Sounds strange, when I type those words, “I’m an orphan,” but it’s true, here on earth anyway. It was only two months ago that I wrote about the anniversary of my dad’s passing twenty years previous. Five days (and twenty years) after he left this world, Mom joined him and all of her other family members and friends who had gone on before her.
Mom was a unique lady. Born legally blind, she battled with extremely limited vision her whole life, yet it never stopped her. She struggled with learning the best she could in the lower grades, and finally when she reached high school, finished her education at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in New York City.
There, Mom learned how to read and write Braille with more skill than most of us acquire in reading print. She put that ability to work for others when she became a certified Braille Transcriber, a volunteer position that numbered only somewhere around ten thousand in the country at the time.
My sister and I spent hours at the kitchen table, reading to her as she opened up the world of learning to high school students by transcribing textbooks into Braille. Each word, each capitalization, each punctuation mark, each new paragraph, each new subheading had to be read into the text so it could be accurately entered on the Braille page.
Mom had an extraordinary gift of hospitality. Whether it was a neighbor dropping by for a cup of coffee and a sample of her latest home-baked goodie, or a crowd of fifty gathering for a holiday to celebrate and listen to Dad bring the piano keys alive, she always had just what a person would desire in the way of food, drink, and laughter.
She lived independently for fifteen years after Dad passed, until a chronic lung disease rendered her incapable of doing so, and she moved into an assisted living facility. There, she faced perhaps her greatest challenges, dealing with restricted breathing, always tied to an oxygen tube (never a smoker), and the sometimes unbearable pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Still, she found ways to brighten the day of others with a smile, a story, a joke, or a compliment.
Despite her physical limitations, Mom always remembered a birthday, an anniversary, a special occasion with a card, a letter, or a phone call. Despite her poor vision, she even entered the world of technology with her own laptop. She became proficient at email on a screen enhanced so big that what she viewed at any one time, most of us would see in the dimensions of a postage stamp on our screen.
Mom’s passing was totally expected, but so much harder to deal with than I had anticipated it would be. She was the matriarch of our family, the last in a long line of aunts, uncles, aunts-in-law and uncles-in-law for my cousins. Family members I have never even met have been in touch, and I so wish I had asked Mom while she was still here, who they were, how I’m related to them, and how close she was with them.
Losing your second parent, and I don’t care how old you are, makes you an orphan. All the strong bonds that entail physical visits and letters and phone calls that held you together suddenly become as nebulous as keepsakes and photographs and memories, fragile as threads of silk.
I know Mom is in Heaven, sitting at the feet of Jesus, marveling over the amazing splendor she can now see with perfect vision. She is free of pain, and I have no doubt she has even met some of those students who learned so much from the books she transcribed into Braille five decades ago.
Mom left behind her love of people, hundreds of recipes, enough inspirational literature to fill a small library, and an abiding faith that sustains me through the sorrow of separation.
Miss you, Mom!