My mother’s gift

My mother recently turned 80 years old, which she thinks is a miracle because both her parents died when they were 78.  That entire year she thought she was going to go join my dad.  However, that didn’t happen and we are blessed to have her for a few more years.

My mom, Betty, when she was 18 months old

My mother is a strong woman.  I have always known that.  She had eight children and was step-mother to my half-brother, Tim, but to him, she was always Mom. She was married to a man who didn’t always treat her the way she deserved and she knew when to say goodbye.

She worked outside the home, which was unusual for mothers to do back in the ‘50s, but she really had no choice.  She had to support her family somehow.

My mother met my dad when he he joined the ad agency she worked at as a receptionist.  His famous pick-up line, “I have some Jackie Gleason records. Do you have a record player?” became an inside joke that they played with throughout the years.

My dad was in a terrible car accident when I was 4, which incapacitated him for almost a year.  My mother worked nights at Collins and visited him in Iowa City during the day. I remember wanting her to stay home because I missed her, to which she shook her head and said, “You’ll understand someday.”

My mother is a strong woman. I have never known her any other way.  Even when my brother, Pat, died in a car accident in California, she didn’t fall apart, but I knew she wanted to.  She held the rest of the family together, just as she had done so many times before.

After my father died two years ago, I saw a side of her I had never seen before. She wanted to give up.  I know she did.  But she didn’t, even though she missed him so much.  After grieving for a while, I think she came to conclusion that my dad wasn’t really gone. She keeps his side table the way it was the day he died.  I think it comforts her, so we don’t push her to put his things away.  It’s a comfort to us, too.

When my mother turned 80 this year, she made us promise not to buy her any presents. So what could I do that would show her how much I loved her, how much I appreciated her, how much she means to our family? I decided that I would try to write her life story, as much as I could in a month, anyway.

Each morning that I was able, I would sit and talk to her about her life.  I started at the beginning and took notes, just like I would any interview. But as I sat and listened to her amazing, I realized that I was getting to know my mother as Betty, someone I couldn’t have possibly known before.  To me she has always been Mom, but when I began talking to her about the things that she endured, her heartaches and her triumphs, I realized that I was getting to know my mother as a person.

My mother today

That sounds silly, I know, but when I sat with her and allowed her to open up about things she had almost forgotten, I could see a spark in her eyes that I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

I am so glad I could give this gift to my mother. Just sitting and talking with her has made our relationship even better, something that I know we both treasure.

My mother is a strong woman.  She has seen more in her lifetime than most people have.  But I think that it’s that strength that has made it easier for her to keep moving forward, even when she thought it was impossible.  It’s that strength that she passes on to her children and grandchildren, a strength that will live on for generations to come.

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