67: Standing Tall

67: Standing Tall

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

Standing Tall

When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.

~Author Unknown

My mother, at times, was a proud and stubborn woman. It wasn’t always easy being her daughter. We certainly butted heads during my teen years. And she was constantly on me about my posture. At 5 foot 8 inches tall, she carried herself like a model. She had me practice standing against a wall for five minutes each day, then walk while balancing books on my head without dropping them. This was her method for attaining perfect posture.

I would ask, “Mom, who does this? I don’t see the point; do I have to keep doing this?” We often argued over my posture.

Over the years, she continued to remind me about my posture and often at inappropriate times. To keep the peace, I never said too much. I knew she meant well, but one day I finally told her to stop. However, she continued to comment on my posture until the last days of her life. Like I said, she was stubborn.

At seventy-seven, Mom developed lung cancer. She took this diagnosis the way she had taken the breast cancer news fifteen years earlier. She survived then and she would again. Determined to beat it, she started chemo and radiation treatments. However, after two treatments, she had to stop. Her body couldn’t take it. She needed full-time care, so she came to live with me.

Family and friends came to visit. Everyone knew her time was short. Between her frequent naps, we talked. She often spoke of her mother, who died of pneumonia when my mother was only seven. It was her biggest heartache and she cried during these talks. One afternoon, she recalled her mother instructing her to stand with books on her head. She wanted her to walk like a lady and be proud of herself. Her mother had explained, “Phyllis, you can tell a lady from across the street by the way she carries herself. You must practice this every day while your bones are growing—your back will grow straight. Then as a grown woman, you won’t even think about it. It will be your natural walk.”

Mom thoughtfully continued, “I remember her showing me how to stand and walk with books on her head. However, they fell to the floor and we laughed. Of course, the same thing happened when I tried it. We laughed again. Then mother would walk beside me to catch the falling books, until I got it. So, when I think of my mother, I remember walking and laughing together.”

My mother’s face looked beautiful as she talked. She found love and peace in this treasured memory. I understood then, and felt remorse. She had tried to pass this one thing from her mother to me. With tears, I told her how I felt. She tenderly said, “Never mind all of that now. Your walk is fine, just keep your shoulders back and your head up.”

I wished I had known her mother—my grandmother. I was sorry my mom had to grow up without her mother. Then the reality of losing Mom hit me. I cried in her arms for the last time.

In the last week of her life, other visitors came to see Mom. One day, as I started to go into her room, I heard her talking. I looked and saw only her. “Mom, who are you talking to?” I asked, thinking she was talking to herself. She smiled and said a relative’s name who had passed on. I didn’t say anything, but thought her medication was making her see things. Two days later, I found her upset, waving her arms and yelling.

“Colleen, look at all these people. Why are they here? I don’t have time to talk to them all!”

I looked around and said, “I don’t see anyone Mom.”

She replied frantically, “What do you mean you don’t see anyone? They’re all around the bed—right there, look!” She pointed in all directions. I needed to calm her down, so I quietly said, “Mom, they are here to see you. I’m not supposed to see them. After all, they came to see you, not me. If you’re tired, tell them to come back later.”

This worked. She agreed to talk to a few. I left the room, nodding to her guest. However, I did not believe anyone was there. Then one evening, right before her passing, I paused just outside her door. I saw my mom as I hadn’t seen her in months. She was sitting straight up and reaching for something at the foot of her bed. She appeared engaged in a real conversation with someone. She would ask a question, wait for the response, then reply. I stood transfixed, listening. Her face looked relaxed. Gone were the lines of pain and stress. My mom smiled at someone at the foot of her bed, but I saw nothing. The exhilaration radiating from her surprised me; I could feel it. I stepped back, then heard these words in Mom’s “little girl” voice: “There you are. You look just like you looked the last time I saw you.” Pure joy covered Mom’s face as she gazed at the foot of her bed.

Suddenly, I realized I was witnessing something phenomenal. Goosebumps rose on my arms and neck. I turned quietly to retreat, to let my mother have this incredible moment. I must have made a noise; Mom turned and motioned for me to come in.

Mom’s face had color again. She looked better than she had in months and seemed so excited. Her beautiful green eyes glistened with delight. Before I could ask, she declared, “Look Colleen, my mother came to see me. She looks just like she did the last time I saw her when I was seven.” She pointed to the foot of the bed and beamed with love and happiness. I felt so overwhelmed I could not say a word. Tears streamed down my face for my mom’s joy.

I have always believed in God and life after death. However, up until then, I was unaware passed loved ones could come to help us cross over to the next life. This made losing my mom a little easier. For now I know when my time comes, she will be at the foot of my bed, arm in arm with my grandmother, two elegant ladies—standing tall.

~Colleen M. Leftheris

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