In four weeks a group of old friends will gather on a campus full of highschoolers and reminisce about thier own styles and cliques and adventures full of poor judgement. They’ll remind each other of hours spent working for free to cover a broken rule, of love lost and found, and they’ll talk about the craziness of 50 years gone by. They’ll pass their phones around showing off pictures of kids and grandkids and that camper they always wanted. They also decided to take some time and talk about those who are no longer among them. Those who have passed away. One of those is my mom. Here is the tribute I wrote to be read at that gathering. I love that they chose to not forget fellow classmates and honored that they asked me to describe what is was like growing up with Linda as my mom. Here is my, somewhat tearful, walk down memory lane.
Encapsulating the life of your Mom is maybe one of the more difficult things. Mapping out a timechart of motherhood roles and duties requires a scroll of paper across the kitchen floor because the kids have full bellies and safe play and always, always a shoulder to lean into whenever it’s needed and how do you chart that? Growing up with Linda as a Mom was busy and full and secure because she literally took care of everything! Linda was an extrovert but absolutely wanted, needed, to stay home with her kids. So she opened a daycare in our home and filled it with kids and made friends with other Mama’s who needed her multi-tasking, her practicality, and her Christian boldness to help raise their offspring. For roughly 13 years she took care of multiple kids alongside her own 4. At times there were between 15 and 20 little beings pounding up and down the stairs, hanging from trees, splashing in the pool, and snacking on graham crackers with left-over cake frosting smothered on them. She embodied the “old” woman who lived in a shoe and the chaos fueled her. And while the mundane of scrubbing dirty floors and dirty dishes might literally scrub out the very creativity of a God-designed soul, she battled that with a small business on the side. Word got out that Linda made wedding cakes, and so, blushing couples sat side-by-side on our brown patterned couch and talked colors, styles, and dates and there are many memories of helping Mom transport multi-tiered cakes to church after church, the upside, for us, of course, was the start of a new tradition. Leftover wedding cake frosting smeared on graham crackers! Mom and Dad were conservative Seventh day Adventists which meant there was no caffeine, no meat, no alcohol, and no rock-n-roll. Instead, there was church and school involvement. Everything from teaching/leading Sabbath School and heading a group in a potluck rotation to attending music programs and gymnastics shows for all four kids, and eventually starting up a preschool program at Hinsdale Junior Academy. Linda was an early bird, a roadrunner, for the rate of speed at which she could accomplish things was amazing. She started every day ahead of her kids, but that also meant bedtimes were early because mama was tired and she needed to be done at the end of the day.
Our home was always full of people. If the 6 of us was not enough, we often had people in various transitional places in theirs lives staying for days or weeks, or, occasionally, months. Every Sabbath a special lunch was prepared and it was not an unusual site to have invited guests over for Sabbath lunch. Holidays were the same. If we did not have family around to share a loaded Thanksgiving table with, then she would seek out a single person or two from the church or school and add another place-setting. Hospitality was defined for me by my Mom, and she seemed to have a soft spot for single mothers, because my memory lists quite a few that found a warm smile, a heart that didn’t judge, and a flexible drop-off and pick-up place to bring their kids. The Christian atmosphere was just a bonus.
Linda was a high-energy, bossy, woman, but she was equally kind, gentle, and nurturing and how you pour all of that into a 5’2″ woman is a wonder to me, but that is how God designed her.
Her “working” life after kids was that of her in-home daycare until 1988 when she started a preschool program at Hinsdale Junior Academy. It was into her second year there that she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44. She took that on like everything else, with fury. She scheduled herself, her kids, and her job around her single mastectomy surgery, her chemotherapy, and her radiation treatments. She never lost her hair that time. I think she was too stubborn and bossy, even the hair follicles learned who they were dealing with. She chose no reconstruction, but instead bore those scars as any good soldier would. You do what you have to do to survive so you can take care of your kids. Because that was her only prayer, “Lord, please let me finish raising my kids.” And she did.
From the school she left and went on to run a daycare center in an elite business district in a western suburb of Chicago, eventually starting a private school within its walls. When she reached a point where she could no longer give her whole heart to those kids and their families, she switched careers and worked for a financial investment group. When the main broker that she worked for went to start his own company she left and went to work for a Honda dealership close to home, where she retired from when her own mother got sick with cancer.
She left and went to FL and stayed with her mom until her death in March of 2005. Struggling with where to stay and live from there, she and Alan, who had retired from Hinsdale Hospital, sent prayers heavenward for direction, never dreaming that a few weeks later they would get an anxious call from a hospital in Grand Rapids, MI where their second daughter, (me) had just given birth to micro-premie twins at only 24 wks gestation. She shed tears and packed her bags and sat by my side for all of the fours months required. This is where she also buried a grandson. The loss of her mother, who was one of her closest friends, and her almost 2 month old baby grandson whom she had held only once, finally took some of the wind out of her sails. Once her daughter and granddaughter were safely home, she and Alan moved down to Nashville, TN to live near her oldest daughter, Diana. Life grew quieter there.
Linda was a ‘busy-body’, and although she had slowed some, true “retirement” nearly drove her crazy, so she got involved in a free medical clinic for the poor and put her efforts into running the office there. But in January of 2008, the same day grandchild number 7 was born, she received an early morning call from her doctor who told her that the weakness in her left hand and the drooping of the left side of her smile was because of an inoperable brain tumor. For the next two and a half years she took the recommended treatments until finally there was nothing else and the tumor was growing so fast she declined every day. Her family gathered quickly and on June 2, 2010, after a peaceful five day coma, her heart stopped, and she rested quietly. It was a strange quiet for a woman born with a fire burning in her. Linda was 64 years old.
I miss that Mama every day. I miss how she would stop her entire world if you called her and needed her. “Ok, honey, what can I do to help? Do you need me to come?”
Always. Every time.