Shell Museum executive shares joys and loss of mom
(Editor’s note: Kathleen Hoover, Public Relations Manager for the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum wrote this piece about the treasured relationship between her and her mother who passed away last month. Mother and daughter shared a love of the sea and life.)
Dec. 27, 2009
“Grandma, what makes the waves? Why are there so many shells on the beach and where do they come from,” inquired inquisitive six-year old Spencer.
Celia, almost three, was content building a sand castle. “Grandma, can you make it pretty,” she asked along with, “can you find a star fish?” At 11 years of age, Amber displayed strong mentoring/mothering skills, lovingly building a moat and delighting her cousin with seemingly endless trips to the waters edge filling buckets so the moat would have water and Grandma began making windows out scallop shells and demonstrating the art of “sqiggle-swaggles” a skill first demonstrated by her Mother and Grandmother 56 years ago in Cape May, New Jersey.
Adam, age 13, a future marine biologist, was quick to share a story with his cousin about the huge sea star and countless sand dollars he and Grandma found on this very beach a few weeks ago.
The shutters of my daughters digital cameras hummed in the background as Kara, a public relations professional, and Kelly, an attorney serving as a public defender, captured these precious moments with images soon to be displayed in their creative family scrapbooks.
What a joy, three generations sharing the birth of the savior, the love and importance of family and the awe and intrigue of the natural world. But, something was missing, the fourth generation. On Dec. 12, 2009 my mom “passed away.” The dictionary defines these two words as transferring from one to another
Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled, All I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten, in which he relates that wisdom is not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but rather that is is found in the sand pile you played in during your first year of formal education.
If I wrote a similar expose the title would be, All I really need to know I learned from my parents. Books and school contribute significantly to our education but they don’t teach us many of the most important lessons in life. Faith, the importance of family life, an appreciation for the natural world, a strong work ethic, honesty, integrity, how to deal with pain, suffering and disappointment, parental sacrifice, the value of being a good listener, empathy, expressing kindness and respect for the elderly, the importance of humor and not taking yourself too seriously, the value of unconditional love, an understanding that there are consequences for our behavior, knowing when to let go, these are values I learned from my parents.
As research points out, people remember 90 percent of what they do, 75 percent of what they see and 20 percent of what they hear. The modeling Mom and Dad, (Helene and Gerald Rooney) provided not only for me and my sister but for our entire family and the many lives in the community they touched delivered a far more powerful message than a book, research paper or speech ever could have.
Mom was 14 and Dad 17 when they met in the bowling alley where Dad worked part time. Mom’s necklace broke, falling to the floor. Dad not only picked it up for her but offered to fix it as well. The rest is history. They dated for several years. Dad rode a bus, transferring 3 times’ to travel from Clifton to Fairlawn, New Jersey. He sold his most cherished possession; his horse Mickey, to buy an engagement ring and popped the question at Mon’s senior prom. They were married right after Mom graduated from high school. Their 63 years of marriage, is a testament to the true meaning of unconditional love and “until death us do part.”
Mom was one of the most selfless individuals I’ve ever known. So, when she was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder and shared that she had a special request I was all ears and even before I heard the appeal determination to make it happen had already set in. “I want to die with dignity in my own home,” she shared in a quiet voice. My response was, “your family, we’ll make it happen.” As a nurse, I was certain I had the skills to pull this off. We moved through the health care continuum starting first with simply a home health service then occupational, physical and speech therapy were added. Several months later it became necessary to provide eight hours a week of nurse’s aide coverage. Durable medical equipment was part of the equation. It seemed like a constant parade of walkers, wheel chairs, special assist devices and ultimately a hospital bed. Structural changes came next including ramps, tearing down a bedroom wall to make the shower safely accessible, replacing carpet with wood floors, moving or disposing of large furniture that made wheelchair navigation a challenge, sawing into the lower sink fixture so the wheelchair could roll safely up to the sink, and turning an office into a care providers room, to name a few. Next came 12 hour nurses’ aide shifts and ultimately 24 x 7 live in care and home hospice.
My Dad was Mom’s nurse, friend, husband, cook, and care provider, rarely leaving home the last year or so unless it was to do the grocery shopping or pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy. He lived out the fullest the, “in sickness and in health” portion of the vows they recited so many years ago. Despite that fact that we were incredibly naive when it came to understanding what we had really committed that day more than six years ago, we would do it again in a heartbeat.
The end was like a script from a movie scene. Mom’s head was cradled in my arm, the hands of my Dad and sister and I were intertwined with Mom’s and what had become her theme song, One Day At A Time, played softly in the background. “One day at a time sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking from you. Just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do. Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord help me today, show me the way, one day at a time.” We prayed and told her how much we loved her and what she meant to our lives. My sister and I pledged to take care of my father as well as each other and to carry on with the family where she left off. We gave her permission to leave us and bask for eternity in the light of the savior she loved so dearly and to join for eternity with my older brother who died at birth. That was all it took. Once those thoughts and feelings were shared she opened her eyes for one brief moment, her face glowed with an unmistakable sense of peace. Her eyes lit up more brightly than I’ve ever witnessed and she took one last breath and transitioned from our arms to the arms of her Lord and savior.
We all grieve differently. Dad didn’t feel that he could bear to see all of her cloths and personal effects now when she wasn’t there to enjoy them. My sister and I agreed to go through all of the closets, one of the more difficult assignments received. As I sat on the floor of their bedroom, just 72 hours after her death I was struck by the fact that all of her 81 years of worldly possessions were gone with the exception of her doll and music box collection, cross necklace, wedding and engagement rings, pictures and recipe cards. So if that was gone, what was left?
The memories, the relationships and the impact she and her unfailing faith had on her family, friends and anyone who had the good fortune to spend time with her.
My Mother is one person that can’t be replaced by anyone else. She carried me in her womb for nine months, spent endless sleepless nights caring for me and demonstrated a life time of unconditional love even when I didn’t deserve it, supporting me through the toughest times of my life and celebrating the joys and accomplishments.
Sitting on the beach two days after Christmas, watching the three generations carry on the beach traditions started by my Grandma in 1953 I was reminded of the lyrics from the song “What’s It All About Alfie”
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist,
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing,
When you walk let your heart lead the way
and you’ll find love any day,