My family draws names each Christmas. We hail from a frugal background of farmers. No extra fuss for the holidays. Everyone buys just one gift. So it’s always fun to see who has our names and what they have chosen for us.
For our 2021 Christmas get-together, we decided to open gifts when everyone was present — after the funeral and burial of our matriarch, my mom.
The younger kids passed out the presents and when they handed mine to me, I peeked at the gift tag.
Who had my name this year? Swallowed fresh tears. Mom had my name. This would be my last gift from her.
Our mothers do so much for us, we often take them for granted. Until we become parents and realize the sacrifices. Or until they are gone.
Mom gifted me with several things, but two of them stood out as I helped my siblings prepare Mom’s service. As we all reflected on a life well-lived.
Music: Mom grew up in poverty. Self-esteem destroying poverty. The kind that moves beyond just being hungry. Only one dress to wear every day to school. Hearing the taunts of the richer kids. Knowing she could never be one of the “in” crowd.
So as a parent, Mom worked hard to make sure all of her children had multiple choices of clothing. And she used part of her nursing salary to give her children a resource she never had. Piano lessons.
Every week, she drove me to my piano teacher’s house where I played my pieces, learned more about the scope of music, progressed through the various methodologies. Mom never had to remind me to practice. Music flowed from my soul to my fingers and into the sound board of our piano.
Mom was present at my recitals, the concerts and competitions that came later as I grew in skill. She even took a few lessons herself, so she would know what her children were learning. So she could confront the whispers of her past with the truth. No longer an outcast.
I didn’t make it into the Julliard School of Music — one of my goals. But I took lessons for 13 years and later became a piano teacher myself. Mom was proud. Her gift was not taken for granted.
Words: In her high school yearbook, Mom was voted as the one most likely to become a writer. It was her secret passion, but one which never materialized. Life intervened. World War II happened. The government paid for women to become Army nurses, so her destiny was decided for her.
But she instilled in all of us a love for words, a longing to read as many books as possible. She demanded we use correct grammar. Bought me my first diary — the kind with the tiny key and a lock. Drove us to the library each week where all of us checked out a stack of books. Mom included.
After chores each night, then homework and piano practice, we curled up in various places and read. Often discussed our books at the supper table. The television stayed off until the weekend.
In 1985, when I became a professional writer and sold my first article, it was Mom who cheered for me. She supported me in various writer’s conferences, paid my tuition, read my words, cherished my books.
Until the memory thief stole the meaning of words from her.
When we cleaned out Mom’s room at the nursing home, reducing her life to a few boxes, we found several books she was reading. Her Bible, a mystery, a Guideposts collection. Even when her cognitive skills declined, she continued to read.
Her gift of words continues today as all of us read on family vacations, watch the sales for book deals, share with each other the latest novel we cannot put down.
So when I opened that last gift from Mom, I wondered what it would be. Granted, my sister picked it out. Mom was trapped in the shadows of dementia, living in the nursing home. But Kris chose something Mom would have definitely liked. Another thing Mom and I shared.
It was a cross, made from the aspens of New Mexico. Purchased in one of the stores in Red River, the little mountain town our family has vacationed in for 20+ years.
The perfect last gift.
For Mom regularly shared her faith. In her quiet unassuming way. She wore a cross necklace under her nurse’s uniform where she could touch it on hard days. To remind herself Who she belonged to. Her Savior always present.
It was Mom I told first when I decided to believe. She was the one who had driven me to the children’s story-time where I gave my heart to Jesus. Mom filled our home with children’s Bibles, regularly quizzed us on our weekly Bible verses, made sure we were clean and ready for church every Sunday.
Wearing a dress she sewed herself. Making sure her children were never rejected because of how they looked.
During her memorial service, we played her favorite song, “It Took a Miracle.” A reminder that this 93-year-old woman had lived her entire life enjoying music, words and hanging on to faith.
Every. Single. Day.
Until December 7th, when she graduated to heaven and saw in person the reason she believed.
Mom’s final gift hangs in my living room as homage to her life and to the faith we shared. Her lifetime of gifting to her family and to others will live on.
But it is her last gift I will cherish the most.
And what was the last gift I gave her? I wrote Mom’s obituary.
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