From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

A Mother’s Love

Iam convinced that the greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories.

Og Mandino

When I think of Clara Harden’s family, happiness is what comes to mind. The sounds of laughter always greeted my visits.

Their lifestyle was so very different from mine. Clara’s mother believed nurturing the mind was more important than trivial chores. Housekeeping wasn’t a high priority. With five children ranging in age from Clara, the oldest at twelve, to a two-year-old baby, this lack of order sometimes bothered me but never for long. Their home was always in some state of chaos with at least one person’s life in crisis, real or imagined. But I loved being part of this boisterous bunch, with their carefree, upbeat attitude toward life. Clara’s mother was never too busy for us. She’d stop ironing to help with a cheerleading project, or switch off the vacuum cleaner and call us all to trek into the woods to gather specimens for a child’s science project.

You never knew what you might do when you visited there. Their lives were filled with fun and love—lots of love.

So the day the Harden children stepped off the school bus with red, swollen eyes, I knew something was desperately wrong. I rushed to Clara, pulled her aside, begging to hear what had happened but not prepared for her answer. The night before, Clara’s mother had told them she had a terminal brain tumor, with only months to live. I remember that morning so well. Clara and I went behind the school building where we sobbed, holding each other, not knowing how to stop the unbelievable pain. We stayed there, sharing our grief until the bell rang for first period.

Several days passed before I visited the Harden home again. Dreading the sorrow and gloom, and filled with enormous guilt that my life was the same, I stalled until my mother convinced me that I couldn’t neglect my friend and her family in their time of sadness.

So I visited. When I entered the Harden house, to my surprise and delight, I heard lively music and voices raised in animated discussion with lots of giggles and groans. Mrs. Harden sat on the sofa playing a game of Monopoly with her children gathered round. Everybody greeted me with smiles as I struggled to hide my bewilderment. This wasn’t what I had expected.

Finally Clara freed herself from the game, and we went off to her room where she explained. Her mother had told them that the greatest gift they could give her would be to carry on as if nothing was amiss. She wanted her last memories to be happy, so they had agreed to try their hardest.

One day Clara’s mother invited me for a special occasion. I rushed over to find her wearing a large gold turban. She explained that she’d decided to wear this instead of a wig now that her hair was falling out. She placed beads, glue, colored markers, scissors and cloth on the table, and instructed us to decorate it, while she sat like a regal maharaja. We turned the plain turban into a thing of gaudy beauty, each adding his or her own touch. Even as we squabbled over where the next bauble should be placed, I was conscious of how pale and fragile Mrs. Harden appeared. Afterwards, we had our picture taken with Clara’s mother, each pointing proudly to her contribution to the turban. A fun memory to cherish, even though the unspoken fear of her leaving us wasn’t far beneath the surface.

Finally the sad day arrived when Clara’s mother died. In the weeks that followed, the Hardens’ sorrow and pain were impossible to describe.

Then one day I arrived at school to see an animated Clara laughing, gesturing excitedly to her classmates. I heard her mother’s name mentioned frequently. The old Clara was back. When I reached her side, she explained her happiness. That morning dressing her little sister for school, she’d found a funny note her mother had hidden in the child’s socks. It was like having her mother back again.

That afternoon the Harden family tore their house apart hunting messages. Each new message was shared, but some went undetected. At Christmastime, when they retrieved the decorations from the attic, they found a wonderful Christmas message.

In the years that followed, messages continued sporadically. One even arrived on Clara’s graduation day and another on her wedding day. Her mother had entrusted the letters to friends who delivered them on each special day. Even the day Clara’s first child was born, a card and poignant message arrived. Each child received these short funny notes, or letters filled with love until the last reached adulthood.

Mr. Harden remarried, and on his wedding day a friend presented him with a letter from his wife to be read to his children, in which she wished him happiness and instructed her children to envelop their new stepmother in love, because she had great faith that their father would never choose a woman who wouldn’t be kind and loving to her precious children.

I’ve often thought of the pain Clara’s mother must have experienced as she wrote these letters to her children. I also imagined the mischievous joy she felt when she hid these little notes. But through it all I’ve marveled at the wonderful memories she left those children, despite the pain she quietly suffered and the anguish she must have felt leaving her adored family. Those unselfish acts exemplify the greatest mother’s love I’ve ever known.

Pat Laye

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