On Sunday I became a member of the white flower club. When I woke up early on Mothers’ Day, the first thing that came to mind was that I would be wearing a white flower this year instead of a red one if this tradition was still active. All day long I kept thinking about that.
Let me explain. When I was growing up, on Mothers’ Day everyone wore a flower to church – and I mean everyone! Those whose mothers were living wore a red flower and those whose mothers had died wore a white one. Mama was not much of a gardener, but she did have a red rose bush that was typically in full bloom in early May. I remember being sent outside early morning on Mothers’ Day to cut three red roses – for Mama, my brother, and me. We were blessed to have my sweet grandmother living across the street from us so Mama got to wear a red flower also. But Daddy’s mother had died young. Mama always called my Uncle Doodle at Murphey Florist and ordered a white rose to be delivered to the house for Daddy to wear. So, off to church we went every Mothers’ Day and joined all of our friends also wearing red or white flowers.
I have not thought about this tradition from my childhood and hometown in years, BUT this year it consumed me all day long. Grief is funny like that; it hits you in the strangest ways.
Grief is funny like that; it hits you in the strangest way.
The past months since Mama died on Nov. 29th have been a whirlwind. I have literally felt like a hamster on a wheel that just would not stop spinning so I have been forced to keep running. The things that have had to be done – only those who have walked this path know what I’m talking about. The hardest thing is that regular life just kept happening, other challenges and heartaches presented themselves, all while I was just trying to survive Mama’s death and tackle my long list. I wanted to scream – “wait, wait, wait!”, but that was not an option.
Just to illustrate – our son Rob graduated with his Masters’ degree in December – a happy occasion to celebrate. Our daughter, Mary Margaret, fell on the ice in Nashville on February 16 and crushed her ankle. I did just what my Mama always did for me – I showed up for surgery and became her side-kick for months – back and forth between Nashville and Newnan. And then – whew – my precious Aunt JoAnn Leavell – my other mother, died in March. This brought on another wave of grief and realization that “we” are quickly becoming “the grown-ups.” Can the world please slow down for a minute?
Life doesn’t stop to give us time to grieve; we have to learn to grieve and keep living. This life lesson cannot be learned ahead of time.
Life doesn’t stop to give us time to grieve; we have to learn to grieve and keep living.
The good news is that I am blessed in the midst of this unpleasant chapter of life.
Blessing #1 I just have one brother and the good news is that Theo and I get along! I know this is huge – not everyone has a good relationship with siblings. Theo is an attorney and has always handled Mama’s “paperwork” and that has been such a relief. He discusses things with me, takes care of the necessary communications, and keeps me informed! That’s a good deal for me. We decided to go through Mama’s house together – just the two of us. It took F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Initially we met every couple of weeks for a few hours. We took it room by room and had many trips down memory lane as we opened every drawer and cleaned out every cabinet and closet. Let me summarize – Mama. Saved. Things.
Blessing #2 I have said before that Mama was the most organized person I’ve ever known. She put a tiny number on the bottom of most everything in her house; then she made a long list describing the items – where they came from and what was the significance. Hundreds of items were cataloged and as we went through her things, with the list in hand, we were reminded or learned for the first time the significance. We now have treasures that came from all sides of our family – things passed down from parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents. Thank you, Mama! What a blessing for us and our children.
Blessing #3 Mama’s house sold and we didn’t even have to put it on the market! An offer was made and we accepted. This was a huge blessing and what came with it was a deadline. For a month Theo and I met at the house almost every afternoon and stepped up our process of cleaning out and dividing. When friends have gone through this I never knew how emotional and physical and hard it is. Now I do. It has been exhausting.
I could go on and on. But I will stop for now. People told me that when both parents have died you will feel like an orphan. That feeling has not been troubling, but the realization that frightens me is the fact the “we” are now the “grown-ups,” the ones whose decisions will influence the younger generation coming behind us. At my age and now as an official member of The White Flower Club, I pray my choices and life will give honor to the Lord and to my parents who set a great example before me. Counting my blessings and acknowledging things I am grateful for each day has brought the best comfort in this time of grief.
The past six weeks have been a wild roller coaster ride in our family.
October 23 – My niece gave birth to a precious little girl, Ruby Leavell Leech. She is a gift from God and has been a true source of joy every day since she was born. Her early arrival made it possible for my brother and sister-in-law to attend the next big family event – thank you, Ruby!
November 2 – Our son, Wes, married Taylor Bobb in Lexington, KY. Wes is our youngest and the first of our three children to get married. Preparing for this happy event kept us busy for months and the wedding weekend was everything we dreamed it would be. Surrounded by family and friends from far and wide we were blessed beyond measure. Taylor is a true treasure – a fun-loving, happy, industrious young woman who loves Jesus and is the perfect match for Wes. They are a great team already and JB and I thank God for the gift of Taylor.
November 13-15 – Women’s Forum at LifeWay in Nashville. Our daughter, Mary Margaret, is in charge of this annual women’s event. It was sold out in August and was an amazing and inspiring time. I am so proud of our girl and her leadership. From childhood we have said, “she could run a small country,” and she certainly is using the gifts God has given her. Keynote speakers at the Forum included Priscilla Shirer and Karen Kingsbury. What a blessing and challenge they brought!
November 17 – Mary Margaret had surgery. I stayed in Nashville to be her nurse. In October she was in San Diego with her work and landed in the emergency room. (Another addition to this fall’s roller coaster ride.) It was a scary experience for all of us, but she got great care along with the diagnosis that she needed surgery soon to remove a benign tumor. Whew! She knew it had to be scheduled, and right after the Forum seemed to be the best time. Praise God her surgery went well and she was an excellent patient. By the end of the week I drove her home with me to recover and stay through Thanksgiving.
Mama – My Mama has lived with JB and me for over three years. She was with my brother and sister in law for over two years before coming to our house. How can the sharpest person you’ve ever known lose her memory? I don’t know, but it happened to Mama, and a broken hip and surgery accelerated her condition. Full-time caregivers have been a blessing; in so many ways God has provided for Mama and we thank Him. However, during these busy weeks, we began to see more decline.
November 27 – Thanksgiving – Rob, our soon-to-graduate-from seminary son, was able to come home early for the holiday. This was a bonus and gift; he and Mary Margaret were delighted to have some extra time together. The newlyweds, fresh from their honeymoon, also came home to join us for the holiday. We stayed close to home and cooked together and all took turns visiting with Mama. On Wednesday night my brother and all his family came to our house for dinner. It is hard to get all our crowd together at one time but it happened; another sweet gift. We had our new baby girl in one room and Mama fading in the next room. Thank you God for family.
You won’t believe it but late Wednesday night Rob and JB were still downstairs and Rob had a seizure. That is when I nearly tipped over. This precious son of ours began having seizures ten years ago. For quite a while now he has been seizure-free and he just had his annual check-up with his specialist and all was well. Go figure. Dr. Mama (that’s me) is certain that stress is a factor. Fortunately Rob was not injured.
November 29 – Our Nashville three (MM, Wes, and Taylor) left to go back to their homes and work on Friday. Saturday morning JB took Rob to the airport. Just before JB got back to the house Mama stepped into heaven — with Theo, my brother, and me right by her side – not a coincidence. It was just the way she would have wanted it, one more gift. Thank you God for a life well lived and a legacy that will live on for generations.
Rob called just before boarding his plane and I told him NeNe had just died. He called his professor and arranged to miss his Monday class and came back to the house. Another miracle of God — when he called Delta to change his return flight to Tuesday evening, the charge was $40. That just doesn’t happen, but God once more gave us a gift.
December 2 – Mama’s service on Tuesday was beautiful and personal and inspiring. JB, who loved her like his own mother, and other family members were the ones who shared. It was all about her and the source of her strength and humor and wonderful characteristics – the God she loved and served. Friends and family showed up and surrounded us with love and food and flowers. Late in the day our children once more left for their respective homes.
December 3 - You won’t believe this but Wednesday morning Rob, back in Ft. Worth, called from the ambulance! He had a seizure in the shower and fell out onto the tile floor, hitting on his face. Once more I wanted to fall apart. But, can I tell you again that in the midst of something terrible, God provides? First, I am grateful his roommate was home and heard him fall. Secondly, I did not know this, but his roommate is an EMT. He knew what to do; that is a blessing and gift. Other than bruising and soreness, Rob is okay and meds are being adjusted.
December 12 – Rob’s graduation from Southwestern Seminary with a Masters’ in Divinity. At this writing we are packing our bags to fly to Texas to celebrate Rob’s graduation. We are so proud!
Stopping for a breath — This recount of the past weeks is not exaggerated. Emotionally, mentally and spiritually, we have been swinging from one extreme to another. BUT, God is our anchor, our provider, our protector, and our guide. We have so much to be grateful for and we have survived and will continue to survive the hard things that life brings our way. This is my current mantra, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
We just had our first wedding and it was so much fun! Our youngest son, Wes, and Taylor Bobb met at Asbury University and were friends for a long time before they began to date. It has been a sweet story to follow (see their website if you want to read more - taylorandwes.com), and we are thrilled that they have joined their lives in marriage. While I could go on and on about the wedding weekend in detail, and I may do that later, today’s post is to acknowledge and thank those who showed up.
I can’t remember exactly when the power of “showing up” first became real and personal and powerful to me. However, twenty years ago my Daddy died and five of my closest friends from Orlando came to Newnan, GA for his funeral. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me; those friends will always be extra dear to my heart. I have never forgotten that expression of love and have often told other people how much it meant that these friends took time out of their lives to show up for me. It was a huge lesson learned and made me aware that showing up for people in times of joy or need or sorrow is extremely powerful and meaningful.
Showing up for people is powerful.
JB has always been good at showing up for people; I was the slow learner in this department but at least I finally “got it!” When our children were very young his sister and family came to spend a few days with us in Orlando. On about day two of their visit JB went to work and the rest of us headed to Disney World; JB was to meet us at 1:00 at the park after working half day. He never showed up. When we got home we found a note; some dear friends in Texas had suffered a terrible tragedy and he had flown to be with them. I was furious that he would leave while some of his family was visiting us. Later, much later, I realized he had done the right thing in showing up for friends who needed him. This is just one example of many – before I realized the importance of presence, he dragged me to many weddings, funerals, graduations, and other significant occasions in other people’s lives. Thank you, JB.
Sometimes it is just not possible.
Over the past twenty years I have intentionally tried to show up for others. Sometimes it just is not possible and that is understandable. But many times we can make adjustments to our schedules and do the thing that will mean so much to someone we know. Because this has been a big deal to me I have encouraged our children to show up for their people and I’m so grateful they have learned this expression of cementing relationships. While in college Rob called one day to tell me one of his friend’s Dad had just been fired from a coaching position at the university. He was upset and asked me what to do. I quickly told him, “just go over there; be with them.” When he replied, “I don’t know what to say,” I assured him that we do not have to say anything. We can’t fix situations but we can just show up and be there and that is enough and will never be forgotten. He went and wound up helping to pack up this man’s office; it was a gift of time and support and presence. All three of our children make the effort to show up for family and friends; I’m glad they developed this habit much younger than I did.
Sometimes we can even help those older than us to develop this good habit. Mama and I were in Florida for fun and we got a call that someone close to our family had died in Georgia. I told Mama we needed to go home the next day. She surprised me when she said, “Really?” I convinced her that we had to leave our favorite place and she then asked, “Well, what are we going to do when we get there?” I replied, “Mama, we are just going to show up.” We did and we were welcomed warmly by those who greeted us and appreciated our presence in a time of loss and grieving.
So, back to our wedding weekend. My heart overflows with gratitude for those who came. The wedding was in Lexington, KY and for all of our people it was a destination wedding – travel plans and hotels required, as none of us live in the area. My brother and sister-in-law were able to come from Georgia due to the early arrival of their grand daughter – thank you, Ruby Leavell Leech! And our friends came – from Texas, Canada, North Carolina,and Florida! JB’s extended family came in mass! They take seriously getting together for every family occasion and we are so grateful.
Being together with our people provides sweet new memories to be savored and time to tell old stories over and over again. No social media relationships can even come close to the significance of being together in person.
No social media relationships even come close.
In summary – first, thank you to family and friends who blessed us with your presence and participation in our family’s celebration of Wes and Taylor’s marriage. We will never forget.
Secondly, be aware that we can give the wonderful gift of our time and presence to our family and friends. It is a win, win opportunity, so let’s take advantage every chance we can!