Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us

When I began blogging, I wanted to use this avenue to encourage people who are struggling. Having some, well, maybe, a lot of experience in that area I thought I could be useful there. Here lately, I found myself needing encouragement too, a voice to remind me to keep trying, or to help me stay focused on my goals. My Mama used to be the captain of my cheerleading squad; the one who taught me to never give up and to hold onto to my faith. She’d tell me stories about people who kept going no matter what, and sometimes when I was glum she’d break out with that fabulous little song called “High Hopes.” You remember, the one about an ant and a rubber tree plant.

Mama went to heaven on a hot summer night in 1998, leaving behind her devastated daughter to hold on to her memory and her lessons. What she taught me stayed with me, her words reminding me God didn’t give me an off switch, and the fight to survive doesn’t end until your last breath. God gave me a strong will, and Mama didn’t let me forget it, making sure it was embedded in my mind. Her strategy worked until my husband died. All bets are off now.

When Dan died, I learned God sent angels in the form of other widows who could empathize with what I was going through. The first angel I found actually sat across from me at work—I called her just a few hours after I became a new widow; I can still remember parts of our conversation that horrible morning. Two more angels came into my life a few weeks after Dan’s death, and another angel, who doubled as my cousin and who knew all too well about the pain, was only a phone call away.

I now believe God sends us angels during other difficult times too, especially when your mama is no longer with you. Not all of us have or had a good mother. No, not all mothers are the same, but I got lucky there. When I was growing up, she was my mama, my protector, my teacher, the disciplinarian, but when I became a woman, a deep friendship developed.

When the bad times come now, I can no longer get a dose of her wisdom or encouragement. I could use some of those—the keep-at-its, the “you come from strong stock,” and “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Yeah, no doubt some days are darker than others.

However, I am grateful for those angels who helped me during my, so far, darkest period, and since losing Dan, these angels have increased in number. Not all of them are widows.

The last few weeks have been difficult, and I want to hear Mama’s voice. I can still remember the sound of it when she spoke, when she sang, her laugh. I want to tell her what’s going on like I used to do. Knowing that’s impossible, God placed a few more angels around me who are echoing her words, almost like channeling, being the voices of reason, of inspiration, telling me, “you’ve come this far, don’t give up now,” or “He will get us through all things.” On the stormy days, the ones when it seems like lightning is popping everywhere, filling my heart with fear, it’s hard to remember giving up is not an option; sometimes it’s hard to trust in the power of God.

A few of my angels have been busy making me remember what Mama taught me, even though they never knew her. There’s no way they’ll ever know how much their listening to me or texting just a few lines, reminding me to get back up and keep trying or to ignore the junk when dealing with difficult people has meant to me.

I miss my Mama, and though I can’t be with her, I do have strong women in my life; some are family, some are extended family, all of them I cherish. No one can ever replace Mama, but these angels have and are making my walk alone easier.

If people important to you are no longer with you, don’t overlook the angels who’ve come into your life, speaking words of wisdom, encouragement, and strength. Listen to them and stay focused. Most of all, never, ever give up!

To all the mothers and to those beautiful angels in my life, Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

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Butterflies

Butterflies

A few weeks ago, I spent a nice afternoon shopping with Kim and Emmy. Three generations together celebrating Kim’s birthday. The day reminded me of shopping trips I took with my mother and grandmother when I was single, and with my mother and Kim later. It was also a wakeup call to remember we’re only granted a certain number of days in life. Now in my fifties, my own mortality is glaringly real—a reminder of how quickly we move from being the youngest in a family circle to the oldest, and the need to treasure each moment and make them count.

I remember the days when my mama and grandma and I went shopping together. We would often pick a store and fan out like Butterflies among flowering bushes in warm weather. We’d meet up and discuss what or who we saw, the things we bought. This was a long time before texting and cell phones. Sometimes we’d stop by Baskin-Robbins and indulge in Triple Delight Sundaes. The ride to and from the stores, we lived in a rural area, so we shopped in a nearby city, was the best because of being together and the conversations we had.

As strong-willed as I am, I sometimes grew weary of their advice, and I didn’t appreciate what they had been through, those difficult experiences that made them who they were. Since those days, I’ve learned I come from a long line of strong women who faced and lived through harsh times.

My grandma suffered through a very difficult experience as a young child, the kind that would cripple a lot of folks, male or female. Later, she and my granddaddy worked hard, lived off the land, and made it through the Great Depression. She had much wisdom to share.

And Mama, a widow who also lost a child before I was born, she raised three children alone. She faced tragedies and failures, but she never lost her faith or her smile. Mama was my best friend. She taught me to fight, to keep the faith, although I have struggled with that one since Dan died, but it is still intact.

I remember shopping with Mama and Kim, from Kim’s baby years until her mid-teens. Those were happy years. Mama and Kim were so close. Mama died when Kim was fifteen, and it saddens me when I think she didn’t live to see Kim graduate from high school or college. At her Nursing pinning ceremony when Kim walked across the stage, I fought back tears to keep from embarrassing myself, but I knew Mama was looking down at the scene, so proud.

Yes, we were like Butterflies. Only I realized as I grew older and understood more, the older Butterflies in our little family possessed backbones made from titanium. They shared their struggles with me, and it’s now my job to pass on their stories of survival for future generations.

Thinking back on these days is like I’m there with them, I blink, and they’re gone. Time zooms by, waiting for no one. We can’t relive moments, we can only remember them.

Time has turned the pages, and now I’m in the elder role. It’s me who walks a little slower, gives out quicker, but ready to dispense motherly advice, solicited or not, at any time. Someday it’ll be my turn to fly away and join my mother and grandmother. Before that day happens, and I pray it’s no time soon, I want to, like Jack Dawson said on Titanic, “make each day count,” only I’m going to reduce it down to a smaller scale; to making each second matter.

On the way home that afternoon I thought about those special times, and the memories we’re making now. Yes, I plan to make each second count. We should all do that because as the old saying goes, life can change on a dime. Enjoy every minute. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Featured Image Photo Credit: 66875278 – Apricot flowers in spring, floral background © seqoya — Fotolia

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2016. All rights reserved

The Lollipop Tree

Some people have a tree in the yard connected with special memories. I have one, a Red Dogwood tree, I nicknamed the Lollipop Tree many years ago. Yeah, it sounds silly. My mother bought it for us not long after we moved into our house. This gift has rewarded me every year with beauty; its dusty rose pedals dancing in the breeze in the spring and leaves that turn burgundy in the fall. As it grew, it formed a round shape; its limbs meeting at a point on the trunk, like the candy on a stick of a lollipop, spreading in an almost perfect circle. It has lost some of the roundness over the years, but its beauty remains.

lollipop-Tree_7

Sometimes while sitting in the swing, I look at that tree and remember the day we brought it home and planted it. I also remember what Mama dealt with during her life, yet she still held tight to her faith. Mama went through difficult times—the kind that would buckle Paul Bunyan’s knees. Losing her first child, a baby only eight months old, then nine years later losing her husband, leaving her with three children, ages seven, four, and two, Mama knew pain and heartbreak. Later on, she faced ruin and abandonment of another type.

It is true when bad times come people disappear. Mama made a decision, based on legal advice, she thought would fix a bad situation, but it made it worse. People stopped speaking to her in the grocery store, looked the other way when she came near, not wanting to be seen even acknowledging her presence. None of the people who turned on her heard her cry, or should I say sob, when she hung up the phone after telling my grandmother she made the decision to do what her lawyer advised. I did.

Although she tried to hide it, I believe it bothered her. We were always together, including working on the same machine in a local factory. She needed support—someone to be there, so I went with her whenever she needed me, to meetings, to court, to whatever. Through this and several other problems she faced, Mama taught me this important lesson: “You do what you have to do, face what you have to face, and you do it with shoulders straight and your head held high.” Those were hard years, and I know Jesus taught us we should forgive one another. Forgiving is easy, it’s the forgettin’ that’s hard.

Mama knew how fragile life is. She was a no nonsense person when it came to protecting her children. Much like Toya Graham who went to the Baltimore demonstrations to make her only son go home, to remove him from a volatile situation, Mama would show up unexpected to pull one of hers from a serious situation, chase off undesirables, as well as tell off a few. She didn’t care who didn’t like it. She once told me to consider the lioness for a moment. “The lioness will fight to her death to protect her cubs. Any mother worth her salt will do the same for her children.” True!

Mama taught me her final and most painful lesson without speaking a word.

I awoke abruptly around midnight on a hot August night. I’ll never forget the sound in the house—eerily quiet, except for the soft hum of a ceiling fan. Dan worked nightshift then, and Kim wasn’t home yet (I learned later she and her friends who went bowling had car trouble on the way back). I ran to the front door and looked around the yard. Oh my God, where is she?

I went to Mama’s room and said, “Mama, Kim’s not home yet. Something must be wrong.” Mama didn’t respond. She lay there, still and silent, staring at something wondrous, at what I’ll never know. I ran over and touched her hands; they were already cool to the touch. The thought came to me, “She’s gone, she’s dead.” I started patting her hands, shaking her thin arms. “Mama, Mama. What’s wrong? Talk to me.” More thoughts, “She’s gone. It’s too late.” I kept trying, “Mama, please, please.” My mind kept saying, “She’s already left,” but my heart refused to accept it. I got the phone and called 911. I tried several more times to arouse her to no avail. I then stopped.

I caressed her forehead, kissed her there one last time, the tears flowed as my heart now believed what my mind was saying—she had gone home. The final lesson: the mind and the heart don’t always communicate. Perhaps I’d known it all along, but it became brutally real that night.

A few weeks before she died, in her final hospital stay, I encouraged her to fight. “I don’t want to lose you,” I said. Mama turned to me and replied, “Someday, there has to be a parting.” That night we had that parting, and the moment the realization hit me, my heart shattered like fine crystal dropped on a stone floor.

With all of the losses, disappointments, and sickness she endured, I knew there was only one song suitable for her funeral—Precious Lord, Take My Hand by Thomas Dorsey. She was tired. She was weak. She was so worn.

Princess Caroline said in an interview with Barbara Walters, “You grow up when your mother dies…yes, you are alone in the world when your mother dies.” I didn’t comprehend what she meant at first. Thirteen years would pass before those words sunk in and struck a painful chord. Today I understand.

Every year I look forward to my Lollipop Tree blooming and the leaves changing color, but nowhere near as much as I look forward to seeing my precious Mama again. She was my confidant, teacher, protector, inspiration, sounding board, advisor, and criticizer when I needed it. My Mama…was my best friend.

Child drawing of her mother for mother's day

Photo: Child drawing of her mother for mother’s day © sirikorn_t – Fotolia.com

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved