As a little girl, I would run barefoot through the freshly cut grass and have stained bright green feet by the end of a warm summer day. I loved growing up in the country and the simplicity of the day: wake up, eat my breakfast, brush my teeth, catch the bus, go to school, bus back home, have a snack, finish my homework, play in yard, eat family dinner, take a bath, brush my teeth, go to bed: repeat. Normal life can change instantly.
Life growing up was not easy, but it was not hard. My life was somewhere in the middle. The middle is not bad but being in the middle can be tricky. Tricky in that it can allow us to forget how blessed we truly were, and despite world crisis, how blessed we are to this day.
For example, how long has it been since we have thought about Thanksgiving Day at Grandma and Grandpa’s tiny two-bedroom house; all fifty relatives crammed in the kitchen and living room? The best turkey and dressing anyone could ever eat and desert for days. Or how about the amazing birthday and wedding cakes Aunt Gladys would bake? No worries of sickness, quarantine or death. With death memories come alive.
I have many good childhood memories like practicing softball with Mom in the yard or beating my Dad in the 100-yard dash; or playing some medieval made up game with my cousin, Mark. I think about all the people I cannot see or hug. I think about my sister, Melissa mastering the moonwalk; something I never mastered even after coating the kitchen floor with baby powder and practicing in socked feet.
I think about my cousin, Debbie holding my sick little head while on the school bus. I had terrible motion sickness as a kid. I remember my cousin, Tammy playing Sesame Street with me while Dad played dual Burt and Ernie roles. With death memories come alive.
My Mom, Janice always cooked dinner and made sure she had time to help me with my school assignments. In fact she loved tutoring my second cousin, Chase, on the kitchen floor. My Mom was a hard worker and she demanded hard work from her children. Her stubbornness passed to her children and has been a driving force in the success of my Physical Therapy practice.
My Mom’s introverted personality was a good compliment to my Dad’s outgoing extrovert social personality. Opposites do attract; in their case a marriage of fifty-five years strong. A marriage blessed by Monsignor Michael Howell at St. Andrew By the Sea Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Mom was always scared of change, timid of strangers and very self-conscious. She was afraid to say the wrong thing or how to dress in a social setting; or how her famous macaroni and cheese would taste. I think this fear prevented her from seeing how very special, intelligent and beautiful a person she was. Over the last ten years, I think she finally started letting go of fear.
Fear is something that can lead to bad decisions and biases, but fear of COVID-19 can help protect our society. With death memories come alive.
My Mom supported my marriage to Eric and looked beautiful at our wedding. Make up, hair styled and in a beautiful dress; she knew she was beautiful. She tasted champagne at the wedding; she did not drink.
Celebrating my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary in Fredericksburg, she did not mind being the center of attention. Surprisingly, we organized a trip to Seattle and an Alaskan cruise. Today a cruise would be impossible. She enjoyed the Space Needle in Seattle, specialty cuisine, music, glaciers and belly laughed at comedy. My parents flew first class while I was in the cheap seats. In fact, she sent me a bowl of the fancy nuts via her first-class flight attendant. Mom could be cheeky.
A little over one year ago, we began a full and much needed renovation on my parents’ property. With the expertise of Chase General Construction, the project turned out perfect. With the help of my amazing in-laws, Richard and Sylvia, we completed decorating and moving my parents back into their home. Mom was so proud of her new home. She was always embarrassed of how rundown the property had become after Hurricane Harvey, and she was over the moon at the completion. Who would have guessed she would not have the opportunity to use her new kitchen or soak in her spa bathtub? With death memories come alive.
Another true and cheeky Mom memory was at the blessing of her marriage. After the blessing, my Dad lost his balance stepping down from the altar steps. He was not injured and took the fall lightheartedly. My Mom without emotion said, “He has been falling head over hills for me for fifty-one years.” She was ironic, sarcastic and very funny. I believe she really started enjoying herself and feeling free to enjoy life. Maybe she realized on some level her life would end sooner than later.
Some of the things she really enjoyed were the candy called orange slices; not one orange slice but the entire bag. She loved finding a good deal at Kohl’s and using Kohl’s Bucks She enjoyed watching a Hallmark movie with her niece, Jan. She enjoyed talking with Tammy; in fact, I believe she loved Tammy more than she loved Melissa or me. She adored her dog, Sadie. She pampered Sadie like a family member. But what she loved the most are her grandchildren: Jessica and Joshua. My sister has done a phenomenal job raising them to be kind, generous, intelligent, well mannered individuals.
She also had a special bond with her sisters: Aunt Nannie, Aunt Gladys, Aunt Linda, and Aunt Sharon. Enduring childhood hardships with her sisters build a strong, unbreakable bond. But hardships sometimes cloud memories of happiness and peace. With death memories come alive.
As I grew older, completed undergrad studies at University of Texas Medical Branch, I found myself wanting to escape my childhood home. I have been blessed to have traveled the globe and seen some beautiful parts of the world. Being in the middle of a pandemic makes me realize how fortunate I was to have this freedom. I am certain that there are thousands of people who will never have that opportunity.
I poured myself into building my business. I missed time with my family on holidays and birthdays. I was studying or working; and gave up spending time with my Mom. It is a bitter pill to swallow knowing that I did not get to see my Mom before she passed. I was not allowed to travel or leave Corpus Christi to keep my patients, staff and community safe. I have gone through the stages of grief from denial to acceptance. Feeling sad, isolated or angry is a normal human response to tragedy. But knowing I am helping my patients and community gives me hope. I believe serving others is the greatest gift one can give himself. Be kind and only take what you need leaving food and necessities for your neighbors who are also in need.
Before my Mom’s passing, I would routinely read Conde՛ Nast Travel magazine to fulfill my wanderlust; and now all I want is to be home.
Melinda Stevens, editor and chief of Conde՛ Nast traveler wrote the following in the March 2020 issue.
There’s a tree outside my bedroom window. I don’t know what kind of tree it is. To be honest, in spring and summer, when I assume it is verdantly clothed, I’ve not noticed it. But now that winter is here, and it is entirely bare, undressed, with its leaves about its ankles, it has become peculiarly transfixing. Look at it all slightly, grubby February days and it’s a normal, perfectly average kind of tree, with a trunk the hue of old chewing gum and hands and fingers that slowly taper out to a gentle kind of nothing. But, sometimes, the sunrise will catch it – sometimes the sunset – and something rather extraordinary happens. It’s as if the tree reveals its true nature. The colors or its various parts are so resplendent, so rich, so electric, that it feels like a show has started. The first time I saw it, I shouted out to my daughters. “Come and see this crazy thing!” I call up the stairs. “Quick, quick!” But by the time they’d reached me, sleepy-eyed, with necks half-cocked under the sheer weight of their teenage heads, the sun had moved, and the tree had hidden herself again. They waited, bored, idly kicking at furling carpet corners, and eventually left the room. I too, went about my business. I picked up wet towels, shut cupboard doors. And then suddenly, once more, quietly, without fanfare, outside the window, there she was! Her dull pedestrian form ablaze; her trunk the color of turmeric, shiny as a Skillet; her hands comets of core, red as a vampire’s wish.
I didn’t feel as if I’d seen anything like it before. No tree, ever, like this. And yet, to look at her on a normal everyday kind of day, you’d have no idea.
I’ve spent many years explaining the traveling world in a grand and sweeping way. As if everything majestic and dramatic and empathetic happened across the seas, in some
faraway land, like a fairy tale for grown-ups. I somehow believed that anything truly expanding, truly transformative, must, by definition, take place literally and geographically somewhere else.
But the world has turned on its axis. The crucial part going forward is making sure, whether we are wandering in a distant wilderness or looking outside our bedroom windows, that we are not just looking but properly seeing.
I will continue my work as a Physical Therapist and business owner. I will properly see life and embrace the challenges that lie ahead. My Mom peacefully passed away in her own home with my Father and close friend, Cheryl by her side. She died of End Stage Heart Failure on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2020. She never knew the painful devastation of COVID-19. When it is safe for my community, family, friends, employees, and New Stride Physical Therapy; I have a wonderful Memorial Service planned for my Mom.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Peace be with you Mom. Amen “