The Toughest Woman I’ve Ever Known… My Mom

Joyce Maxine Hammond

Joyce Maxine Hammond

I’ve dreaded this day for a long time, the day I would say goodbye to Mom – to both my parents, actually.  Just 15 months ago I said my final farewell to Daddy. I now begin a new chapter in my life; it is going to be very different.

My mother was the toughest person I have ever known, probably ever will. I lost count, but over the last year she had a least a dozen surgeries and was hospitalized or in the ER many, many times. You know you are spending too much time at the hospital when the parking attendants know your first name.

Mom endured dialysis for her decimated kidneys three times a week and hated every minute. But like the Energizer bunny, she got up, dusted herself off, and trudged back to the center faithfully.

Then a few weeks ago she faced another health challenge that required major surgery. “That’s it. I’m done,” she said I’m ready to go.” Mom always lived life on her own terms.

Her last day on earth was grueling; she fought hard to stay and it was painful to watch her gasping for every breath. After more than twenty hours at her bedside with my sister, Julie, my own body gave out and my emotional anxiety turned physical. I was so sick, in fact, that Mom’s caregivers suggested I go home. They thought perhaps Mom wanted that, and that’s why she was hanging on so long.

Hesitantly, I agreed. Twenty minutes later, Julie called to tell me Mom was gone. I believe that was Mom’s final gesture as a mother, to protect me from those last few minutes. We’d been through a lot together, and she wanted my big sister to say the final goodbye.

Mom and I spent a lot of time together this past year and I got to know her as a person, rather than just a mother. We laughed and shared secrets, chatting on the phone like teenage girlfriends. Friday was hair day; she’d get dolled up while I sat across the street sipping a steaming vanilla latte in my hand. We had fun lunch dates and checked out some new restaurants and dishes. Our favorite was Olive Garden’s Chicken Gnocchi soup with their famous salad. We always sat in the same section so La Lo could be our waiter. He loved us… mostly because Mom was such a great tipper!

My mother was raised on a farm in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Hearing her tell stories about those days emphasized my suburban wimphood and I was amazed by the daily challenges she faced. Imagine trudging out in the middle of the night in -30 degree temperatures to use the outhouse and then cleaning yourself with the pages of a Sear’s catalog? I sure can’t. That’s the kind of stuff courage is made of. My biggest hardship has been sitting in a car without heated seats.

After she graduated high school, Mom made a tremendously bold move. She packed up her tiny suitcase and headed to the train station bound for the bright lights of the big city of Minneapolis. She had $40 in her pocket. After moving in with her sister, Lorrayne, Mom got a job at Dayton’s department store making signs. It wasn’t long before she met and married my father and their adventure began.

Although I am grieving for her loss, I am also celebrating because Mom is in heaven where there are no more surgeries, her tri-weekly trips to dialysis have been blotted from her memory, her excruciating back pain is gone, and she no longer needs a walker to get around. She is no doubt skipping, singing at the top of her lungs (she was never known for her voice), and standing in awe of her new surroundings. She is probably playing Canasta with Grandpa Art, eating one of Grandma Alvilde’s caramel rolls, and reminiscing with my dad.

We don’t know exactly what heaven is like, but I’d like to think it is similar to this excerpt from the novel Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. It is about a Chinese Christian who is martyred for his faith:

Quan gazed across the horizon, overwhelmed with hundreds of colors he’d never seen or, if he’d seen them, his eyes had been incapable of distinguishing their subtleties. He gasped at what he saw, so enthralled in it all he didn’t hear himself gasp. He had never been so lost in something, so unaware of himself, so immersed in delight. The pure air of heaven filled his lungs.

He saw horses and deer and dogs and cats and rabbits and squirrels and badgers and hedgehogs. Until now he’d never thought of animals celebrating or lost in joy, but that’s exactly the impression he got when seeing them run and frolic and play with each other and with people.

He saw trees that cast light instead of shadows. Some of them hung heavy with citrus fruits, picked and eaten freely by passersby. Li Quan remembered his favorite fishing spot and climbing hill and the flowers of the meadow where he and Ming had picnicked on their honeymoon.

The best parts of that other world, he realized, had been but sneak previews of this one. Compared to what he now beheld, the world he’d come from was a land of shadows, colorless and two-dimensional. This place was fresh and captivating, resonating with color and beauty. He could not only see and hear it, but feel and smell and taste it. Every hillside, every mountain, every waterfall, every frolicking animal in the fields seemed to beckon him to come join them, to come from the outside and plunge into the inside. This whole world had the feel of cool water on a blistering August afternoon. The light beckoned him to dive in with abandon, to come join the great adventure.

…“I want to lose myself in you and in this world of yours, like one drop in the great river that becomes the vast waterfall,” [Quan said to Jesus].

“You will. All your life you have longed for a person and a place. I am that person. This is that place. You will lose yourself in me and it, and in so losing yourself, you will for the first time find yourself.”

My mother has finally found her true self in her new heavenly home. I am going to miss her terribly.

Until next time,



Posted in A Writer's Life, Aging, Random Thoughts, Relationships and tagged , , , .