Last year, a few days after Christmas, I got a phone call I never wanted to receive. Occasionally, I had let my mind tip-toe over to this dark place of “what if,” but quickly finding it unbearable, even to imagine, I would promptly retreat back to what was safe and alright.
On this night, I was suddenly pushed into the dark, but I did not come back empty handed. It is my privilege to share what I grabbed a hold of and have held sacred ever since.
My dad was on the other end of the line, and his voice was soft. He began the conversation with, “Everything is OK.” Immediately my heart rate increased.
Dad explained that Mom was in the hospital. The doctors thought she had a stroke. He explained memory loss was one of the signs that indicate a stroke. Although she had just been to my home for a weeklong Christmas celebration, she could not remember being here.
I thought of the many times my mom's eyes had sparkled with tears of happiness watching her grand-daughters practice their homemade play, make a gingerbread house with Paw Paw, and sing “Away in a Manger.” I covered my mouth for fear the sob that yearned to be set free would escape and cause my dad, who was barely holding it together, to breakdown.
I pictured my dad in their home alone and scared. His best friend and spouse of 48 years lay in the hospital, and their present and future had changed suddenly; perhaps never to be what it was ever again.
My heart ached for my dad, but I was sorry for more. In a matter of 60 seconds, I thought I had lost so much. And what brought the searing emptiness and overwhelming sorrow was that I didn’t know what I had lost. Oh, precious Mom, what have I lost….what have I lost?
Gone with my mom’s memory of our 2009 Christmas together were stories of her childhood. Did she ever have a dog? Did she ever cut her own hair? What was her favorite birthday? Gone with the perfectly browned crust on her pecan pie of 2009 were the stories of her teenage years. Had Judy always been her best friend? What sort of mischief did they get into? What was the most memorable dance of her high school days? Gone with my daughters’ 2009 rendition of “Silent Night,” that brought my mom to tears, were the invaluable stories of her life. Tell me more about your two years in the Peace Corps. Tell me about the snowy day I was born. Tell me what you love the most about Dad. Tell me your greatest joy. Tell me your biggest regret.
Unlike so many stories of health scares, this one had a happy ending. My mom was diagnosed with a “mini stoke” also known as a transient ischemic attack. Her memories of Christmas of 2009 came back, thank God; they came back, along with all the memories of her amazing and beautiful life.
Although I had not had my Hands Free Breakthough/Breakdown at this time, I was not too distracted by all the other “stuff” to realize I had been given a second chance. I had been given a “do-over” to hear the answers to the questions that were treasures inside my mom just waiting to be discovered.
Since that day, I ask my parents more questions. My daughters ask them more questions. And we listen. We do not listen while we do other things. We listen with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts. And these stories and facts fill the empty spaces that had once been.
Just the other day, I had several housekeeping duties to do before my husband’s employees came for dinner. But I called my mom instead. We talked so long that the fully charged battery on my phone went dead. And in that conversation, I discovered a hidden treasure, and it was a keeper.
My mom told me that she wished she had let things go more when my sister and I were young. She said she was always feeling the need to go from one thing to the next without stopping to enjoy the present moment. And that was her biggest regret.
And through this Hands Free journey, God willing, that will not also be mine….or yours.
Has a health scare, a death, or a national/local tragedy ever caused you to appreciate your life and vow to do things differently, only to go back to your “old ways” days or weeks later? What can you do today to capture something sacred that may be gone without a moment’s notice?