I lost my mother not long ago. She was a delightful 85 years old, and would have turned 86 on June fifteenth. I had her for 47 years, but 47 years was not nearly enough. Neither for me, nor for any of us who knew and loved her.
Her funeral was a cornucopia of people from all walks of life, various faiths, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. There was one resounding quality in mother’s life that brought all these people together in a tiny, overcrowded and uncomfortably warm room. They all wanted to give back a little bit of what she’d always given to them—love, acceptance and encouragement.
When I was a small child, my parents owned a nursing home called Hampton Manor. It was located on a narrow winding street, on the north end of town, surrounded by big gnarly trees with canopies of lovely green leaves, offering their shade to anyone passing by. There were beautiful flowers planted out front—all pinks and reds, because these were Mother’s favorite colors. Their fragrance welcomed every visitor who entered Hampton Manor.
“How in the world are you today, Mr. Pulley? You must be fine, because how could anyone be anything but fine on a day like today!” Mother’s positive demeanor and uplifting cheerfulness had a way of setting the mood for all the visitors who entered that home. Her beautiful smile could light up a room.
She knew every patient—all one hundred and fifty by first and last name, their personalities, likes and dislikes, their family’s names, what they preferred for dinner and certainly what they didn’t. No matter how cantankerous some of those folks could be, Mother always knew precisely the right thing to say to quiet the troubled soul.
My summers were spent as a teen working in the nursing home, feeding patients, changing bed sheets, wheeling people down the hall in their wheelchairs and basically learning the art of the nurse’s aide. I found out then, just how hard my mother worked. I discovered how taxing people could be when not feeling well, or when they realized they were in the twilight of their lives.
Mother was always thinking up something to keep people in touch with the present, not allowing them to live only in the memories of their past. She’d organize picnics outside on the grounds and have visitors bring their pets to the event—a hilarious blend of critters and patients, all co-mingled together in giggling heaps, surrounded by metal walkers, wheel chairs and oxygen tanks. It was quite a sight.
We celebrated every fall by the return of the geese traveling south for the winter and the patients would make arts and crafts to commemorate the return of the winged wonders. There was a little pond close by the nursing home property and the geese knew exactly where to go. Every year, curious faces of all ages were pressed against windows in silent awe as the beautiful creatures made their graceful descent. It was a time of curiosity and fun at the nursing home as the wandering geese returned home. Mother encouraged a sense of exploration and mental stimulation for those in her care, as she was by nature a fun-loving and inquisitive person.
After hours in that place, walking endless miles from the north, south, east and west of the building, she’d still find time to come home and make the most amazing meals. My personal favorite was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and her special home-made rolls. The smell of that food made everyone’s mouth water and we would dig in greedily with no thought about anyone else. Mom would always get stuck with a wing, or some other unfavorable piece. She’d just smile and say, “Oh honey, don’t you know the wing’s the tastiest of all?” Who was she kidding?
As I grew older and had a family of my own, I came to realize just how amazing my mother was. She handled both a wonderful career and a family with great finesse, and I never heard a word of complaint. She was grateful for all God’s great gifts and the wonders of life, her family and her ministry to those less fortunate.
My mother’s confidence came from the knowledge that she was doing exactly what God had called her to do. She was fulfilling her purpose and carrying out the mission appointed to her. She was making a difference in the world—one life at a time. My mother’s greatest gift was the ability to look beyond her own anguish and see the suffering of others.
I find myself getting so caught up in my own world—the struggles and battles of my existence. I often forget that there is a world of people who are at the same moment dealing with pain and heartache.
Watching her example, I understood that all of us have been given gifts and talents—unique abilities to make a difference in the lives of those around us. It may not be as considerable as caring for one hundred and fifty needy patients in a nursing home. It may be as simple as considering the requests of a neighbor, or reaching out to a friend. But our lives are enriched when we take the time to extend a helping hand to those in need and find a way to use our God given endowments to produce a positive change in the world around us—one opportunity at a time.
It’s Mother’s Day again, and I now realize just how fortunate I was to have this amazing woman in my life. She showed me, by her example, how to be the kind of mother and the type of person God designed me to be. Thanks, Mom.
©2008, Tamra Nashman