She’s So Fine

This morning just before four o’clock, my dear mother opened her eyes in Heaven. The nearest thing to my “other self,” she woke to find Jesus had wrapped His arms around her and welcomed her into His glorious presence.

In this space, I’ve posted more than a couple times with stories and recollections concerning my mom. The picture above was taken last December. We knew at that time her days on earth were winding to a close. Once the lockdowns were put in place at her long-term care facility, visits with her ceased. She died six weeks short of her 94th birthday.

It’s impossible to leaf through my memory to provide a full picture of Marion Ruth West (1926-2020) who fashioned herself (early in life) as Ruthe West and on one occasion, Bobbie Pringle, eventually living most of her adult life as Ruthe Stricker. Just the variations of her name offer a bird’s-eye view into her fun-loving, often-impulsive character! The world is poorer for having lost her, but Heaven is blessed … because she will do her part to keep St. Peter on his toes! Continue reading “She’s So Fine”

Leading The Way

With her 92nd birthday approaching (the end of August), my mother Ruthe must contemplate the final days (or years, we hope) of her incredible life on this planet. I’ve shared her stories more than a dozen times in this space, among them Everybody’s FineThe Tale of Bobbie Pringle (in 2 parts), and Safe In His Arms. I’ve also posted poems where she was my subject:  Mother of Mine, Touchstone. Along life’s journey, she has embraced numerous adventures, taken surprising risks and absorbed monumental losses. What a blessing she has been to me (and her other offspring)!

The photo above was taken a couple weeks ago. She needed groceries and I was in town, so we drove to the nearby SuperCenter. Because she lacks the stamina she once had, I suggested she try the motorized shopping cart. I’ve never used one of these devices … nor had she until that day! (Keep in mind, she’s almost totally blind, with only a sliver of cloudy light squeezing into the uppermost corner of her left eye.) Still, I figured the electric cart was worth trying, since I worried her knees might give way during our trek through the massive store.

As things turned out, we managed to collect her groceries without inflicting excess damage to the cart or any merchandise lining the aisles … and thankfully, no customers were permanently injured during this endeavor! When she first grasped the forward/reverse lever, the cart unexpectedly shot forward, leaving me far behind. I caught up quickly and decided to set my hand to the “wheel” to control the cart’s speed and direction. It was my chance to walk beside her, guiding her to the k-cups, the oatmeal and her other important purchases. Making our way (slowly) around the store, she depended on my guidance, but strange as it might seem, she was leading the way … as she always has! Continue reading “Leading The Way”

Thank Your Mother

Branches of the military have a Code of Conduct. Private businesses often have a similar set of dos and don’ts for their employees. These rules for behavior promote an orderly operation and enable members of the organization to understand (1) what’s expected of them and (2) where the boundaries are. Having specific guidelines for behavior protects both people and organizations against the “Oops, I didn’t know” defense.

Likewise, civil societies have adopted an implicit code of conduct for acceptable and/or unacceptable acts and behavior. Codes may be prescribed via laws and regulations, as well as a shared awareness of right and wrong. For centuries, public disfavor or implied reproof were sufficient to discourage bad behavior. When social condemnation failed, offenders were jailed.Vacant_Prison_Cell_clip_art_hight

Through the years, a commonly accepted rule for good conduct has been protecting women and children. From medieval times, the inclination of a society to look after women and children was considered chivalrous. (See this previous post about my thoughts on chivalry.)

I remember in childhood the first time I viewed the movie Titanic (1953). This movie presented a societal code of conduct:  the captain would not abandon ship, women and children were given life jackets and placed in lifeboats. One male character dressed as a woman and sneaked onto a lifeboat; eventually they noticed his presence and all considered his bad behavior shameful.

Our 2014 topsy-turvy culture has it backwards now. No question, women (gender feminists) have been party to this upset. God forbid any man should open a door for a woman! God forbid a woman expresses her appreciation for the husband who supports her! God forbid she betrays any weakness, any indication she isn’t totally capable of caring for herself in every aspect of her life! (Reminds me of a small child refusing help:  “No, I can do it!”)

Now, we’ve come so far the culture isn’t just topsy-turvy … it has moved into the surreal, with bizarre demonstrations of just how “liberated” we are. Instead of accepting the protection society used to offer, women have voluntarily turned away from it, to the extent that women and children are now the first to be harmed, jettisoned and ravaged. The strong will always survive, but the weaker among us − most often, women and children − are often used up and spat out.

A newsworthy example of this philosophy run amok was reported this week. More than likely, you’re familiar with the story:  a pregnant abortion counselor videotaped her own abortion as it was being performed. In her comments, she says:  I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby. I can make a life …” The truth is, she didn’t make that baby, she didn’t make that life. But she did TAKE that life! She destroyed that life, having it flushed from her uterus with extreme prejudice.

Sure, we can talk viability. This woman was in her first trimester, the fetus was quite small, certainly unable to live on its own at that stage. An infant is also unable to live on its own. Should we destroy them too? There are times when a teenager seems incapable of doing anything on his or her own … i.e. nonviable. If non-viability is the yardstick for who lives and who dies, who takes the measure? Are there stages of non-viability?

Great Grandmother with great grandson
Great Grandmother with great grandson

When a society refuses to protect its most vulnerable, all of us live under threat. When a society refuses to protect its most vulnerable, we have relinquished our humanity. Animals in the jungle don’t have a code of conduct. They prey on the weak, the old, the infirm, the young. When humans refuse to protect the vulnerable among us, we’ve ceded our civility. We have become animals … in an uncivil jungle.

Most people know Sunday is Mother’s Day. I suspect many of us had mothers who instilled within us a specific code of conduct. I know my mother did. (Read about my mother here.) One of the rules she emphasized again and again was our responsibility to care for and protect others, to have compassion for others. She encouraged us, in Christ-like respect, to love others more deeply than we loved ourselves.

I live with the daily reminder that my mother gave me Life. In a sense, this Gift was everything she had. I also live with the confidence that she’d have died in my place, if necessary. There is no other gift so precious as the Gift of Life.

Thanks, Mom. I’m forever grateful.

Lessons In Dying

Alzheimers-300x127My husband and I are in that stage of life when the care of our aging widowed mothers becomes a more pressing concern. Hubby’s mom lives nearby and he tries to visit with her daily. She’s 91 years of age and was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year ago. I mentioned her in a post last fall.

Almost every day when he comes home from visiting with her (he usually drives over to her assisted living facility after his workday ends), he provides a brief report of their conversation. She rarely remembers his name now, though she remembers he’s her son. When he offers hints about his name, sometimes she’s close, but the memory has difficulty filling in all the details.

She also remembers she’s a mother of other sons, but their names don’t come easily either. The other day, she told my husband there were people coming to “do drugs” outside her door and they would also be in her apartment for the same purpose. (I wondered if she might be hallucinating. She has before.) Eventually, she managed to say “carpets” and the story made more sense. The carpets were scheduled to be shampooed.

Then there’s my mom. Anticipating her 88th birthday this year, my mother doesn’t suffer with Alzheimer’s; her challenge is macular degeneration. (I’ve mentioned her in numerous posts on this blog. Remember Bobbie Pringle?)

A couple weeks ago, I had an early morning scare with her. It was before eight a.m. when my phone rang. I saw on the caller id that it was my mom’s number, so I answered saying, “What are you doing up at this hour?” (Truth be told, she’s generally up long before I am.)

telephoneNo answer came from the other end. I kept the line open thinking maybe she’d set the phone down for some reason. After talking loudly into the speaker for several minutes with no response, I hung up and dialed her number only to get a busy signal.

That’s when I started worrying. What if she’d dialed me and before she could speak she’d suffered a heart attack or something? The thought of her lying on the floor unable to speak into her phone while attempting a call for help disturbed me immensely!

Unfortunately, I live six hours away from her! Eventually, I called my sister (who lives within a half hour of Mom). My sister drove over, determined everything was fine and texted me the news. Of course, I felt like an idiot, having bothered my sister, but know I would have felt much worse if something adverse had happened to her and nobody had checked to make sure she was okay.

[I know we’re not the only ones in the world concerned with aging parents. I know there are numerous people handling situations much worse than what my husband and I encounter with our mothers … and I would never minimize those really difficult situations of others.]

When we had a previous scare with my mom, I wrote this sonnet. It speaks (generally) to the bond of parent and child and the reversal of those roles as a parent ages. The nature of Alzheimer’s certainly qualifies it as a juggernaut. Aging is that by itself and the daily possibility of death is like an unwelcome companion lurking in a dark corner of the room.

Macular degeneration is no less a juggernaut, just a different kind of aging challenge. The ever-present risk from a fall … or trusting one’s sense of touch when taking medication (is this the correct pill!) … or setting a flammable object on a hot burner … when a person’s virtually blind, small things suddenly take on complexity.

Touchstone, learning to die, mother, daughter, elderly mother, sonnet, poetry, poem
Sonnet: Touchstone

My mom has aged remarkably well, keeping her inner vision and verve for life bubbling over even as her eyesight has diminished. I think she still has much to teach me in her final years (many more years, God willing) … including how to continue aging well and eventually how to die without regret.

I hope I’ll remain a conscientious and devoted learner.

The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part II

This is part two in my mother’s story (written in her own words) of how she and my dad met. Part one is here.

Ruthe7Ruthe Continues:   Next morning I put my plan into action. After bringing her two coffees as well as a pack of cigarettes (I knew she wouldn’t turn down some smokes from someone else’s coupon book), I worked up the nerve to ask:  Was she planning to go to the dance at Ft. Dix? “No,” she responded. I told her:  “I sure wish I could but I can’t.” Then she asked me:  “Why not?” (perfect opening!) and I had my explanation ready.

I told her my story and asked if I could go using her name. Initially, she didn’t understand what I proposed, but when the light began to dawn she let out a whoop and started to laugh loudly causing everyone to turn and stare and wonder what was going on. She said she’d see me at lunch and let me know her decision, so I went to my desk to work, all the while wondering what I’d do if she said no, where would I go next? Worse yet, what if she blabbed to someone else about it? I could be in big trouble again.

Continue reading “The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part II”

The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part I

RutheWere my dad still alive today (he died in 1994), he and my mom would be celebrating 68 years of marriage at the end of this month. That’s a picture of her from the 40s. (—->)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved hearing about how my parents met and the various details related to their war-time courtship. In a battered box in their closet, Mom once kept a stack of letters Daddy had written to her during his service in Europe in World War II.

Whenever I got the chance, I’d snatch one or two letters from that box and steal away to my own room to read them. (They were only slightly romantic, just accounts of news and whatever drama his friends were experiencing.) Of course, every letter had to first pass through the censor’s oversight before it could be posted!

Sadly for their offspring, those letters are gone now. In the days after my dad knew death would likely come within the year, he and Mom walked out to the beach near their home, sat down and re-read the letters one final time before dropping them into a campfire. I know they chose what to do with the letters; but I’ll always be disappointed that part of their legacy went up in smoke.

Near Mom’s 80th birthday, I asked her to write down the story of meeting Dad. (She still had her sight then.) I turned her recollections into a memory book prior to the surprise birthday celebration we threw for her with many family members gathered in her honor. (See more about that celebration here.) The story of their first meeting is funny and I share it below (the first of two parts with part two posting tomorrow). This is the story … in her own words.

Continue reading “The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part I”