51: Mom’s Lawn Chair

51: Mom’s Lawn Chair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Mom’s Lawn Chair

Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.

~Hubert Humphrey

Mom loved her role as a grandma to my three kids. Besides making a point of doing something special with them each week, she was obsessive about being at all of their school programs and athletic events. Over the years, she spent countless hours at basketball and soccer games, and cross country and track meets. She was as well-known a sideline fixture as most of the parents. Through most of their childhoods, Mom, in her fifties and sixties, was very active and energetic—young at heart. Most people guessed her to be ten to fifteen years younger than her actual age. She thought nothing of driving long miles for my kids’ many events.

Then the unthinkable happened. Shortly after her seventieth birthday, she started getting dizzy often and then began having mini-strokes. She spent countless hours with specialists, even traveling to the Mayo Clinic to get answers. She was finally diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy (MSA), a rare and rapidly progressing neurological disorder that is fatal. We watched as her body systems failed one by one. Throughout it all, Mom managed to maintain her positive outlook and sunny disposition.

As the disease progressed, another spring soccer season came around for my youngest daughter. By that time, my older two children had graduated from high school and had gone off to college. Mom could no longer travel to away games, but perhaps realizing her time on this earth was limited, she was determined to be at each and every home game that my daughter played in that season. Even though she was using a walker and motorized scooter to get around at home, she didn’t like to take them out in public.

“Mom,” I said as the season began, “let me stop by your house and take you to the games. We can load your walker in the car and take it with us.”

“Absolutely not,” she replied. “I don’t want to be a burden. I can drive myself.”

Since the soccer complex was only about a mile from her home, I acquiesced. The little bit of freedom she had left meant the world to her. So she drove herself to each and every game that season.

She absolutely refused to bring her walker, stating that she would look like an invalid. Instead, she left behind the bagged soccer chair, which we all carried over our shoulders, and started bringing an old lightweight, woven lawn chair with an aluminum frame that folded flat. She would maneuver herself out of the car, place the frame of the chair on the uneven ground in front of her and make her way very slowly to whatever field my daughter was playing on that day. She gradually inched the chair in front of her as she went, leaning on the frame for balance. Along the way, she turned down any and all offers of assistance. Although much less sturdy than her walker, the chair did manage to keep her from falling to the ground the majority of the time. When she did fall, she would laugh and stand back up, brushing herself off. Fortunately she never sustained any serious injuries.

At the field she would set up her chair and cheer Ashley on with her usual enthusiasm. When the game was over, my daughter and I would walk slowly behind her to the parking lot. She still refused any help. She would hold her head high and try to appear as independent as she could. Already embarrassed by the way her pants fit over the adult diapers that were now a necessity in her life, she wanted to save as much of her dignity as she could. Sometimes, if I was lucky, she would allow me to put her chair in the trunk while she got into her seat and fastened her seat belt. I wanted to follow her home to make sure she made it safely, but she didn’t want that. Fortunately, her husband would be there to help her when she arrived.

That season was to be her last. She made it to each and every game before passing away quietly in her bed later in the year. The determination, independence, and love for family she exhibited throughout her last spring in our lives has been an inspiration to my daughter and me ever since.

~Jill Haymaker

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