It seems the month of May is when a lot of busyness begins. We start going to ballgames or on bike rides. Gardening and the planting of flowers begin. There are proms and mother-daughter banquets as well as graduation ceremonies. The older I get, the more I appreciate going to graduation parties and asking what they hope their tomorrows will bring.

Warmer weather often brings afternoon rain storms which you would think could dampen our spirits, but the opposite often happens. The air feels wonderful, and the sounds of thunder claps can be rather enjoyable.

For my family, another big event is our youngest brother’s birthday. When you have Down syndrome, you celebrate your birthday. Steven proudly announces which birthday is upon him, and those around him – whether he knows them or not – will learn how old he is going to be. And there is no such thing as too many presents or too many greeting cards. Let it be known there will be cake, and there will be ice cream.

My mother was able to celebrate 92 birthdays, and I guess you could say the same thing happened to her – she kind of let people know how old she was. She believed after the age of 90, you should include the ‘half’ in your age. So really – Mom lived to be 92 and a half.

Two years ago in May, my siblings traveled home to celebrate Steven’s 50th birthday in our old high school gymnasium. We were together with many friends and family. Pictures were taken. Food was eaten. Many hugs were given.

It was work getting that party ready, but it ended up being a relaxed and fun afternoon with so many people stopping in to wish a happy birthday to Steven. More than a few commented it was fun watching Mom have such a wonderful time. It seemed she thought the party was for herself.  

Just three days following the big celebration, her family gathered again in the emergency room after she experienced a stroke.

So life was immediately different for all of us. We always knew the day was going to come when the brothers and sisters would be taking care of Steven. And there we were. We had 50 years to prepare for it, but I remember the feeling of it happening so suddenly.

Her funeral services were a week later, and I realized I had time to write about my mother. So I did. And my cousin Collene read the following at the funeral home for me:

This past Sunday morning, I was replying to an email from out-of-town friends who had sent their condolences to me regarding the loss of my mother.

I was telling them my mom was a ‘writer’ and had written stories about others’ lives when it occurred to me possibly no one has written a story about her life.

Mom passed away on a beautiful Friday night – in the home she had lived in for 70 years. She had raised 11 children in that home.

And all of us know her children turned out to be fairly good people – with Steven proving to us he is the ‘grand finale.’

In recent months, I have been putting together a gratitude journal for myself. In that journal – I have placed copies of black and white family photos that were taken in the 1960s.

In a photo dated April of 1963 – my Grandpa Imm, my siblings, and the Imm cousins are gathered around the same dining room table that can still be found in Mom’s home.

Grandpa Imm was having a birthday. And there are candles on his cake. I was a baby, and my cousin Kathy was holding me. It’s great fun for all of us to find those cousin photos and identify who is who.

Last Tuesday, at the age of 92 and a half, my mom baked yet another birthday cake, and she was ready for Steven’s actual 50th birthday.

It is anyone’s guess how many birthday cakes my mom must have baked in the 70 years she lived in that home. And how many candles did she place on the cakes she had so lovingly put together?

My mother did not need to google anything – she had a set of encyclopedias at her fingertips. We now know it was well worth the financial investment she and Dad must have made in order to purchase that set of books –because Mom and her children used those books to look up many things over the years.

She never stopped using those encyclopedias.

After she passed away and before we even called the hospice nurse, it occurred to me there is a photo of me as a newborn – taken in December of 1962. It was a picture of Mom and me in the very same spot where I was standing beside her hospital bed.

Mom was 36 years old when I was born. I was her ninth baby. And in the photo – she is in a rocking chair. She was wearing a plaid dress, and she was holding me in her arms. I was wrapped in a baby blanket, of course. Her set of encyclopedias can be seen in the background, and a Christmas crèche is on a shelf. My baby bed is also in the background.

And there we were in the same corner of the house. She in a hospital bed. And me taking care of her.

The decision to take her home with hospice services was made on Wednesday of last week when the hospital social worker told us we needed to transfer Mom to an inpatient hospice unit or take her home.

We decided that she – and all of us – needed to go home.

So on Thursday afternoon, she was transferred by ambulance to her home, and as she was being wheeled from the ambulance to her front door – she lifted her hand in the air – it was a joyful wave to her children who were there to walk with her into the house. She could also feel the beautiful spring air that day.

Steven was even present, and he was hoping Mom would ‘get better’ as she always did in the past – after any of her hospitalizations.

Mom let us know in so many ways she wanted to be home for just one more day. Her family was so important to her, and she was able to have a few more moments with some of those she loved.

My mom and dad, as well as our aunts and uncles, have taught us that the making of memories is truly a priceless gift. Their generation knew how to do things. How to garden. How to can food. How to sew. How to fix things. They even knew how to make maple syrup. They knew how to square dance. How to keep bees. How to go fishing and how to farm.

Our sweet memories have taught us to remember how important it is to spend time with family and to cherish our friendships with others.

Every day of our life is a chapter in our book. We too can make it a ‘best seller.’

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A month after Mom passed away, I took Steven to an appointment with his chiropractor. While we were sitting in the waiting room, a woman who was probably in her fifties walked through the lobby with her mother. The mother needed to watch her step, so the two were holding hands. They were both smiling. And they made me smile. Until I cried.

Just a few weeks prior, I was holding my own mother’s hand, and we were walking in the same lobby.

The two will never know they made me cry. And it made me wonder if at some time in the past, the sight of my mom and me together ever made another woman cry.

Perhaps the grieving we continue to do after we have lost a loved one – is just the love we want to keep giving – but can’t. 

The last time my mom held my hand was just a week before she passed away when we were posing for family photos at Steven’s birthday party. 

And I remember the last phone call I picked up from her. She wanted to discuss what we were going to do on Steven’s birthday.  Of course we didn’t know we were going to be spending the evening of his birthday in the emergency room.

I don’t think I took my relationship with her for granted, yet I have heard myself say we always think we have tomorrow.

In the later years of my mother’s life, she received a lot of flowers from her children after we decided to remember her on our own birthdays. Those who made the deliveries from the local flower shop told us what fun it was to take the flowers to her home.

It always seemed to surprise Mom when they were at the door with more flowers. She had to figure out who was having a birthday. And she had no idea how old we were, but she could do the math when she wanted to.

Mom knew we would cry after she was gone. But through our tears, we know we did a few things right – we did not wait until she died to send flowers. We didn’t wait until she died to drive home to see her. We knew she needed to know she was loved and cared for.

Many of us look back at Steven’s big day and realize she had unknowingly arranged her own going-home party. She was able to see her friends and family one last time. She had lots of embraces and conversations with those she literally held dearly that day.

When we think of those who have gone before us – do we remember they had special people in their lives they held dearly? Did we hear them ask who will take care of a loved one they are leaving behind?

Do the people I love know I love them? Have they heard me say I wish for a beautiful life for them even after I walk no more on this earth?

Mom passed away before hugging and kissing and embracing each other were a thing of the past.

Someday my grandchildren will be able to say I didn’t stay silent for their right to live a healthy life and live on a healthy planet – full of germs – created by the Creator Himself – to make us so healthy we will live to 92 and a half.

But most importantly – my grandchildren will know my favorite word is cherish – and they will know it not only because I wrote about it – but they are going to feel it as they grow up. And in all probability, your grandchildren will also know how much they are loved.

It seems to me God lets us know how much He cherishes us. He sends us flowers every spring and blossoms that continue through the autumn months when He changes the landscaping in such a beautiful way.

He drops snowflakes on us – and sometimes it’s so beautiful we feel like we live in a snow globe. He designed us to withstand a few snowballs while we make snowmen with those we are growing up with. God knew we would figure out how to go sledding on the hills of His beautiful earth.

God also left a manual for us – full of scriptures about health. My mom knew to cherish that Book, and she embraced the life that was given to her. She was given 11 children to raise – 11 little souls to cherish and to nurture and love and to embrace. She did the best she could do with the knowledge she had. Her encyclopedia set was the closest thing to online learning at that time.

Mom simply did not want to do much reading in the later years of her life –so she left the studying up to me and went the ‘natural’ route with her health. At the age of 87, she embraced new approaches to staying healthy –and she was a braggart when it came to how well she felt.

All of us know where wisdom comes from. Prayer for an open mind and desire to study and change and humble ourselves is the only way to regain health for ourselves and our world.

Those who live past the age of 90 often prove there are ways to care for those around them through their love and encouraging words. Mom said if you are still in your 80s – you are a youngster.

We are here to make somebody else’s life better, and apparently age does not get us out of the work we are meant to do. So get busy – oh you who are still youngsters – you have a lot of living to do!

© Marlene Oxender 2021

Grandpa Imm was born in 1895, and this picture was taken in April of 1963 – so we were celebrating his 68th birthday with him. What a youngster he was!