Sunday, August 25, 2019

From Leaves to Roots

I've been thinking about family trees a lot lately, as recently there was a major change to mine. After 82 years of life, my mother passed away.

Family trees are a wonderful snapshot, detailing generations of connected lives. They capture a moment in time, a piece of history, but in reality they are constantly changing. Over the course of our lives, we start out as leaves, but we end up as roots.

My mom had been battling Parkinson's Disease for many years, and month by month it ate away at her strength, her appetite, her speech, and her clarity of thought. Each time I visited with her, it was shocking to see the changes, and I would find myself crying in my car as I drove down the highway, two hours home. I have been grieving for my mom for months.

But the visits were also precious. I told her about all my travels and the amazing places I got to see. I had photos printed of my children, and grandchildren, and my trips, and more. We went through the pictures one at a time, and I would tell her the stories associated with each, and then leave the photos there with her to look at anytime she wanted.

I held her hand, and rubbed her back, and told her how beautiful she looked. One time she asked for a chocolate Klondike bar from the freezer, even though she couldn't remember what it was called, and I sat with her, feeding her ice cream bite by bite, something I am sure she did for me when I was little.

On one visit in particular we were talking about family. My granddaughter had just been born, her great granddaughter. I was showing pictures, and discussing children and grandchildren, talking about the family tree. My mom was more confused than normal this visit, forgetting words and trying to connect thoughts. But for a few minutes she seemed to find clarity.

She looked at me and said, "Love never ends, does it?"

I said, "No, Mom, it never does."

I went on to talk to her about everything I had been thinking about family trees.

We all start out as leaves. We begin as babies. A new bud on the end of a twig, off of a branch, coming from the trunk. A great grandchild of a grandchild of a child of a parent.

But over time that changes. We have children of our own, and we become a twig.

Then they have children, and we move to be a branch. A grandparent.

Then if we are fortunate, we see great grandchildren born, and we become a trunk. A mighty trunk with branches and twigs and leaves reaching up to the sky.

My mom was that trunk. She had six children, 16 grandchildren, and 29 great grandchildren.

But eventually, there is one more change. In time, for all of us, we become roots. At the end of our life we move below the ground, no longer to be seen.

But love never ends, does it?

As roots feed a tree with water and nutrients, we still live on through the people we leave behind.

My mom passed away, but she is not really gone. She is the roots now for my family tree, and she lives on through me, my children, and my grandchildren.

Her unconditional love. Her gentleness. Her eternal optimism. Her kind words. Her willingness to listen. Her acceptance of everyone.

I told her that as we sat there. No, Mom, love never ends. The way you loved me, is how I love my children, and how they love their children, and that love will continue on.

Now I am a trunk. My dad passed away when I was eleven. My mom passed away as I am fifty. I am now the trunk, with my children and grandchildren branching off and reaching up.

And someday I too will move below the ground and become roots for my family. My hope, my goal is to love others the way my mom loved me.

Three days before my mom passed away I was able to speak to her one last time. I was in Texas for a training, but my sister had come up from Florida to be with Mom for a few days, as we knew she was getting close to the end.

My mom had stopped eating and drinking. She could no longer speak. She slept most of the day, waking up only briefly from time to time.

My sister texted me to let me know she had woken up, and that if I could call, she would hold the phone up to my mom's ear. I called right away and spoke to her for several minutes.

I told her about my travels, and made a few jokes. I told her I was sorry she wasn't feeling well.

Then I told her I knew she couldn't speak, but that it was ok, she didn't have to say a thing. She had been telling me she loved me in so many ways for my entire life. It is one thing I have always known without a doubt.

Thank you Mom for always loving me, for always being there, for everything you did for me. I will do my best to pass on your love.

I love you.

I miss you.

[In memory of my mom, Linda Lee Campbell, July 18, 1937 - August 19, 2019]