Mothers’ wisdom

Dear friends, acquaintances, readers, and unconcerned passers-by,

I am sending out this request for guest bloggers who would like to share a memory and write on the topic of mother’s wisdom. Now that Mom is gone, when her little pieces of wisdom come to mind I greet them like a precious jewel. I am planning on sharing those little jewels with you as they drop into my hands. But I realized that we all have pieces of wisdom from our mothers. I invite you to share one here on my blog. I hope to hear from you, whenever, at


“Things don’t always turn out like you think they’re going to.”

 Mom said that to me at some point during our journey through her last six weeks. I don’t remember what comment I made that provoked it, but I’m sure it was one of my attempts at being upbeat and optimistic about her move to the assisted living facility. Or maybe it was a fore-shadowing of her dip in the whirlpool at the new facility that I thought would be heaven after all the years she wasn’t able to get in or out of the bathtub at home. That turned out to be incredibly uncomfortable, a test of fortitude and endurance actually, when Mom had to sit (for a very long time according to her) on a straight-backed metal seat that got lowered into the tub. “I’m not going to do that again,” she said,” unless they can get some kind of a cushion for me.”

Some things just don’t turn out as good as you think they’re going to.

I don’t know what experiences in her life drove that thought home but I imagine the day-to-day care of Annie; Mom’s attempts to improve the quality of life for her mother who had dementia; or Mom’s constant battle to take care of Dad at home as he continued to decline with Alzheimer’s provided many opportunities for failed attempts and things that didn’t turn out as good as Mom had hoped.

It’s not a profound statement really, or likely even one that we haven’t already learned on our own. But sometimes, some of us, need to be reminded, I guess.

Mark was playing golf this morning. He doesn’t get out that often. We used to play occasionally with his parents. I rode in the cart with his mother and he with his father. I enjoyed that well enough. His mom wasn’t considerably better than I was and it wasn’t overly taxing for me. I can’t say the same for later attempts to play in a foursome with our sons or other people who didn’t mind devoting hours to the game week-after-week and year-after-year in order to improve their skills.

I really like the idea of playing golf with Mark and some friends. I imagine it might be a life-style I could enjoy—a weekly outing on the golf course on 70 degree, blue-sky, breezy days. Laughter, camaraderie, the challenge and the feeling that comes when the ball soars off the tee and flies out over the green straight ahead dropping into an excellent chipping or putting position (I really have to stretch my imagination on that one.)

In my weaker moments I sometimes forget the frustration and utter humiliation of some of my later attempts at golfing. My mind conveniently refuses to recall that the last time I played nine holes I quit after only three, picking up my ball, jamming my 5-iron into the bag, and parking myself in the cart while uttering all kinds of best-forgotten comments.  I think maybe golfing would be a fun thing that Mark and I could enjoy. Sometimes I think, maybe I’ll try again.

At times like those when my imagination threatens to delude me it is good to remember the wise words of my mother, “Things don’t always turn out like you think they’re going to.”

Undoubtedly so. Thanks, Mom.


My mother had a hard life

I woke up to a fascinating, no, more than fascinating, soul-stirring, comment on one of my blog posts. Although I had planned to do another post about our recent trip to New Orleans, in keeping with my intention when I started this blog of writing about what was on my mind when I woke up, I am sharing this story with you.

When I arose this morning, I checked my iPhone for email and found this blog comment to moderate by a new reader, Roseanne, who wrote, “. . .I was just lying here looking for sleep, when my Mother came into my thoughts. I got up and put into the computer ‘My Mom had a very hard life ‘ and found your blog. I’m going to put it in my favorites and follow you. I have never done anything like this before. . .”

I retraced her steps and found the post I had written about my Dad and his mother.

But Roseanne’s words struck a cord with me, because even though I had never written about it, my mom had a hard life, as most of my loyal followers might imagine.

When she was young my mother often had to care for her two younger siblings because her mother suffered from heart disease and was quite ill a lot of the time. Then my father was sent to Germany in the army and Mom had their first child, my oldest sister, while he was thousands of miles away. A few years (and children) later, Annie was born with severe brain damage and Mom, along with Dad, took care of her every day for 51 years. Annie died shortly after Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Mom went directly from caring for her daughter to caring for her husband. She never got a break. Not one. That’s one of the hardest things I’m dealing with now in the throes of my grief.

So the fact that Roseanne found me by searching for those terms had me take notice. Thank you, Roseanne.

But Roseanne wasn’t the first person who found me recently. A few days ago I got a couple of comments from a person named Kathy and her brother Kenneth on my “Remembering Grandma” post that I had written about my mom’s mother. They recognized the Adams’ name and the house that my grandmother grew up in.

It turns out that they are distant relatives. Their grandfather Adams was my great-grandfather’s brother. They have remained in the same basic location that my, and their, Adams’ family set down roots when they came to Ohio from New York sometime in the 1820s. We are talking about meeting each other in the near future. It is an exciting find for an amateur genealogist like myself, and even more stirring for my heart that has found new family, albeit extended, after experiencing  the painful sense of loss of family following the deaths of my parents. I only wish I could tell my mom. She would have been thrilled to know. Thank you, Kathy and Kenny.

My new “cousin” Kathy wrote me and said, “I just have to say that I think my Grandma Adams up in heaven was pushing for us to meet. There were so many events leading up to me finding your blog and things that occurred afterwards that led me to believe it was not ‘just a coincidence.'”

I wrote her back and said that I believed my grandmother, in cahoots with my mother, may have had something to do with it too. Isn’t it a nice idea to think about loved ones plotting and scheming in Heaven, trying to find a way to break through the veil of life that separates us?

Now, I realize some of you will agree with me whole-heartedly, and some of you will think this is a bunch of bunky and I should devote my active imagination to more production purposes like writing a novel, perhaps. And I’ll be honest and say that I have been all over the map in what I believe about after life.

I can say, though, that when you lose someone you love dearly, it can make you want to believe. And belief, after all, is a choice we make. Belief, according to is, by definition, “confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.” If there was proof, you wouldn’t need to believe. You would simply know. It is something we can choose to do.

My mom believed in the power of prayer. And in the thinning of the veil from this life to the next. As she was near the end of her days in a bed at Hospice I told her, “I’m going to miss talking to you, Mom. I’m going to have to find another way to talk to you.” And she replied, “Yes. You will.”

So I’ll repeat the question I asked in my very first blog post, that I read again today while I was looking for what I actually said about the purpose of my blog:

“Mom are you out there?”

Anna Adams Lemmon (my grandmother) with Mary Lemmon Smith (my mother on right) and Sharon (my aunt in the middle) on the Adams’ family farm circa 1939.

Ten things I’ve learned since December

1. Being with Dad, even though he can’t walk, can’t talk, and may not always know who I am,  is now a comfort instead of a grief.

2. We do what we have to do and priorities get clear in a crisis.

3. Moving Dad to a nursing home was not as terrible as I had expected and always dreaded.

4. Everything is relative.

5. I have an unlimited and unstoppable capacity to hope, like my mother.

6. No matter how much we may want someone to live, death will not wait.

7. Grief comes in unannounced and overwhelming waves.

8. Grief has a taste and odor and prickly needles and fills up your senses, and creates nausea, and is so much more than mere sadness.

9. Words of comfort are, in fact, comforting.

10. You can watch your mother expel her last breath, touch her cold hands in a funeral parlor, and sit beside her closed coffin at her grave, and have none of it seem real.

Someone’s crying

On Thursday night I heard my mother stir and I rose from my bed on the floor in the corner of her room and hurried to her side.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she roused from the deep sleep she had been in all day.

“Nothing’s wrong, Mom.”

“Someone’s crying,” she said.

In my mom’s 78 years on this planet, I imagine she heard and answered a lot of someones crying.  In the 1950s through the 1970s she was raising five children who had been born within six years, including my sister Annie who was extremely disabled.  I suspect there were a lot of times someone was crying.

Even as we grew older we were sometimes crying: me coming home from college carrying a basket of laundry when a relationship ended; a long-distance phone call to speak of a loved one who died; a conversation about one thing or the other around the kitchen table.  I know I did my fair share of crying on her shoulder.  In fact after we were shocked by the revelation of her cancer in early December, I’d wake in the morning crying, and I’d think ‘I need to tell Mom about this terrible thing that is happening.’ Then I’d wake fully and realize that the terrible thing was happening to Mom.

Although I have only a few memories of my father crying before his illness, the Alzheimer’s had the unfortunate effect of causing him to become very tearful. For quite some time, every morning Mom would have to face his tears as she rose to get him up and out of bed because Dad started most days crying.

So, yes, there have been a lot of someones crying. And Mom wiped, or talked, away many, many tears.

The nurse practitioner at Hospice where Mom spent nearly two weeks in the last month said, “Your mother is a caregiver. Often caregivers have a hard time letting go. They need to know everyone is going to be okay.”

I told my siblings and we all reassured Mom in our own way that we, and Dad, were going to be all right. I don’t know if that gave her peace in the end, or if this fight was simply too big for the fighter.

On Thursday when Mom said, “Someone’s crying,” even though my heart was breaking, I answered, “No, Mom. No one’s crying. We’re all okay. Everybody is going to be okay.”


On Saturday morning, January 12th, at 11:45, my sister, husband, and I watched my mother take her last breath, six short weeks after her pancreatic cancer was discovered. I am grateful that we, along with Hospice of Dayton, were able to give her the loving care she not only deserved, but earned each and every day of her life.

She had a joyful spirit and a compassionate soul. I will miss her dearly.

Mary K. Smith – January 3, 2013

If I were an artist

If I were an artist, or had any artistic ability whatsoever, I would paint the scene outside the window beside me where I sit with my feet elevated in a recliner beside Mom’s bed. She has just now fallen asleep so I will have to save her lunch for her when it arrives in the next few minutes, although I know she won’t eat more than a bite or two of this or that.

This room at Hospice of Dayton is comfortable and the service superb. Mom has been here under their care since Thursday afternoon when she left the hospital to transition through here before going back home to her new little assisted living apartment. “I just hope I feel good enough to be able to enjoy it here,” Mom said of her new apartment after we moved her in but before all the original artwork from family members was hung, framed pictures still setting on the floor in stacks leaning against the walls.

I do too, Mom. I do too.

Christmas evening my little celebration planned for her and Dad got derailed when the nurse taking care of Mom said, “I’m so glad you’re here. Her blood pressure is too high and we may need to send her out tonight.”

Mark and three of our kids went over to the nursing care unit to visit Dad, while I waited with Mom to determine the success of the latest attempt to lower her blood pressure to something considerably lower than the 247 it was currently at. The nurse, under the guidance of the nurse practitioner, had been working on this for over two hours. My siblings and I had been fighting Mom’s skyrocketing blood pressure ever since she found out about the cancer throughout her abdomen on December 2nd. Her blood pressure could have been high longer than that from the stress of taking care of Dad at home and helplessly watching his decline. We don’t know because Mom was unwilling to leave Dad and go to the doctor for her own medical concerns which included increasingly painful digestive problems.

“We think she should go out to the hospital,” her nurse said.

Mom didn’t want to go.

“I think we should follow the medical advice we’re getting,” I told her. “That’s what you want me to do for Dad, don’t you?”  I need to make these kinds of decisions now  that I am the health care power of attorney for both Mom and Dad.

“I don’t want to leave your dad,” she said.

Dad is a little walk away, through a door and down a long breezeway. And even though Mom’s not felt good enough since she’s been there to see him more than once, I made a promise I hoped I could keep, “You’ll be able to see him when we get back.”

So we went to the hospital on Christmas night. Hospice came there on Thursday. And we moved Mom to the Hospice care site for 5-7 days to try to get her pain and symptoms controlled and develop a care plan she will be successful with when she goes back home.

I have at least found a temporary place of rest here. I spent Thursday night in her room on the chair that converts to a bed. I lied, on the relatively hard surface, awake watching the tiny dots of green light float across the ceiling and down the walls from the projector on the shelf above Mom’s bed. It looked like a million stars in the night.

And now I sit and look out her window at the snow scene beyond. A lamplight stretches up beside a sycamore tree. They mark the edge of a pond. The limbs of the trees in the woods beyond the water are decorated with white. A bright red cardinal landed on the evergreen beside her window for a moment. It’s quite lovely really.

If I were an artist I would paint it.

The day the world was to end

She’s been so strong through all of this: fifty-one years of caring for my severely disabled sister followed by her death, three and a half years of caring for my father through moderate and then late stage Alzheimer’s, a sudden revelation that she has advanced, considered incurable, metastasized cancer, and my father’s hospitalization followed by his move to a nursing home.

Sometimes my mother’s strength is my undoing.

Yesterday, the day the world was to end, the first day of winter with a snow storm blowing through the area, we moved Mom out of her home of 32-plus years of family memories and into a small assisted-living apartment under the same roof as my father.

As soon as we got Dad settled in his new home earlier this month, my siblings and I turned our efforts to packing Mom up and readying her to move as well. It wasn’t until the day before the move when my husband, sister, and her family, were on their way to Mom’s new home, in their cars filled with packed boxes of fragile items and original artwork from talented family members, that Mom put up any complaint. She sat on the sofa across the room from me, her shoulders hunched, the wall behind her bare in spots from removed artwork, and said, “I don’t want to go.”

“Transitions are hard,” I reminded her. “I know this must be so hard on you. And I feel very bad that you have to go through all of this change and confusion now when you are feeling so bad.”

“I don’t like anything about this,” she said.

“Do you think we’ve made bad decisions?” I asked her, knowing that after my mother’s virtual collapse at the beginning of the month she has done little more than move from the sofa to the bed and has not been able to participate very much in the the planning of this monumental transition. “Should we have done something different?” I asked her.

“Well, I would have waited until I had my doctor’s appointment and knew my test results,” she said, referring to the ultra-sound and biopsy that were done last week as an outpatient since she refused to stay at the hospital for the testing when we first took her to the ER and the cat scan revealed her cancer.

Through this whole nightmare I’ve been living, there have been a few funny moments, and there have been some all-time low moments. This was a bad moment for me.

“We thought you wanted to be where Dad was,” I said, remembering that was her only criteria for what nursing home we selected for Dad. She wanted to be in the same building and not have to travel there by car or golf cart. “Dad had to go somewhere. Dr. R. recommended this place. We were lucky they had appropriate rooms for both of you. They weren’t going to hold an empty apartment for you forever. We were afraid of losing it.”

Yesterday morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m., early again as I had done the previous two consecutive nights that I spent at my parents’ house. I slipped into Annie’s room down the hall where my mom was sleeping in her queen-sized bed we moved there when Dad started sleeping in his hospital bed and Mom in a twin bed beside him in their own room. I could see she was awake, even in the dim light that shone under the door from the bathroom. I sat down on the glider beside the bed and we talked for a while.

The five hours before we were scheduled to leave at 10:00 passed by relatively uneventfully, helping her dress, sewing patches on her blanket and afghan to label them for her, taping and labeling last-minute boxes.

Just before 10:00, I helped Mom put her coat on, walked her out through the garage and into my waiting and, courtesy of my husband, warmed up car.  As I backed out of the driveway I saw her looking at the house and I struggled not to think about the fact that this might be the last time she saw her home. Little snow flakes were drifting around although the ground had only gotten a dusting and the streets were relatively clear. My bare hands were cold on the steering wheel.  I looked at Mom’s face. She was calm and without tears.

“This reminds me of the story Dad told me about the day his family moved to Miami Street,” I said as I turned out of the drive, onto the road and away from the house. “He said it snowed the day they moved.”

“Oh yes,” Mom said as she laughed, “I remember that well. I got stuck at work downtown at Murphey’s Department Store.”

“Did you have to spend the night there?”

“No. Your dad came and got me,” she said as I stopped at a red light.

“It had snowed so hard my dad couldn’t get his car away from the curb to come and get me, so your father walked there from Miami Street to get me. I spent the night at his new house on a mattress with his two sisters. The three of us slept sideways across the mattress.”

“Was it a queen-sized mattress?” I asked as I turned onto the main road that led to the nursing and assisted-living facility.

“I think it was probably a double. When they saw how bad the weather was going to be they decided to get the mattresses moved over there first. All they had been able to move were the mattresses and an ironing board. Your grandmother had brought the ironing board over because they were  putting up wallpaper. My parents were sick with worry about me spending the night at your father’s house.

“In the morning, your grandmother cooked eggs for breakfast. They must have either moved the stove as well, or maybe it was there when they bought the house. This was the first house they ever owned. They always rented before. Anyway, she served the breakfast on the ironing board. There weren’t any chairs to sit on.

“Then your dad walked me home from Miami to Manier. It was so cold, my eye-lashes froze. The snow was deep and I think I borrowed a pair of boots from one of his sisters. We walked down the middle of the street. No cars were out.

“Your dad and I used to talk about that from time to time,” she said, as we turned into the parking lot of her new home, accompanied by Angels We Have Heard on High playing on the car stereo.

January 16, 2011

A little Christmas cheer

I’m sitting here at my computer desk at 5:00 am because my nerves have woken me up again and it feels impossible to lie in bed. Although my goal is to post three days a week, it’s been nearly a week since my last post. My email inbox has 147 messages in it — I like to keep it under 50. Many of the messages are unread links to my blogging friends’ posts. I am so far behind in reading the blogs I follow, the news from the online friends I’ve cultivated nearly two years now, that I know I will never be able to catch up and will have to resort to jumping ahead to try to get back in the sync of things.

I don’t like to complain about how busy I am, or how far behind I get. We’re all busy. But for those of you who notice I’ve not been around, I just wanted to tell you I hope to be back to reading and commenting soon.

I spent most of the day at my parents’ yesterday. Holidays are so hard for people who are suffering in some way. I woke up thinking that I needed to hang the strand of blinking red bell lights along Mom’s living room mantle. My sister Annie loved watching the red blinking lights, and because of that my mother loved them too. Or because Mom loved them, Annie did. We never were quite sure which way that actually went. We hung the bells up the first two Christmases after Annie was gone, but I think it was too much trouble for Mom to do last year.

Armed with blank Christmas cards and a package of peppermints, I left for my parents house mid-morning. Life has been so hard for Mom over the past months, years really, that she is worn out and doesn’t want to do one thing extra. I suspected if I asked her if she wanted me to get out her Christmas decorations she would say “No.” So I didn’t ask. I went for the bells.

I went down the hall and into Annie’s room where Mom keeps the Christmas decorations in the large closet.

While I was looking for the bells, I found a wreath. I took it out and hung it on the front door.

“I usually put the wreath my sister gave me on the front door,” Mom said from her chair near the far corner of the living room where she sat and ate her toast and drank her tea. “It’s on the glass porch.” I moved the wreath I’d hung to the back door and went out on the porch for the wreath my aunt had made.

I decided we needed Christmas music so I sorted through their collection of vinyl albums for the Christmas ones and selected one I remembered from my youth, the album cover completely torn through on one side.

“I don’t want to get the tree out today,” Mom said as I worked.

In one box I found a Santa and Mrs. Claus that a good friend of hers had made years ago. I set them together on top of the china cabinet.

Back and forth to Annie’s room I went bringing out decorations one or two at a time.

I put the snowman and woman on the window sill beside the card table, Dad’s “office,” where he sits and “works” or plays ball with a family member or a home health aide.

I found a centerpiece for Mom’s coffee table, four miniature nutcrackers for the kitchen window sill, and a snow globe that I think Dad might enjoy.

At the bottom of a big box, in a bag, I found the red bells that Annie loved.

I hung them along the mantle, securing them with tape. Then I cleared the nick nacks off the mantle and set out the manger scene that used to be my grandmother’s.

Christmas carols playing in the background, I stood still for a minute and looked around the room. Mom used to put a small tree on a table in front of the picture window in the living room, but Dad sits there now and the table is full of pencils, blocks of wood, books, cups of coins, and other things we use to try to entertain or occupy him.

“You know, you could put the little tree on that table beside you, Mom,” I said. “It wouldn’t have to be in front of the window.”

“I could put it on that table,” Mom said and pointed across the room to the end table beside the lift recliner that we got for Dad, but that he rarely sits in anymore. It is simply too hard to get him in it, and he slides out of position if he sits there too long.

I shifted the recliner away from the sofa and moved the small table between the two so that it would be closer to the electrical outlet. Then I got the little white tree from a box on the shelf in Annie’s closet, and I set it up on the table.

“I don’t want to do the ornaments today,” Mom said.

I went back into Annie’s old bedroom and found a crocheted tree skirt.

“My sister made that for me, too” Mom said.

I arranged the skirt around the bottom and plugged the tree in. It’s tiny colored lights added a warm glow to the room.

Annie’s blinking bells strung along the mantle lent a cheerful twinkle to the room.

I left the ornaments in the three small boxes on the bed in Annie’s room.

Mom can decorate the tree later.