Thursday, April 27, 2006

Reflections of My Mother

Note: I wanted to give you all a brief update. The results from the genetic test are going to take longer than we originally thought. In fact they won’t be available until the middle of May. So I’ve decided to take a trip to Mississippi to help Erin with the boys since her doctor has put her on total bed rest. She isn’t due until the end of June, but she has been experiencing various signs of early labor. So I’m going to do my part to make sure our little granddaughter stays put until it’s safe to come out. Besides enjoying my time with Erin, Asher and Gabe, it will help me keep my mind off things until the test results are released. After that, it will be decision time for us. The oncologist we visited with, Dr. David Einspahr, was very kind and helpful. He wants to visit with us again after I return from my trip. Meanwhile, Dr. Berntsen recommended that I have a colonoscopy done, so I bit the bullet and took care of that last week. Thank God, the results came back fine.

With Mother’s Day coming up, I’ve decided to share something I wrote shortly after my mother, Peggy Van Kirk, passed away from breast cancer in 1989. Some of you may have already read this. If so, I hope that you will enjoy reading it again. Happy Mother’s Day and God’s blessings to each of you! ~ Eileen

The Van Kirk Family, 1960 (Before youngest brother Bob was born.)

“Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” ~ Exodus 20:12 (KJV)

On Sunday, May 7, 1989, exactly one week before Mother’s Day, my own mother passed away. I don’t know that this will interest anyone, but I somehow feel the need to write down my thoughts and share them with someone. I hope you don’t mind.

My mother was born on November 25, 1925. When she was two and a half years old her father died. She had one younger sister, Mary, who was six months old at the time. My grandmother could have married again, but she always said there was no one for her but her Bill. So she never did. Much of my mom’s growing up years were spent at the home of my grandmother. She had several brothers and sisters who all helped take care of them.

My mom met my dad while she was attending nursing school. Both of their moms were friends. So when my dad got stood up by his date for a night at the Ice Capades, his mother called mom’s mother. She asked whether her Peggy would like to go out with her Joe. Mom agreed. Dad says that he knew the moment he helped her with her coat that night that she was the girl he would one day marry. He was right. They were married on June 19, 1948. Last summer they celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary by returning to the place of their honeymoon in Vermont. It was something they always wanted to do. I’m so glad they did.

My mom and dad always wanted a large family and have one they did. It started out with a daughter, Peggy, named for my mom, followed by Patricia, named for my mom’s Uncle Pat who had been a father figure for her all her life. Then came Connie and I’m not sure who she was named for. While in the hospital after Connie was born, Mom told my dad, “Joe, I had a dream last night. I dreamt I had six little girls. They were all dressed alike, standing in a row.” That dream eventually came true. After Connie came Joanne and then their firstborn son, named Joseph Edward Van Kirk, Jr. After Joe came my sister Mary, who was named for Mom’s only sister. Then I came along. Mom said I was named after her best friend from nursing school. My brother Bill (William Augusta) followed just sixteen months later. He was named after our maternal and paternal grandfathers. Last, but not least, was my brother Bob (Robert Alois) who was named after two lifelong friends of the family.

My dad worked for the 3M Company and was transferred around quite a bit. They moved about fourteen times in their married life, usually to different states and once overseas to Singapore. Until their last move to Florida, they always had several kids in tow. I don’t know how she did it.

My mom worked so hard. She was such a loving wife and mother. I can remember coming down for breakfast on school mornings and finding a long line of bowls with soft boiled eggs and toast in them. Those who ran late had hard boiled eggs. Then when we were all dressed and ready for school we’d come down and find a row of brown sack lunches waiting for us.

Mom always made holidays special. On our birthday we got a day off from doing household chores and received several gifts. We also got to choose the kind of cake we wanted. I always chose angel food. Every year on Thanksgiving we had the traditional turkey feast with all the trimmings. On Easter Mom would make up individual Easter baskets for all of us and hide them around the house. What fun! Even on Valentine’s Day she would give each of us a card and a small gift chosen especially for us. But the biggest holiday of all at our house was Christmas. Each year they’d take home movies of all the kids in their pajamas, lined in a row from oldest to youngest. Mom made us all big red stockings with our names on them and these were hung along the fireplace. When my sister Connie was old enough, she would dress up as Santa and come around the house from the outside, surprising the younger ones to no end. We never noticed that she was missing from the crowd and we never recognized her! We all took turns on Santa’s lap, telling him what we wanted for Christmas. On Christmas morning we would all rush down the stairs to find a living room full of presents. We would scurry around trying to find our own individual pile. I know how much effort it takes to shop for that many people and then wrap all those presents. Again, I find myself wondering how she did it.

In 1982, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. They did a mastectomy but found the cancer had already spread. The past seven years she has undergone many different types of chemotherapy. She lost her hair and was very sick from the treatment much of the time. She did manage to have some good years, though. It was like a yo-yo. She fought so hard to live and enjoy life and she never complained. Last month her doctor said that she was a master at masking the pain. Even when she smiled and seemed well we can only wonder how much pain she was actually in.

My mom always thought of others. She really started going downhill this past March and on March 7 she entered the hospital. She was in and out for the next six weeks but mostly in. When she was home, though, she found the energy to shop for a gift for her daughter-in-law because the blouse she’d sent her for Christmas hadn’t fit. Then she insisted on shopping for shirts for two of my sisters who both had upcoming birthdays. My sister Joanne was there at the time. She said that Mom was actually shaking but she was determined to wrap each present individually. She also included a gift for me and one for her new little grandson, Kirk Van. From the hospital she wrote Keen and me a letter thanking us for some flowers we had sent. Her handwriting was not good. You could tell it took a great deal of effort for her to write it. I think she knew it might be the last time she wrote for she closed it by saying, “Take care, dear children. I love you. Mom.” I cry every time I read it. She also wrote one to Jared, Josh and Keen II, thanking them for the cards they made for her. She wrote, “I will try to draw a picture of the hospital, although I am not as good as you.” I will also enclose lots of kisses and hugs….you know I love you.” I cry when I read that, too.

Mom grew progressively worse in April, but one day in there she felt well enough to talk. Dad called me and said, “There’s someone here who wants to talk to you.” Our new son, Kirk, was only ten days old. Mom wanted to ask me about him. We had always shared the births of my babies and she hadn’t wanted to miss out on that. Her voice was weak and shaky but she asked, “Is he a good baby? Does he sleep good at night? How are you feeling? Are you getting your strength back?” All those mother-daughter things. When we were finished talking, something welled up inside me. It was like deep down inside I knew that this might be the last time I ever talked with my mom. So before we hung up I cried and said, “I love you with all my heart, Mom.” As it turned out, those were the last words I ever said to her.

During the last two or three weeks of Mom’s life she was on morphine constantly for the pain. She slept most of the time, but when she woke up enough to say something, it was always something loving and sweet. She was herself to the end. One time she actually sat up in her bed, clenched her fists and said, “I want all the people of the whole world to know that I have the greatest husband in the whole world!” One or more of my brothers and sisters were with her all the time. Of course my dad was with her from morning to night every day. They cherished every word she uttered and even wrote them down so we could all share them. My youngest brother Bob took it especially hard. He was just sobbing and sobbing by her bedside. Her protective mothering instincts were still an active part of her. After seeing how hard it was on him, she became adamant about him leaving. “Go home! Get out of here! Enough! Enough of this! I don’t want you to see me like this!” She was actually yelling. She was trying to protect him from the pain. Later, she held Bob’s hand and said, “I will show you by the strength of my hand that I want you out of here.” She squeezed as hard as she could, showing amazing strength. When my sister Mary told her that they wanted to be with her, she sighed and said, “Oh, boy.” Later Mary said, “Mom, we owe you so much. How do you repay someone for a lifetime of love?” In a weak voice, Mom replied, “You don’t owe me anything.” Another time she softly said, “We’ll be together forever.” I hope that’s true. She uttered words of love and caring whenever she spoke saying things like, “You’re beautiful; I’ve always loved you; you’ll be fine.” Once she kept repeating the word love, love, love. So Mary asked, “Do you want everyone to know that you love them, Mom? Is that what you’re trying to say? Do you want me to tell everyone that you love them?” Her eyes widened and she nodded her head up and down. Then she said, “Always stay together….all nine.”

Before Mom passed away Mary was crying and hugging her. With her face so close to Mom’s she was able to hear the words she whispered ever so softly, “Don’t cry.”

I’m going to miss my mom so much. Right after I received the news of her death I can remember looking around outside and thinking to myself, “The whole world looks different without a mother.”

It will never be the same without Mom. I’ll never be the same. Our eight-year-old son, Josh summed it up best with a note he wrote. It read, “I love you Grandma. I wish you didn’t have to die.”

The Van Kirk Family, 1979