Watching at the Front Door
I can still see her, watching intently through the front door as my husband and I packed the car in preparation for our long trip home. This had been a good visit to see Mom, aunts and uncles, and cousins, but now it was time for me to begin that long journey home to Phoenix, Arizona. The drive to Nashville and the 4-hour flight home would be filled with memories of our week with family and the beautiful scenery of the rolling hills of Tennessee. The distance between us limited our visits, and it would be months before we would return. Saying good-bye was never easy, especially when, at each visit, we saw Mom becoming increasingly frail and losing more of her independence. So, as we loaded our suitcases with her watching at the front door - I can still see the sadness on her face as we pulled away from her home one more time.
My relationship with my mom has never been ideal, and I attribute much of our difficulty to the era and circumstances of her upbringing. My mother was the second born and oldest girl in a family of ten children in the Rocky Point area of Putnam County. At that time, women had just won the right to vote and in rural TN, the Great Depression made even basic food a luxury. Segregation was accepted in the Deep South and those attitudes of white superiority were rarely challenged. Working in the fields to raise crops to consume and sell was a necessity in order to feed the family.
Education was not a priority, and by the time she was in the sixth grade her help was needed at home in caring for her younger siblings. In her community and culture, a woman’s greatest purpose was to marry and give birth to children. High school was an option after you worked a full-time job. College was unthinkable and useless for a woman. She had married my father when she was 16, and by the time I was 16, she was looking for a husband for me.
After marrying, my parents had followed the ‘hillbilly trail’ to Chicago - where jobs were plentiful in the factories. My father became an alcoholic and the abuse would leave life-long marks on all five children. My reaction was to put as much distance as possible between me and my family.
The Lord has since shown me that my mother’s life circumstances have shaped her values. She still believes women should marry young and have babies—lots of them. During her childhood and adolescence, church was the only option for entertainment and friendship, therefore she wanted church to play an important role in her children’s lives. Despite her love for church, it wasn’t until adulthood that she accepted the Lord’s gift of a personal relationship with him through Jesus. Since then, there has been no doubt to anyone that she knows the Lord. Despite our differences, I credit my mom for having taught me the satisfaction of working hard, of needlework, of gardening—and even canning.
My mom is now 96 and lives in a long-term care facility where her frail body struggles to navigate just a few steps with the help of a walker. Many of her memories have faded, but she still recognizes her family and can’t get enough of their visits. Above her bed, a frame holds baby pictures of all five of her children. Her favorite memories are of them as babies, totally dependent on her for food, security and comfort. As those babies grew into adults, with families of their own, she struggled to find purpose and contentment. It’s their visits, no matter how brief, that bring back memories and reassurance of their love. And when they leave, the memories are once again her primary source of contentment.
Visits to her now are not the same. We participate in her care as much as possible, but there is also the growing reality that soon, she will be gone. We anticipate with mixed emotions her departure. Her pain will be over, and she will have that new body - without arthritis and all the other parts that don’t work. Most of all, she’ll be with Jesus and the loved ones who’ve gone on before her. The sorrow for us will be there, and we anticipate the sadness that we will feel.
However, the Lord gave me a comforting vision not long ago. Once again, I could see that front door from which she would watch us preparing to leave. But, wait - I saw myself as the one standing inside the door. My mom was the one preparing to leave - for Home! My sadness is expected, but it’s only temporary. Soon there will be a reunion with Mom at the front door of our home in Heaven and there will be no more departures. We will all be home to stay!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
Perhaps my story has stirred some memories - good or bad - of your own mother. Understanding how the events of her past have shaped her values helped me greatly. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I can honor and love her well despite our differences. Our remaining time together is short, and it will soon be over, and with it - the disagreements and the conflict.
My prayer is that God will give you understanding about your own mother. May that insight repair, and/or deepen, your relationship with her. Ask him to give you the words to say and for little gifts of kindness that will make her feel special this week.
Carol Nahm and husband Chris, a local OBGYN, relocated to Cookeville from Phoenix in search of four seasons and a slower pace of life. They've been at the River since 2009. Carol serves as a lay-counselor at The River where she started the Stephen Ministry and now leads Mending the Soul, a ministry for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.