Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Long Road Home...

Today would have been my mother's 80th birthday. 

This is how I remember my mother in my youth

Try as I might, I have not been able to write much about her passing. I was "stuck" in a place where I couldn't write about anything. Then I decided that life was moving on and if I waited till I *could* write about it then I would be letting things pass me by that I wanted to write about and could write about. So I moved on, just letting my heart settle and let life put things in perspective for me. It felt easier to let it go than I thought it would. It didn't make it go away but it eased the burden of feeling like I needed to do something that I wasn't ready to do.

Fourteen months later I am ready now.

On the morning of Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 a call came from the nursing home where my mother resided.  I answered it, sure it was a call to let me know of a medication change or some other "non emergency". For just over three years when those calls came they always began with the voice on the other end saying, "This is not an emergency."  But January 23rd was different.  This time they said, "I am sorry to tell you that your mother passed away this morning."  I found it hard to breathe. Then I found it impossible to hold back tears.  I felt confused. 

My mother was very ill in November but since then she had, once again, come back from the brink and had been doing quite well.  Only a few days earlier I had talked to her and she sounded good.  We laughed on the phone as I told her I remembered how every summer she would walk around our big yard with a mason jar of gasoline in hand, going around to all of her flowers, picking off Japanese Beetles and dropping them in her jar. She never used any kind of pesticides on her plants, just her jar of gas. She laughed as we remembered summers at home.

Suddenly everything changed. She was gone. I asked the nurse what happened. She said that they had gotten my mother up into her chair for the day. She had been talking and joking with the nurses. Once in her chair the nurse had left the room. I don't know how long the nurse was gone from the room but when she came back my mother had passed away.  I am happy that it was peaceful, quick and that she didn't struggle. 

By early the next day we were on the road with Jacob, Abigail and Annah headed toward New York, the place I had just been a few months before to visit her. She had been *so* ill then and in leaving her that November day, I knew it could quite possibly be the last time I saw her. And it was.

We made the trip in record time of about 14 hours.It was very cold in New York. Our kids were severely under dressed for the bitter cold but they survived in spite of it. :)

Once there it was a whirlwind of activity as we met with the funeral home and went to the nursing home to pick up all of mom's things that were boxed up and waiting. I went into her room one last time. It was a very solemn time for me. I sat on her bed and looked around at the walls that had since been emptied of all the dozens of framed pictures she had on the walls that had surrounded her for going on 4 years. The walls were riddled will nails where pictures had hung just days before. I felt a bit sorry for the maintenance people that had to pull all those nails and fix all the holes. For over a year both my mother and father had shared the same room and now they were both gone. 

I stared at her wardrobe where just days before the doors were plastered with pictures of family, grandchildren, friends and newspaper clippings I had sent her of the girls when they were in the local paper for their production of Bye, Bye Birdie. And shelves once over-stuffed with trinkets of every kind now were empty. Every material thing she held dear was put into boxes by the staff of the nursing home who had loved her and treated her so kindly. 

Tim and I, with Cretta, Bill and his wife, Debbi, took all her boxes and went back to Bill and Debbi's house to do a quick sort through the things and make decisions on what was kept and what was to be donated. There were LOTS of boxes! Mom had a LOT of stuff! In the end we returned to Kentucky with 1 plastic tote (that I had brought with me) and 2 smaller cardboard boxes. That was all and it was enough.

The funeral was on Saturday, January 26th. A family friend spoke at the service and Tim did also. Tim has spoken at my father funeral and he did the same for my mother. He is such a comforting speaker. He makes hard things easier for everyone. And given how much my mother loved him, it was fitting that he speak. 

It was a very short trip, arriving on Thursday and leaving on Sunday. Sunday was also Debbi's birthday and in the commotion of everything I had forgotten and felt bad. I was trying to think of what I could give to her and then it came to me.  

My mother was a Jeff Gordon fan and she had everything Jeff Gordon. She had a blanket, matchbox cars, a light switch plate in her room at the nursing home, collector's cards, and many other things that escape my memory. The perfect gift for Debbi was among the memorabilia mom had....a Jeff Gordon shellacked wooden plaque that someone had made for Mom!! Yes, that was the perfect gift to bring a smile, a memory of mom and hopefully a laugh out loud. I left her a note and the plaque.....

We arrived back home late Sunday night and I took Monday,January 28th off of work as it was my birthday and also the day they were burying Mom. She was not laid to rest the day of the funeral but had to wait until "the next business day" because her resting place was at the Saratoga National Cemetery and the government doesn't work on weekends. Somehow that just strikes me as funny but you can't argue with the government. Cretta and our cousin, Charlie were at the cemetery for her burial.

The following months for me were filled with reflections of my mother, my memories of her, and the realities of our relationship and family. Every family has rough roads and we were certainly no exception. "Rough" doesn't begin to explain the half of it but I will say that in spite of it all, I did all I could do for both my mother and my father. I am proud of that; proud that when I could have been totally justified in turning my back, I didn't. I was accused of taking their money, of "putting them into a nursing home", of making things up...the list goes on. I did what I did because it was the right thing to do, in spite of everything. It was right to do for them what they couldn't do for themselves. It was that plain and simple. It was never easy but it was worth it.

A few months after my mother’s passing spring was upon us. One day I was sitting on my patio just thinking (I did that a lot trying to process her passing) and enjoying the warmer temperatures. As I sat there I recalled that years ago I had been so afraid that when the time came that my mother had passed away I was going to feel tremendous guilt because of what I did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say, etc. That was a real concern for me back then. I realized as I sat thinking that day that I didn’t feel that guilt I had anticipated. I didn’t feel guilt because I *truly* did do everything that I possibly could do for both my mother and my father. It led me to think on the Atonement and for probably the first time in my life “I got it” – I understood the Atonement in a way I never had before when the thought came to me “it was enough” – meaning that the Atonement had made what I did do and give “enough”. Did I do it perfectly? No, I did not. Was there things I could have done better or different? Of course. But what I knew in that moment was that I did do everything that I could and I did it the best that I could given where I came from and what has happened regarding my mother. It was enough because the Savior made up the difference between what I was able to do (given my life experiences within a broken family) and what I couldn’t do. He made up the difference! My imperfectness became enough because HE knows my life, my heart, my experiences and he made what I could give, though limited in many ways, enough.

I really needed that experience to help in dealing with the loss of my mother. I understand the Atonement in a way that I never have before and I am so grateful. Perhaps that was mom's parting gift to me ~ sense of peace that neither of us had when she was here. 

So Happy Birthday, Mom. And thank you for what you have given me and what you have taught me, even in very round about ways. I love you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Long Winter

Spring officially started 4 days ago. I am not quite sure if anyone has told Mother Nature that yet but we are expecting her to show up soon! Perhaps she will get the memo that there are lot of unhappy people right now. Of course, that didn't seem to bother her when people across the country were murmuring about Old Man Winter! 

As much as I love winter I will admit that I am looking forward to our front yard sporting vibrant green rather than drab brown. I am eager to see the transformation of trees as they get a new wardrobe for spring. And, of course, there is always the breathtaking blooms that burst open in the warmth of the season. 

Spring is an awesome testament of renewal and regeneration! It is a reminder that no matter how long the winter lingers, there is always an awakening. So while we seem to be having a sleepy awakening, it won't be long till spring is wide awake. 

Bring on the springtime!

Thursday, March 13, 2014


There is nothing that makes me feel like I am in a time warp more than realizing that it has been 5 years today that Tim finished his radiation and chemo for throat cancer. Anyone living in the world of cancer knows that 5 years is the magic number to reach with no recurrences and reach it we have!

It was on Friday, March 13th, 2009 that Tim completed his 35th radiation treatment. It was a big day for him being that days before he questioned if he could even endure to the point of completion. But, endure he did!  Funny that back then we thought that was the bright spot – to be done with the treatments that caused so much distress. Little did we know then that it would get worse (for about 6 weeks) before it got better and then celebration seemed more appropriate.  

It was a glorious spring 5 years ago, in so many ways. That year the trees and flowers were nothing short of splendid. Each blossoming tree and nodding flower seems to be a call of renewal after the long winter. It seemed to coincide with the renewal of Tim's life after his own long winter. As nature came alive before our eyes, so did Tim.  

Spring 2009

My sister came from New York and was here for Tim's last day of treatment. In celebration she bought some pansies to plant to cheer our hearts. There is probably not a happier flower than a pansy with their bright patterned petals that look like faces!

Abigail and Annah 5 years ago! (Okay, so they are agonizing over these pictures!)

Abigail and Annah with their dad in October 2013

Tim and I in June 2009 - our 24th wedding anniversary

Through this entire journey we have been greatly blessed. We have seen the hand of the Lord at each curve in the road. And on that road we have been surrounded by angels, both seen and unseen. The words of Jeffrey R. Holland say it well, 

"Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind." 

Yes, we have had so many around us that fit that description and words fail to express what their presence has meant in our lives. We are grateful beyond words for the prayers, kindness, tenderness, caring, thoughtfulness and love that have accompanied and upheld when cancer called our name. Our hearts of full and so are our lives.

 We, in the in Valenta household, are looking forward to another splendid spring as we celebrate life and love, renewal and hope.

 But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. 
Psalms 71:14

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Winter, cover your ears!

Here it is March in Kentucky and winter is still hanging on for all its worth. The kids have been out of school for about 17 days so far this winter.(Don't quote me on that number because seriously, I have lost track but it's something close to that!) This winter we have seen double our usual snow and frigid temperatures that qualified us to be card carrying members of the Polar Vortex Club. 

You won't hear me utter complaints though because winter and I get along just fine! While we do get along just fine, I can think of just two things that I don't like about winter. 

Winter, cover your ears so you don't hear the blasphemy I am about to speak!

The two things that I don't like about winter is 1)because of drier air, my hair has major static (boo-hiss) and 2)my skin is much drier and can be itchy. There I said it.... 

But that is all... The rest -- the cold, the snow, the ice, snowmen, fuzzy socks, corn bags, sweaters, snowflakes on the window (paper or real!), the snow days, the anticipation of what a storm will bring -- I love it all!  

So even though I love those things, it IS March! I think I need to take down my paper snowflakes that have adorned our window since early December. It has been my experience that when I decide to take down the paper snowflakes, that is when winter loosens it's grip and bids farewell. So I just want you to know that I am doing this for all the snow haters out there!! 
 Farewell, winter. Till we meet again next year....

"The cold never bothered me anyway!"

(a quote from my favorite movie, Frozen)