Last week I returned home after being with my mother at the end of her life. It was, of course, a time of great sadness and reflection. Once home, I walked though my gardens and the plantings in my “loggery” garden caught my eye. I’d planned this year’s color scheme to be purple, white and pink. The dahlia I’d planted in the grouping at the top was labeled as pink but the pot clearly contained both pink and red plants. There it was, the unexpected red flower, surprising, glaringly different, and not necessarily welcomed.
Like so many things in this time, it reminded me of my mother.
In my mother’s life there was a continued reprise of dealing with the unforeseen. Janice Gray married her high school sweetheart, Jim Albertson, and expected to live into old age with him. They planned to travel after their children left home. This didn’t happen. He died in his early 40’s and she never remarried. Almost fifty years after his death, my mom told my brother, “I just still love your father.”
My mother had five children and expected to leave this world before all of them. This didn’t happen. Two of her sons, Richard and Charles, died before she did.
My mom expected to live in her beloved cottage on Sunset lake until she died. That didn’t happen and she had to sell the cottage and move into assisted living. My mother thought she’d always be able to live with the companionship of a dog, but that didn’t happen. Her lovely poodle, Honey, died while she was in a nursing home and once she got better she discovered that in assisted living, you weren’t allowed to have pets.
My mother was an early proponent of “health foods” and supplements. She believed that “you are what you eat” and, being an organic gardener, expected to be healthy into old age. That didn’t happen. She got cancer, diabetes and associated nerve pain, along with assorted other undiagnosed problems. She lost her hearing and eyesight, which made her connections with the world very limited.
She expected to be financially stable through retirement and old age. That didn’t happen, and in the three months before she died, learned that the assisted living facility where she’d been for over six years was forcing her to move from her long-time apartment, her home, into a smaller room because she was going into Wisconsin community care.
In listing all of these trials, I’m not in any way suggesting that my mother’s life was only a series of hardships because it wasn’t. She had many pleasurable days, years and joyful experiences. There were dozens of loving family members, friends and other caring people surrounding her.
But I realize too that faced with so many unanticipated ordeals and difficulties, many people would have become bitter and disillusioned. Many would have become cranky, withdrawn, or constantly apprehensive. My mother never did. She grieved, dealt with what she was given, and moved on. Through it all she found a way to move forward with life-affirming grace.
Grace as a noun is defined as elegance, politeness, a pleasing quality and generosity of spirit. Grace as a verb means to contribute pleasingly to something, or to add elegance.
My mother was a gardener. She would have been annoyed but accepting, and ultimately amused or delighted, by a surprising red flower in a purple, pink and white color scheme, because no matter what flourished, died, or developed unexpectedly, she handled it genially. Whatever she cultivated, Janice Albertson did it with grace.