One of the most remarkable achievements of my mother’s life didn’t involve her identity as a devoted wife or mom to seven daughters or even the church she loves. Rather, it involves what she would call finding Ellen again. Any person reading this with children probably understands the tendency to lose a bit of that person you were before the marriage and kids. You put that former “you” on the back burner, and unfortunately, some people do it forever. Is it any wonder that a study from 2016 shows that 7 million adults over the age of 65 experience depression each year?
The truth is my Mom didn’t plan on becoming a widow fourteen years ago. It was sudden. Within two weeks, our patriarch was gone. There was a trip planned for Ireland that they had put off for years because college and weddings were expensive. There was a plan on the horizon to move past the debt and live comfortably. They always talked of taking the grandkids to Disney World and I’m sure they would have done so. For the first time in her life, the woman who planned meals, paid bills, organized weddings, took care of grandkids, and managed multiple responsibilities at church found herself at a complete loss of control. What was next? How would she ever feel joy again?
I think it all got better when Anne bought Mom a blog site for Christmas. Before there was a husband, and kids and cows to milk, Mom was a gifted student and writer. She had been valedictorian in her high school class, a straight A student at Madison College (now JMU) and editor of the school newspaper, The Breeze. The only writing she had done for years was in a little diary where she wrote about her babies. Even that became increasingly sparse as the family grew, and I can only imagine that she fell into bed each night completely exhausted. Of course she would edit our term papers and interject some of her style when needed, but that’s not really writing from the heart.
And what happened next was a miracle. She wrote. And wrote. Vignette after vignette. And then there was a self published book and then a second one. The light returned to her eyes as she would proudly proclaim that someone at the store had heard she had written a book and had to have one. She had more spring in her step on her daily morning walk at the local mall. Once again she became indispensable at church. She took up yoga and hiking. She started to tutor at local schools. And when she declared that she was through with yard work and cleaning a big house, she got rid of things and moved into a manageable duplex. She is the great grandma who says yes to playing football with the first great- grandchild. And she was the only one who said yes to dancing with me at a vineyard recently. It was she who made the decision to not sit around as a spectator, but to fully immerse herself into life again, to laugh and find a new normal. Interesting how that self-empowerment parenting style works.