There’s something about little boys and their moms. For some reason, being around your mom makes you feel like you’re 9 years old—regardless of how old you may be at the time. My mom never recognized that I had grown up, married, and raised children of my own. Sure, she loved my sons, but to her, they were “her” grandsons much more than they were ever my sons. She never recognized that I had a career that required a lot of self-discipline and wise decision making. She always had to add her advice to make sure I was doing the things I needed to do to grow up healthy.
To understand my mom, you have to know her mother died when she was 14. Overnight, she became the mother of her three younger sisters. My mom was never an adolescent. She went from being a child to be an adult overnight. My mom has always been in charge. She’s extremely strong, and she only respects strength. Silence, to my mom, meant either you agreed or you didn’t know. Either way, she felt empowered to make the decision—whatever that decision may be.
And now, she’s not in charge. I make all of the decisions. I tell her what doctors she’ll see. I pay her bills. Her friends call me to see if she can go to lunch the way my friends used to call her to see if I could come out and play. She’s knows this, and it frustrates her.
She wants a car. The doctor says she can’t drive. She still fights me every day to go buy her a car. She points out the kind of car she wants. She even tells me what color she wants. My mom knows I’m not going to buy her a car. It’s a point of pride for her.
She reminds me of times when I messed up while I was growing up. (Funny, for all of the things she can’t remember anymore, she can remember a surprising number of my failures.) She does this to remind me I’m not qualified to be in charge of her life.
Her fights with me have a desperate quality about them—like she’s trying to grab hold of something so she won’t just slip away.
But she is slipping away. Every day it seems she gets a little further away. I told my wife it’s like my mom is getting further and further away from her eyes. When I look into my mom’s eyes, I know she’s in there. She’s in there somewhere, but she’s getting harder and harder to find.
Like I said, when a boy is around his mom, he’s just 9 years old. I’m 9. I want my mom to come and tell me I can do this. I want her to tell me I’m strong, and I’ll get through this. I want her to tell me she’s known God had something special for my life the first time she held me in the hospital after I was born.
I want her to tell me it’s going to be all right.
But it’s not. It’s not going to be right until Jesus calls her home. She knows that. I know that.
I’ll miss my mom then, too.
Today is Mom’s birthday. She’s 79 years old. (Don’t tell her I told you. She’ll hurt me…) We’ll have her party tonight and lots of her friends will stop by to have cake and ice cream. I’ll be there, my family will be there, and Mom will have a blast.
But I’ll see it. Maybe no one else will, but I will. It will be in the way she’ll turn her head or tries too hard to smile as someone wishes her “Happy Birthday.” There will be just a glint—just a flicker—of sadness. She’ll remember all she’s lost and all that she’ll never get back. She’ll try to relax and enjoy her new friends, but everything I do tonight will just remind her she’s not home.
She’ll miss my dad. Dad never remembered Mom’s birthday. He’d always get it confused with their anniversary. Her birthday is March 14. Their anniversary is March 27. It’s an easy mistake to make, I guess…but every year? Dad would call me in a panic and yell into the phone, “When’s your birthday? Did I miss it?” We would repeat this ritual every year. Dad was hilarious in his excuses and reasons for why he had messed things up this year. He won’t be here this year…and she’ll miss the way he made her laugh.
She’ll look for her friends. Don’t get me wrong. She’s made a lot of friends in Nashville, but they’re new friends. She misses her old friends. She’s had friends who have been part of her life for over fifty years. They know all of the stories…about dad and the store…about the lake house and city politics…about Dad’s first heart attack. They know how she played the piano and how they planned to get together on everyone’s birthdays. A lot of these friends won’t be here. She’ll wonder if her new friends really know who she is. Do they know her story?
And she’ll thank me for a great party, but I’ll hear her disappointment in the way only a son can. I know that while I’m trying to be a good son, I can’t be her husband. I can’t be her old friends. I can’t make up for all that she’s lost.
We’ll do the best we can. We’ll have cake and ice cream, and Mom will have a good time. She’ll laugh. She’ll love the cake and friends that stop by, but there’ll be an emptiness no one can fill. She’ll miss my dad. She’ll miss her friends. She’ll miss herself—the self-assured, independent woman she used to be. We’ll have her birthday party, but it will only remind her that she’s not home.
This isn’t the way she wants things to be. This isn’t where she wants to be. But, it’s where we are, and we’re making the best of it. “Stop worrying about what you can’t do,” she would tell me when I was a boy. “Do what you can and trust God with rest.”
OK, Mom…here goes. There’s a lot I can’t do, but I’m doing what I can. We’ll bring cake and ice cream. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday.” And we’ll trust God with the rest.
As most of you know, I have coffee with my mother almost every morning. This morning, I got there a little late, and she had already finished breakfast. When she finished breakfast, she moved into the activity room and started playing the piano. When I walked in, I heard the piano. Immediately, I knew it was her playing. As I made my way back toward where she was, I noticed a small crowd gathered around the piano listening to Mom play. Some would clap their hands, others would tap time with their feet, and a few were even singing along.
Mom played her favorite hymns, one after the other. Without ever looking at a piece of music, she played and played. Listening to her play has been the soundtrack of my life.
While I was standing there, one of the women named Elizabeth (that’s her in the picture with my mom) reached over and took my hand. She patted my hand and said, “I love hearing your mother play. She helps me through the bad days.”
Illness has taken a lot from my mother. A lot of the things she used to do, she can’t do any more. There are a lot of things she can’t remember any more. But she remembers the hymns. She can still play the hymns. And she does. In a place where she doesn’t want to be, she still plays the hymns. It’s the way she prays. It’s her testimony—her protest against life that has taken so much from her, metered out in 3/4 time.
And along the way, she helps her friends through the bad days. Funny, isn’t it? After all of these years, I’m still taking lessons from Mom.