Architects of a New Dawn

We’d like to show the side of the world you don’t normally see on television.

While I know my mom’s best years are well behind her---
And I know that each year is a blessing---
I realize that I’ve been graced to witness a different perspective of life through her.
A perspective that I will take with me when she is gone.

She and I have grown very close over the past 9 years, and I know that I am blessed to be her daughter.
There has rarely been a doubt (except when I was a teenager) that she loves me.
The knowledge of her unconditional love has provided me with the most amazing comfort, happiness and peace.

My mom is the youngest of three and her brother died many, many years ago.
That left my mom, and her older sister Harriet.
They were always very close, despite a 5 year difference in age.

They had almost the same number of children, mostly boys for both of them---

I’ll never forget how I found out my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother, Paul.
I was home sick from school one day when I was in the 6th grade.
I’d already noticed that her belly was a bit larger than normal, and figured she might be pregnant.

My mom and her sister were on the phone chatting about soap operas, when the conversation changed.
I heard my mom say, “The doctor said this one is going to be bigger than the others.”

My head must have turned to look at her, because the conversation quickly changed back to discussing Rachel on Another World.

About a month later, I was summoned into my parent’s bedroom---
And they told me they had something to tell me.
It was supposed to be a bird ‘n the bees discussion---
But I told them I already knew she was pregnant, and that stopped them dead in their tracks!
Both were surprised that I knew and I was able to circumvent the Big Discussion for a while!

I couldn’t keep my desire to have a baby sister from them.
With each birth prior to that, she’d presented me with baby brother after baby brother.
And I just knew this time would be different.
It wasn’t, and when Paul was brought home from the hospital, I loved him to pieces!

About a year later, my Aunt Harriet gave birth to a Down’s syndrome baby.
In those days, parents were encouraged to institutionalize these children---
And the doctors suggested that to my aunt and uncle.
They wouldn’t hear of it.

When they were told their daughter wouldn’t survive, they didn’t give up hope.
When they were told she would never be able to chew or swallow---
They worked with nurses and specialists to overcome that obstacle to survival.

When they were told she would never walk or talk, they worked with physical therapists, daily----
And-----they had faith.
My cousin walked and talked.
They spared no expense, and their hopes, prayers, and hard work--- helped them to endure.
And that strength enabled my cousin to thrive.

And while my cousin had many obstacles to overcome in life---
And while others may have given in to the so called wisdom of the doctors---my aunt and uncle’s goal, I believe, was to insure that my cousin would have a productive and happy life, when her parents were gone.

Fast forward many, many years----
My aunt and uncle moved to Texas, and my mother and her sister had to make do with a long distance relationship. My mom and dad visited them several times over the years because traveling with my cousin was not easy.

It was on one such trip, long before cell phones, that I received the word that my mom’s older brother had died. Frantically, I tried to get in touch with my parents, they were on the road, and no one had their hotel information, so we waited for them to call us.

They received the word when they were about halfway to Texas, and I later found out that my mom and aunt made the decision to say their goodbyes to their brother, by being together, as they had planned.
How hard that must have been for them both.

Five years after that, my dad died.
At that time, through the grief, I wondered how my mom would fare.
She had always seemed so dependent on my dad, so connected to him.
The thought crossed my mind, how would she survive without him?
I began to see her in a different light---she began to make a life for herself, and provided an incredible example of grace, humor and dignity---when faced with the loss of her life partner.

She has endured all.

I’ve marveled at her ability to do this, to endure---
And to remain who she is, and what she is---for all these years.
And, I realize that it is her connection to the people she loves, in her life.
I have rarely heard her express fear---
I have rarely heard her express hopelessness---
When those uncertain times have entered her life, or our lives---as her children---
Her words have been prayers of faith, and of hope, and of love.
My mother has spoken of allowing, accepting and knowing that love endures.

Over the past several years, her health has declined a bit---
And her mind loses the words she wants to use to express what she wants to say.
She would update me on my aunt---who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 5 years ago, and the resulting loss in her vitality and her will.

At times my mom’s only connection to her sister, was through my uncle, whose health has remained incredible, despite him being in his late 80’s and then into his 90’s.
Together, she and my uncle would schedule phone calls---so that she could maintain a relationship with her sister.

As I have listened to my mom, in our hours and hours talking on the phone---a different image of her has emerged.

She told me 5 years ago, that she and her sister had said their good byes.
They knew they would most likely never have the opportunity to visit with each other.
When I heard that, I was filled with both sadness, and wonder.
They had said their good byes----it sounded so final, and yet not.

My aunt has had fewer and fewer moments of clarity, as the years have passed.
And my mom would say to me, “I just try to make her laugh. I talk with her about when we were kids and all the funny things my mom and dad did and said.”

About a year ago, mom told me, “I always made her laugh when we were growing up and I write those memories down so that I don’t forget to talk about them when I speak to her. I just want her to laugh and enjoy our conversations.”

At the same time, she told me, “I don’t think she knows who I am anymore.”

I wondered what that must feel like to my mom. Her only remaining sister doesn’t know who she is…

Doesn’t know who she is…

Our conversations would then be about my uncle and all that he did---
He was my aunt’s sole caretaker---
He remained vital, despite his increasing years and my aunt’s declining memory and health.

A few weeks ago, came the news---my uncle had died.
But not before he had settled my aunt in a nursing home.
She had been confined to a wheelchair for quite some time, and she had begun to suffer with pain.
No longer able to control her pain at home, he made the decision to move her to a place where her medications could be monitored, so that she wouldn’t suffer as much with the pain she had been enduring.

He was 94 and had been driving my aunt to her doctors, grocery shopping--- driving to see his daughter (the one with Down’s syndrome) who was comfortably settled and leading a productive life several hours away.

It was as if he had tied up all the loose ends, and was ready to go.

In our conversations since then, when I’ve tried to get an idea of how this must be impacting my mother---
My mom tells me of her lost connection to her sister.
She has a list of my aunt’s children, and her plans to call them to make sure her sister is being visited and cared for---

There’s a tone of sadness in her voice when we speak of her sister---
And something else—

I realize that my aunt must be mostly out of it, just from what my mom has told me over the last 6 months or so---
My mom said to me, the last time we spoke a few days ago---
“If she’s happy, then I’m happy. Do you know what I mean?”

It hit me as amazing, so amazing that I wrote it down.
A simple wish---and a simple result.

"I just want her to be happy. If she’s happy---then I’m happy."

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