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Remembering When: Mom and Dad, I Love You Forever

by | Aug 24, 2021 | Musings | 19 comments

Mom 2019

A visit in October 2019, right before COVID stopped us. Mom loves going out to dinner at favorite restaurants.

I am a product of my parents. The writing, the music, performing, stained glass and wood carving, love of all animals—their gift to me and my two brothers. I’ve written about our “charmed childhood” before. 

I know I’m lucky. And I remember…

Growing up, my parents taught me to avoid asking certain questions in polite conversation. Questions like, “How much money do you make?” or “Who did you vote for?” They considered curse words offensive, but also lazy language. To say “shut up!” or call each other names like “stupid” got us sent to our room to contemplate better ways to converse. So we made up curse words. My favorites included icky-poo-gob-gob, gum-floggit, and farfle-snitch.

July 2021, Mary Jane and Phil Monteith, age 93. Dad finally put on the Aloha shirt I got him…and liked it!

Remembering When

Our parents applauded creativity, celebrated thinking outside the box, and insisted we make Christmas presents for each other—store purchases weren’t nearly as “thoughty” according to Dad. My mom, a brilliant seamstress, could sew anything and created gorgeous embroidery hangings, quilts, and clothes. My dad, an equally brilliant woodworker, designed and built floor-to-ceiling walnut bookcases in the living room, among other projects. So I got dolls dressed up with Mom’s stitch-witchery, and wooden cradles from Dad with a baby-size Mom-made quilt inside.

We weren’t wealthy, far from it, and I know now that “making gifts” was encouraged in part because it saved money. On their first anniversary, Mom made my father a dress shirt. And he made Mom a corner cupboard they still use that contains treasures of a lifetime.

Our kid-made offerings weren’t nearly as accomplished, but learning how to sew and cook, how to create artwork (my brother Laird is a brilliant photographer), write stories (my brother Gene is the real writer), play piano and other instruments – all left their positive mark and informs our adult lives. I remember…

A visit in 2017, Mom loved reading mysteries! She still loves books but we don’t know how much she can read anymore.

Rich in Every Important Way

This middle-class lifestyle felt rich in experience. Our parents designed their house, built it on the banks of the St. Joe river, and we kids had summer-long soap-opera “let’s pretend” games in the undeveloped fields nearby. We built forts out of brambles and had favorite climbing trees, and escaped into the pages of novels from the library or cherished “Weekly Reader” book club selections. We spent hours out in the kayak Dad made with my brothers, or the canoe—I had a favorite “reading tree” across the river where I got lost in stories.

But one rule called us home without fail—we ate dinner at 5 pm every evening, as a family, television off and no reading allowed at the table. We conversed. We updated each other on our day, our challenges, our projects, our disappointments, and successes. Oh, sometimes it devolved into pun-sessions with everyone trying to outdo each other. I remember those days and I miss the laughter.

April 2018, at their granddaughter Erin’s wedding.

Legacy of Learning–and Teaching

Our parents were elementary teachers for 40+ years—Dad taught music, and Mom taught math, science, and all kinds of things. Hundreds of kids remember them fondly as favorite teachers who made a difference. They retired at age 59 and traveled the world, taking artist tours in Paris, visiting Italy, Scotland, England, and more.

Dad followed a dream of studying art and became one of the best-known and accomplished woodblock and pastel artists in his neck of the woods. He volunteered to conduct orchestras at the local community theatre. Mom loved teaching so much she continued to coach kids long after she retired, and in her “spare time” continued creating beautiful quilts. Together, they collected priceless mementos and precious memories.

October 2019 visit, selfie at the restaurant.

And they continued to create. When my brothers married and had kids, Mom and Dad created heirloom gifts: cradles, quilts, baby blankets, a wooden rocking horse, and rocking moose, paintings of the toddlers. Dad painted portraits of myself and my brothers, our spouses, and Mom’s quilted pillows, Christmas tree skirts, and more decorate my home.

93 Years Old and Counting

Fast forward over the years—and our parents are 93 years old, and will celebrate their 65th (?) anniversary in a couple of weeks. COVID prevented me from visiting my folks in Indiana. In late July I got to see them for the first time in nearly two years. My brothers Gene and Laird scheduled a visit at the same time, along with my cousin Gretchen.

We had a glorious reunion in the house Mom and Dad built together. Dad remains as sharp and accomplished as ever, and he’s shouldered the burden—and kept private many of his challenges—of caring for Mom. The bittersweet visit reveal changes none of us kids wanted to face, and that Dad continued to deny.

I held Mom’s hand and listened to her tell the same stories of her love of teaching over and over (without understanding but a few of her words). Once in a while, I caught a glimpse of the articulate, brilliant, passionate Mom who raised me, taught hundreds of students, and who my Dad still adores.

Mom and Dad

Laird made a portrait of our parents a couple of years ago and each of us received one for Christmas. Again…making gifts means the world!

Time Isn’t Always Kind

Last week, after a sudden bout of pneumonia and nearly a week of hospitalization, Dad finally agreed to move Mom to memory care. The doctor gave him no choice and frankly, did all of us a favor. The transition hasn’t been easy for any of us, but especially for Dad. He’s slowly accepting the changes and what needs to happen. We kids struggle to know how to support him and Mom. My brothers, both saints, took time off from work to be with Dad during these tough days. And I support long-distance as best I can and fight the guilt and sadness being far from them engenders.

It breaks my heart when Dad says, “I’ve lived too long…” It’s his turn to have us care for him, but he doesn’t know how. He’s finally open to learning this new thing, though.

I have projects to finish, but I’ve not been able to write. So I sit and stare out windows, call and text pestering my brothers for updates, talk to Dad as often as I can, and… feel so damn sad. And the ugliness I see reported in the news and read on social media between one-time friends makes my throat ache even more.

So I hang on to some of my Mom’s pointed remarks often repeated during my growing up years—rarely welcome at the time. They seem appropriate now more than ever, even if she can no longer articulate them.

Lessons from Mom

“If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all,” and “You wouldn’t have said it if you hadn’t meant it.”

So I scroll past or hide ugly comments, and turn off the television. Words spoken in anger rarely effect change and only hurt all involved. I can’t change anything by spouting ugliness in response—and exposure to such things diminishes me, and suffocates joy.

“You’ll do that when you have time? If it’s important to you, you’ll MAKE time.”

I’m listening, Mom. Today, I’m writing again.

And the last thing Mom said to me on my visit in July, words I actually could understand:

“I love you.”

I Love You Forever!

Mommy, I love you and Dad so much! I pray that you both know that, and how grateful I am that I got to be your daughter. I can’t wait to see you both again.

To my family and my friends, may “I love you” always be on my lips, and among the last words between us.

On October 30, 2021, Mary Jane Monteith passed away after a wonderful life. She leaves behind a devoted husband and adoring children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

My family — L to R: Amy, M, Sherrie, Gene, Dad, Mom, Jodi, Laird. Incidentally, Laird took this brilliant picture at the family gathering celebrating our parents’ anniversary several years ago.

 

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19 Comments

  1. chris

    It is hard when you are so far away from family that you care about. I have heard many people talking about uprooting their lives to move back closer to family since 2020 turned the world upside down. You are lucky to have had a great memory of childhood and wonderful parents. My parents were dysfunctional and I have no good memories then or now.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      I’m so sorry you didn’t have a better experience growing up. I know I am blessed.

      Reply
  2. Andrea

    Amy, you and I had similar upbringings! Although my dad actually taught me the logical side of life, my mom gave me creativity and a love for all life. They are both gone now (my mom died from Covid last year) but we finally got together to spread their ashes a couple of weeks ago. They are now in the Mighty Mississippi where they had their first kiss so many years ago. I know how hard dementia can be and will think of you often.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Oh I’m sorry sorry you lost your mom in such a way. They sound like wonderful parents and I’m glad they are together in such a special place.

      Reply
  3. Linda R

    Amy, sending my love and hugs. I’ll never forget that You, through your writing, taught me how to be a better pet owner. I’ll never ever forget that your Pet First Aid book saved my precious Sam’s life. And now, I know your parents had a hand in your abilities. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay. ❤️🐾🐾❤️

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Now I’m crying again. Thank you!

      Reply
  4. mollystar

    Thank you for sharing this poignant post, Amy. I lost my Mom to Alzheimer’s Disease so I understand some of what you may be feeling. Wrap yourself in those cherished memories and know that your mother always did, and always will, love you. xoxo

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      I’m so sorry for your loss. One of my dear friends has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and is in a memory care facility here. It’s an awful condition. Thank you for your kind words.

      Reply
  5. Carol Kraft

    Amy, My thoughts are prayer are with you. It sounds like there was a lot of love in your family and still is. I had the same kind of parents, but unfortunately they have both passed away and I miss them every day.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      It’s truly a gift to have them. I’m glad you also had wonderful parents.

      Reply
  6. Trish

    Beautifully poignant writing!!! My mother, like yours was a teacher (college chemistry) , developed a rare form of dementia so I took care of her for 11 years until it was necessary for her to go live in a nursing home:
    It is SO sad to watch someone who is very bright lose their ability to speak or read or forget who you are! I can feel your pain…. It’s a visceral pain…. Sensory things help them to connect…: music, drawings, touch…and my mother loved having stuffed animals 🧸 (border collies) to hold. She had 7 altogether… she named them all Drew like our first border collie…. Said it made it easier to call them 😍that way. Cherish every moment which you are. What a wonderful family you have❤️

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thank you Trish. I’m so sorry you also went through similar trials with your mother. Mom has a stuffed dog that my brother and his wife got for her. She also liked holding a babydoll that I found from my childhood, during my last visit in July. Yes, I hold close the wonderful memories and know there’s still time for more to come, despite the challenges.

      Reply
      • Trish

        Everything sensory helps.,, your parents are rich in sensory delights.,, music, Food, books that someone can read to her:”…: scents common to holidays.::once I took Old Spice with me to the nursing home : my father wore Old Spice::: she put it on her arms & slept peacefully that night while I sat quietly nearby…. And animals…. Especially her Drew:::our first border collie. Being a bridge is a very spiritual process…:

        Reply
        • Amy Shojai

          Wonderful suggestions, thanks!

          Reply
  7. Debbie

    Amy, what a beautiful post. As you know, my parents are both gone now and both suffered from memory conditions. It’s a cruel disease, so I know the frustration, sadness, and anger you must be feeling. Writing and talking about it helps.

    You shared a wonderful account of your family, and I can relate to that, too. My parents both loved animals, and we always had cats and dogs in the house. That’s how I became an animal lover. We were both lucky in that way. Animals are a great comfort and, as you know, part of the family, too.

    I’ll keep you in my prayers. Hugs!
    Your friend and fellow pet lover/cat writer,
    Debbie

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thank you for your kind note, Debbie. Yes, it’s a horrible condition, and I’m sorry your parents and you went through this.

      Reply
  8. Franklin Steele

    The best one, yet! No, I mean it…the very best one, yet! Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Wanda

    Amy, my heart is crying for you. But, I also read a lot of joy in this post. Your parents sounded like the type of parents that I wish I had. I never realized, until my daughter mentioned it to me, all the memories I gave my kids growing up. My daughter is sharing with the grandkids, some of her childhood memories plus creating more. In the end, that’s all we have are memories and love.

    Reply

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