Note from Randy: My youngest daughter Angela wrote the following about her mom on September 28, the six-month anniversary of Nanci’s homegoing. I love what she wrote here.
March 28 marked the one-year anniversary since Nanci relocated to Heaven. This week our family has been all together—both our daughters Karina and Angela and their husbands, and all five of our grandsons. We have all been looking forward to gathering and remembering and celebrating Nanci.
I’ve been reading through texts and emails and social media comments in relation to the first anniversary of Nanci’s homegoing. It’s struck me how many people say it’s been six months, a year, or 18 months since their loved ones went to Jesus. This is a club none of us wants to join but nearly all of us will one day be part of. Hence, it’s best to go deep in God’s Word, and draw close to Jesus now as Nanci did, so we are ready when the time comes. I read to my whole family this week from Nanci’s journals, sitting between two of my grandsons. So heart-touching to see her “boys,” as she always called them, instructed and inspired by her profound words. (Same for our daughters and sons-in-law and me.)
Today marks six months since my mom died. This loss has affected me in profound ways, and in ways I know I still have yet to discover. But today I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about my mom.
I don’t have a great memory, but the first memory I can recall vividly was from when I was very young. I was sitting on my mom’s lap with my head resting on her chest. As I listened to the rhythm of her heartbeat and the sounds of her breathing, I felt totally peaceful and content. I was just about to drift to sleep when suddenly, Mom starts screaming and yelling. I was instantly terrified and started to cry. Quickly, she pulled me close and said, “Oh honey, it’s OK, mommy’s OK, mommy’s just really excited about this football game!”
And that, in a nutshell, was my mom.
She had this way of making everyone feel comfortable and at ease around her, and at the same time, everyone knew not to stand in the way of her passion for life and the things she loved!
She was the fun mom, the one that all my friends loved and wanted to be around. She was a teacher assistant one day a week at our school from kindergarten to 8th grade, and all my classmates thought she was the best. Any weeks she wasn’t able to come, I’d hear moaning about how much everyone would miss her, and how no TA was more fun at recess than Mrs. Alcorn.
She made our house a place we all wanted to be. She may have thought it was the pizza rolls and Nutter Butter’s that kept our friends wanting to come over, but I know that it was because my mom created a home where everyone knew there would be both a lot of love and a lot of laughter.
There was SO much laughter! I remember laughing until my sides ached the first time I read some old Reader’s Digest magazines to my mom at the family beach house in Manzanita (which quickly became a tradition). You may be thinking I’m talking about the sections that included family friendly jokes and clever anecdotes. Now, I did read those, and we’d chuckle a bit. But the real belly laughs were reserved for the times I read her Drama in Real Life. I’d put on my best dramatic voice and read such things as people who crawled miles to safety after a grizzly bear mauling, or the harrowing tale of a shipwreck turned shark attack. It sounds so awful that we would laugh at these things, but all of these were survival stories, so we weren’t laughing at people actually dying, just NEAR death experiences that were written using the most intensely dramatic words possible. The tales that seemingly couldn’t possibly get worse, but ALWAYS did. There was the “lost in the rainforest” story where this guy was starving and needing to eat bugs, then there was a flash flood but finally he barely pulled himself out of the water, climbing up on a tree branch. But wait, there’s more…we were snorting by the time the fire ants arrived. Dad and Karina would be over in the corner discussing philosophy and theology, and we were rolling on the floor laughing at the detailed description of what in real life would be a terrible thing, but in the overly dramatic telling of the story, somehow became humorous to us.
The beach house also reminds me of birthday trips. For many years in a row, my mom would let me pick a few friends and she (and sometimes one of her friends) would drive us to Manzanita for a birthday weekend. We’d roast hot dogs and s’mores on the beach and watch movies and go to Seaside. My mom was always a part of the fun, even during my potentially angsty middle school and high school years, and I always wanted her to be.
Not only was my mom the fun mom, I also remember serious conversations that were packed with godly wisdom. I remember many of them taking place either in the car, or walking around the middle school track. But sometimes, the best conversations would just happen randomly. I’d just plop down on the couch with her after school, or come in the kitchen and help her make dinner. She taught me so many things without me even knowing it.
I really never remember a time that I felt like my mom wasn’t there. Even in my adult years. We weren’t the mother-daughter pair that talked daily on the phone after I left the house…in fact, I joke with people that we lived less than a mile apart for the last 14 years, and sometimes we’d go for weeks without saying a word to each other! But that was because I knew without a doubt that she was there whenever I needed her. It was both spoken and unspoken that I could always count on her to be present in my life.
My mom and I were different in some ways, but similar in more. We both wanted to be easygoing and never a burden to those around us. We didn’t want to be needy; we wanted to be strong and capable, and we don’t like to cry in front of others (though that’s out the window for me these days). We would often exchange looks and instantly know what the other was thinking. We understood each other in a very special way, and that made me feel like I could tell her anything at any time without any caveats. I miss that more than I can describe.
In the last few years, as often happens with parents and children, our roles slowly started to reverse. I had a lot of medical problems as a teenager, and had to have several surgeries. Stopping to write these things down, it’s pretty remarkable to look back: my mom went to countless doctor appointments with me, sat in the ER with me several times, and even after I was married, got a few phone calls from me that held difficult news about my health. She helped me get out of bed after surgeries and brought me my favorite things without me even asking.
One of the greatest privileges of my life is that I was able to take care of my mom in her last few years, the last month of her life especially. It was my turn to take her to doctor appointments. I was the one on the receiving end of several difficult phone calls. I sat by her bedside while she was on the ER stretcher. I came to visit her while she was admitted to the hospital. I went to the grocery store to get her what she needed, and also splurged on her favorites. At the end, I was able to do for her for three weeks what she did for me my whole childhood.
I have realized that many moments—both big and small—in my life led me to become the person my mom needed me to be in those last moments we shared. For that, I will forever be grateful to God. As a nurse, I helped interpret the words of the doctors, and as a daughter who resonated with her personality, I was able to express them in a way that she understood. Having been a patient, I knew firsthand her reluctance to ask for help, especially from those closest to her. My training as a nurse and my experience working in critical care prepared me for such a time as this.
Right before I made the decision to call 911, 3 ½ weeks before she died, I knelt down next to her and said I knew she didn’t want for me to have to take care of her at the end of her life. But then I told her that not only was I willing to do that, it would be an honor and a privilege. She looked at me and said, “Are you sure?” and I said, “Absolutely.” And then she took a slow breath and said, “OK. Thank you.” And I knew she knew the end was closer than any of the rest of us realized.
I am so grateful that in all my years of experience as a nurse, with all of the different tasks I’ve done for each of the patients I have taken care of, God was preparing me to be able to give the most important patient of my life the very best care I could give. And every day as I was taking care of her, I also made her laugh, which was important to us both. Her allowing me to care for her until the very end was her greatest gift to me, and I am so, so, so thankful.
I miss so many things about my mom. I miss her laugh, and the twinkle in her eye that she had until the very end. Her facial expressions that ensured she’d never be a good poker player. Her whistle I could hear from blocks away that told me it was time to come home for dinner—the same whistle used years later to cheer on my boys at their sporting events. The silly songs she’d make up and sing about her dogs. Her wise words in quiet moments. The pictures of her toes in the sand that she’d send me from Maui. The weeks that would go by without even a phone call, but the knowledge that I could stop by and see her at a moment’s notice anytime I wanted.
I am so very grateful it’s not the end of our relationship, but only a brief interruption. And I can’t wait for an eternity of laughter reminiscing about both others’ and our own Dramas in Real Life, and being able to lay close to my mama again, listening to the comforting sound of her fully healed lungs breathing in the purest air on the New Earth.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21: 3-6)
Until that day, this stone with my mom’s handwriting on it (a precious gift from Dan’s co-workers) reminds me that God is my strength. He will be faithful to guide me through these deep valleys of grief and remind me of the joy that awaits me someday soon. The fullness of joy that my mom is experiencing right now.
I love you, Mama, and I can’t wait to share forever with you. I can almost hear you whistling me home.