One year ago yesterday (provided you are reading this on October 4) we lost my mother at the age of 89. She left this world the same way she lived in it. With quiet dignity and grace ... and on her own terms.
When she blew out the candles at her last birthday party, her wish was that she would be here for the next one. But, I believe over the last year of her life, she changed her mind.
She was one of the few left of her generation of Steel Magnolias. One of the few in her family left – a brother-in-law and a couple of cousins remain.
My dad, her sisters and parents have been gone a while. She often said no one would come to her funeral because everyone was already dead. She was wrong about that.
She was a strong lady; classy and beautiful, like her own mother. Always gracious, unless she was watching a football game and her team was on the losing end. But you had to be on your toes around her. She had a wickedly dry sense of humor and wit.
Never one to complain, she always admonished me to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it" when life wasn't going my way.
When my dad died in 1991, my brother Bill and I wondered what Mother would do. She lived for her family – her husband, kids and grandkids. She had never even paid a bill. But she took her own advice and became quite the businesswoman, talking regularly with her CPA and her broker.
Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could ask her a question about a recipe or our family tree or thank her for the way she took care of my children while I worked – driving them to orthodontist appointments, dance class, ball practice. Picking them up at school, hearing about their day, serving a "tea party" of Cokes and cookies. She had to rear Bill and me without her mother to lean on, but I never had to worry. She was always there for me.
To help make up for all the rotten things we did as kids, Bill and I did our best to make sure her last months were comfortable. She lived by herself as long as she could and spent as long as she could looking out her den window, watching the hummingbirds fight over the feeder and the deer eat her flowers.
I believe she waited for things to be just right before she made her exit. My three kids and their children lived in Kentucky for several years. Slowly, one at a time, they migrated back to north Louisiana. Just a few short weeks after the last one unloaded the moving van, she decided it was time.
She and I were with my dad when he drew his last breath, and I so wanted to be there for her when her turn came. She had other ideas.
My brother was on his way for a visit, driving from Chattanooga – running behind schedule.
My daughter, grandson and I had just left her bedside. I had gone back to work; Amy and Charlie were home for a nap when I got the call to come back to her house. I raced, ran, hurried and drove too fast, but I didn't make it in time to tell her goodbye one more time.
She didn't wait for Bill to get there. She didn't wait for me to get back. She waited until she was alone.
Or did she? While we were there at lunch, the caregiver told us Mama had been talking to someone in the corner of her bedroom just that morning.
Someone only she could see. "Today?" she asked. "I don't know if I can. Oh, okay." She nodded her head.
Someone had come to take her "home," and she wasn't alone. Was it an angel or Jesus? Was it my dad? Her sisters? Her parents? I won't know until I get there, but I intend to ask her that question and a lot of other ones, too. And tell her thank you ... a lot ... for teaching me to be strong, to face adversity with a sense of humor and to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get on with it.
Bonnie Culverhouse is the managing editor of the Minden Press-Herald.