Friday, March 15, 2013

Six Years

Sunday is St. Patrick's Day. And my daughter's ninth birthday. And the six year anniversary of my mother's death. Yes, she passed away on my daughter's third birthday. I was hoping it wouldn't happen that day. But it did.

My mother was born and raised in Idaho and when she married my dad, they lived in Utah. The first two of her children were born there. My dad started working for IBM (I've Been Moved) and soon they were off to Philadelphia, where two more children were born, then New York, where three more were born (I was the first of those) and then, finally, Raleigh, North Carolina, where the last two children were born (9 total, in case you don't want to count).

I was hard on my mom for a while, but as I've become a mother myself, I understand her much better. She had a hard time living away from her family for so long. She made lots of friends along the way but nine children was a lot for her at times and she had some struggles. When I was 15 years old, we had the opportunity to move to California and my mom was glad to get back to the west coast and live close to her family again.

My mom was musically talented. Growing up, she danced and played the piano for everything. Music was her life. Once she realized my younger sister could harmonize and I could sing melody, she had us learning all kinds of songs and singing at everything. I went along with it but as I got older, we had many arguments over it as I wanted to play basketball, go dancing and hang out with friends. We also had a family choir and then all of us girls would sing some songs together. One of the most memorable (and our extended family loves to remind us of this still) was "Sing a Rainbow." My mom also sewed so she made us each a shirt with different colors and when we sang our color, we dramatically swooped our arm out to make a rainbow. I have this cute picture so you can see what I'm talking about. 

Eliason girls singing a rainbow
She played for many choirs, duets, soloists and instrumental groups through the years. She was a great sight reader so could play pretty much anything. She still practiced a lot, though. I would listen to her practice and practice and it would sound perfect to me but she would still keep practicing. Now I realize it was mostly therapeutic. 

She didn't know a stranger and this was never more apparent to me than after my surprise 16th birthday party that my sisters gave me. I went to the local grocery store and the checker asked me how my surprise party was. I gave her a look that asked how she could possibly know about that and she said my mother had been talking to her about it a few days earlier. When my mom would go grocery shopping, it took quite a while for her to check out, so she would pull out her family photo and go through each child and let them know what was going on in our lives. That was just mom. 

Graduation with mom and dad
When I was 22, I was serving a mission for my church in Halifax, Canada, and right before I came home, my dad retired from IBM and my parents moved to Orem, Utah. I decided to live in Utah for a while and by now my younger siblings were teenagers and we had lots of fun! They would have their friends over a lot and my mom was always good about taking time to talk to their friends and get to know them. It wasn't uncommon to see friends at our house talking to mom with none of us in sight.

In 2004, my parents had an opportunity to serve a mission for our church in Tonga. It was earlier than they had originally planned but they felt like it was what they needed to do, so off they went. They loved it! Their assignment was at the Liahona High School and mom did a lot with music so she was in her element. They made some great friends and loved the people there so much.

Dad and Mom in Tonga

They came home in February 2006 and toward the end of the year, my mother started feeling sick. My mother had been sick quite a bit growing up and she would sometimes spend a few days or a week in bed and then come out feeling totally fine. She had the family over for Thanksgiving and she seemed more tired than normal but kept up with everyone. Soon after that, though, she was having trouble seeing in one of her eyes and she felt dizzy so she quit driving. She later told me that when she played for the church choir's Christmas program, she couldn't see out of one eye at all (and barely could out of the other), but I don't think anyone noticed and I feel that she was blessed to be able to play one last time. 

She went to the doctor and I can't remember now what she was told, but they couldn't seem to find anything wrong so she kept trying to get better on her own. She finally looked so bad that my dad and her cousin took her to the hospital and she was admitted immediately. They did lots of tests and came up with a few different diagnoses and then, after a week, they found that she had Stage 4 breast cancer. This was now mid-February. I remember driving to the hospital many times with tears in my eyes. I would look around and wonder how life seemed so normal for everyone else as my world came crumbling down. I just knew my mom wasn't going to make it through this. Now that I'm used to my new normal, I look around and wonder how many people are dealing with their world crumbling down and say a quick prayer for them.

She went to a rehab center for a few days and we quickly learned that that wasn't the best place for her, so we checked into hospice and brought her home. Some friends generously loaned us a hospital bed and mom was able to spend her last two weeks in her living room. One of my sisters was able to come into town to take care of her in between the nurse's visits. Mom had lots of visitors and many of them played the piano and sang for her. She loved it! My sweet daughter who was 2 (almost 3) would massage my mom's arms and legs and climb on her bed to take naps with her. It was so sweet! 

This was a very trying time yet also tender. I was grateful for the conversations I had with mom where I was able to express my love for her and share treasured memories. One of my sisters asked her what we should do in the future when we wanted to talk to her but she wasn't there and she told her that at those times, we need to get on our knees and pray. I have thought of that many times throughout the years and it continues to be great advice today. Because of my experience, I feel that death is easier on the person dying when they die quickly but harder on those left behind and harder on the person dying when they die slowly but easier on those left behind.

With my daughter's birthday approaching, my sisters were getting antsy so they decided to plan a party for her. We invited some of the neighborhood kids, which was good since their families understood what was happening, and prepared a fun Dora the Explorer party. The 17th was on a Saturday and it was a beautiful day. We got to my parents house and found out that mom wasn't doing well at all. We talked to my aunt who was a nurse and there were signs that she was going to die that day. We debated about what to do and decided to go ahead with the party but just move it up. As I was on the phone with parents moving it up and other family was out running errands, my mother quietly passed away. A few family members were in the room with her. I won't go into all the details of what happened that day, but it turned out to be nothing like we were told and had prepared for so we had to make a lot of quick decisions. We did still have the party and most of it was in the backyard. The most memorable moment was my sister who was Swyper in the treasure hunt. She carried around a small plastic tree to hide behind outside and had no idea what she was doing since she'd never seen the show. It was good to have some laughs that day while we dealt with the reality that mom was really gone. We were fortunate that she'd had her mind up until she died so we were able to communicate with her until the end. 
With my sisters in 2009
We were blessed with lots of love and support from family and friends and my parents lived in one of the best neighborhoods in America. The first year was definitely the hardest and I still have my moments where I break down and cry. I cried so much the first few months that any time my eyes would water, my daughter would say, "Mom, you're thinking about your mom, huh?" I no longer reach for the phone to call her and tell her what the kids did that day, whether cute, funny, good or bad and I have spent a lot of time on my knees. I am grateful for the good memories and all that she taught me through the years and pass that on to my children when I can so they will get to know her, too!


Tera said...

Thank you for sharing that Mel! I'm crying as I'm typing. Mom's death was a life-changing event for me. I know that she still watches over her children. What a beautiful lady.

And we'll never forget that birthday party!

Jenny said...

Thank you Mel. Daryl was wondering why I was crying. I'm just remembering the good times and sad that I can't pick up the phone to tell her how much I love her and appreciate her.

Jackie said...

Thank your for sharing this Melanie. Your mom was a wonderful lady. I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm sure she watching over all of you! You have a wonderful family! The Diamond Bar ward was blessed to have you!

Jinky said...

Thank you for sharing your mom with us. I felt the spirit and love she has for you all.

Beautiful post ..I'm in tears ..sadness for your hurt and joy for the amazing blessings and memories she left in this world.

I love you Mel!

Stacy said...

My name is Stacy Knecht. That was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing such wonderful thoughts and feelings. Your post reminds me of the deep love and appreciation I have for my mother and mother in law. Thank you.

Gina said...

Oh, Mel, Shouldn't we have a sing-a-long? What a wonderful woman she is! You know she's having sing-a-longs and road shows on the other side...for sure.

Melanie said...

Thanks for all of your kind comments! Yes, Gina, we should absolutely have a sing-a-long. Now to figure out when...

Unknown said...

Sing-a-long - we could all meet at Costco. I haven't seen you there for a while. I bet she and my dad are in the heavenly symphony, band, choir. Such great memories.

Marcie said...

So hard, I feel your pain. My mom passed from cancer 3 years ago this month too. And on my sisters' daughter's birthday while we were all together...there til the end. Your mom was so sweet and my loved her. She taught piano to some of us over the is not the same without our moms! Hugs!

Melanie said...

Great idea, Renee! I've been going to the Costco by my house lately so that's why we haven't run into each other. You're right, Marcie, losing our moms is a tough thing to go through. Hugs back!

Quin Eliason said...

Thanks for writing Mel. Brought back a lot of memories. I miss her too!!

Melanie said...

You're welcome, Quin! Thanks for reading it. I know you and mom had a great relationship and I know your picture got shown around lots over the years since she was so proud of you!

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