Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Letter to My Sister on Mother's Day

Dear Amy,

First of all, happy birthday! As this marks the first time you celebrate your birthday without our mother, it's doubly hard since it's also the first Mother's Day for us without her. Years ago, when you arrived on Mother's Day, you gave Mom the ultimate bragging right and she always said you were the best Mother's Day gift she could ask for. And who would argue that? You were adorable and brilliant and the perfect toy for us three older kids.

I remember waking up the morning of May 11, 1969, and finding Grandma Stephens at our house and wondering why she was there. Later when you came home--probably a week or so since in those days, birthing a baby led to days of recovering in the hospital--we jockeyed into position for the privilege to hold you. I remember standing by as others cuddled you and squeezing my arms around my six-year-old self, so eager to get my hands on you.

I imagine my dolls became neglected after then. Who could possibly compete with you? As you grew, I don't ever remember feeling as though I'd been removed from power as the baby in the family nor do I recall competing for attention or affection. Mom was good that way. She was tiny but overflowing with love and patience, time and talent.

Today's parenting books might say she did many things wrong, but we know better. She didn't breastfeed or put us to bed to cry it out. She read to us and rocked us to sleep, and if we woke in the night she would lie with us until we drifted off again. She let us consume raw cookie dough, lick the beaters, and use power tools--like a lawnmower and electric hedge trimmers. She expected us to say please and thank you, not run in the house, chew with our mouths closed, sit up straight and be kind to each other. We weren't allowed to say 'shut up' or 'stupid' or slam doors, even though the Brady Bunch six did without repercussion.

She wasn't afraid of hard work and believed we shouldn't be either. While she doted on us--you in particular, curling your hair before school while you sat perched on a barstool with a Pop Tart or bowl of ice cream (hey, it's milk!)--she demanded we work alongside her as she helped others. So, off we'd go to Aunt Anna's or Aunt Grace's to mow and pull weeds and wash windows or hand off curling rods while she gave them their perms. I'm sure it's no wonder we both have a heart for old people.

One of her greatest gifts was hospitality, and we enjoyed the generosity of her spirit. Ours was the house where friends were welcome and she always made room at the table for one more. She took us to church more often than we felt necessary, and ushered us off to church camp even though she hated going herself. I am most grateful for being grounded in a faith that made losing her a little less horrible. Knowing she's in heaven is the only way I can cope with the loss of not getting to talk to her every day.

Even now, five and a half months later, I still look at the answering machine and marvel that the light no longer blinks. There is a saved message from her on there and I've listened to it twice. While it's her voice, it's not her. In my mind her voice doesn't falter or sound out of breath. I prefer to remember her as healthy and laughing--surrounded by children and grandchildren who loved her well.

Some of the Tooley women: Gretchen, Amy, Amelia, Pamela and Mom.
To many people she was Aunt Mari, but to us she was and always will be Mom. We are the very best part of her and she would agree. Her greatest role in life was being a mother; it's what she felt called to do. She said quite often that she felt she let Grandma down when she didn't finish college and become a nurse like her, but she nursed many sick children in her care and ministered to friends and family with her cooking. We learned many lessons at her knee, but the most invaluable one was to love our children without conditions or demands. So, in her honor and memory and as an impassioned request for you, I wish you a wonderful Mother's Day, the happiest of birthdays and a year of living as Mom taught us to live--for others so that we, too, might be blessed.


Amy Radachi said...

Even though I've lost track of how many times I've read this, my heart still breaks at the thought of losing her.

Pamela Hammonds said...

Mine, too, Amy. She left a huge hole in our lives.

Susan Poulos said...

Beautiful letter. Thank you for sharing it. Love you, my friend.

Pamela Hammonds said...

Thanks, Susan. Love you, too!