If you were asked to create an experience that would define your mom, what would you do? For me, I would pull out my favorite devotional readers, pack my chocolate and coffee (and maybe some oranges), and head out to the beach, just an hour or so before sunset. Set a beach chair near enough to the water you can see the definition but far enough away you aren’t going to get wet. If you have a big bunch of flowers and fruit from an amazing home garden, it further represents things that make me “think of mom.” Gaze out at the ocean, and watch the waves form, with the sun hitting them just-so making the crest glow. I don’t have many pictures of me and my mom together ( the curse of my being the family photographer), so this picture is one that makes me think of my mom AND her mom, who had a collection of paintings of the ocean with the sun lighting the waves just-so. I grabbed it from the passenger seat in a moving car, so it’s not exactly professional quality, but it immediately brings my grandma to mind.

My mom and I don’t seem very similar when people first meet us. She’s nicer than I am, I’m more know-it-all (even if I’m not intending to be). She looks much younger than her actual age and I’ve never looked younger than my years. She tans, I’m as fair as Snow White. She has decorated a part-time apartment she’s lived in for less than a year, I have yet to hang pictures in the house I’ve lived in for six years. (Note: after three years I hung the frames, some of which changed orientation so have sideways pictures in them… or empty spots where they’re waiting for pictures.) She cuts heads off in photos, and I’m a professional photographer. (She usually laughs at her ability to cut people’s heads off… so don’t think I’m criticizing her!)

But for all of our differences, I have inherited quite a few things from her: the addiction to coffee, love of good chocolate, appreciation of art, a love for the ocean, gardening ability (when I actually have the time to do it), loyalty, sticking through the hard stuff, ability to care for those we love in difficult circumstances, an optimism about others (even when others prove us wrong), standing up for truth even when it’s uncomfortable, being a wife who supports her husband, frugal living, love for reading, ability to appreciate people where they are, opening our home at any hour for anyone who needs us. There are so many more things I’ve learned from her, but these are the ones which come to mind right now. So many of these things are ones my grandma (mom’s mom) also shared.

One year ago on May 12, my mom’s mom finished her fight with dementia and passed into glory. Through the last few years of my grandma’s life, my mom was the main caregiver, the family member who coordinated care and appointments and all of the many, many things that having a family member who is living their end days requires. As she was doing that, I was living an almost exactly converse experience with Littlest. So many times we would talk on the phone and realize how parallel our lives were, even as Littlest was starting his life and my grandma was finishing hers. My mom was such an example of perseverance in the midst of difficulty— the really ugly thing about dementia is it changes the person you know. My grandma was not the woman I recognize as my grandma those last couple years. She had turned into someone who would be physically combative, who would say mean things. My lovely grandma who passed down the love of gardening and Spurgeon to my mom and me, who was vivacious and hospitable, who I am the most like (if I’m gonna be honest, she was a strong personality, loud and bright and fun and the Big Mama to the needy, and I love that I inherited those things from her), who was full-bore for Christ. My mom lost her mom and all the beautiful things she was years before my grandma passed away, so in some ways her passing was a relief, but I know Mother’s Day is difficult when you have a mom who is not there.

So on this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my mom, and her mom, and the fact that I can pass on the “best of” things to my children, while also being honest and truthful about the “worst of” things and teaching them to overcome those. My mom taught me that.

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