she was 80, was a resident for a while at the assisted living my mother lives at now. I think my mom’s presence brought this 100-year-old woman to a more present state than she had inhabited for some time, perking up to share stories and memories of a different time in both of their lives.
An old friend of mine’s mother-in-law also came to live at the assisted living and in the short time before her death; she and my mother became good friends. Over a several-months-long span, the two were nearly inseparable and my mother spent time at her bedside in her final weeks. Since that time, her daughter-in-law and son have been extraordinarily thoughtful, sending my mother flowers and letting her know they care about her. It’s thoughtful beyond words – and so unexpected and appreciated by my mom.
These days, this is what matters most to her. Human connection and knowing she matters still – and always has. She’s not much different than most of us.
Next time you’re thinking about someone and what they mean to you, take a minute and let them know. You can’t imagine how much it will mean to them.