A few weeks ago when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and it was pretty clear that I would soon have to live without her daily phone calls, I told Mimi that I felt like a frame without a photograph.
Then, after mum had passed on Easter, I was putting together a photo collage for the viewing and there was one picture that mum absolutely loved. It was a picture of her and pap on a cruise. I pulled that picture out of the frame to make it the centerpiece of the collage.
And then it hit me, in front of me was a frame without a photograph.
I started to cry, realizing that my words had come true. Was that to be the future? A frame without a photograph? Would that be how each of us will feel as time goes on?
I decided to press onward and get the collage together.
As I put the collage together, I realized that the picture had to come out of the frame; not because of making space for new memories, but because the frame was now too small.
As the collage started to come together piece by piece, picture by picture, the full screenshot of mum became more evident.
Mum burst out of the frame and became a much larger word than picture.
She became a legacy.
If you will allow me to, I would like to go section by section and give to you a little bit of the legacy of my mum.
In the upper left corner is mum as a young woman. She was beautiful. We see her high school yearbook picture, graduation photo, and blocked by glare, we see her at the place she loved the most, the bowling alley.
Mum loved bowling and she was really good! She taught me how to bowl. I used to bowl in leagues and she would come to every game. After each game she would give me tips on becoming better. It wasn’t unheard of for her to bowl well into the 200s.
Moving into the lower left corner of the collage, we find the history of mum and pap. There are a couple different wedding photos. She is in her original wedding dress in one of the photos. On the far right of this section is when mum and pap reaffirmed their vows. Then there are other photos. We see a pic of pap smoking his pipe, holding on to mum. We see them dancing. We see them at the Westinghouse/Northrop Grumman retirement dinner when my dad retired with over 30 years of service to the same company. They had a picture of them taken that night.
Mum loved pap. A few days before she died, we were talking on the phone and she said that she doesn’t know how she ended up with the best man in the world. You see, mum had a tough past. She was married before my dad. It was a physically abusive relationship that led her to take my brother in the middle of night and hop a bus away. Then she found my dad.
The way my dad explained it to me last night was that she was managing the bowling alley. He would go in there with the guys and bowl on league night. After time, they started talking and hit it off. They would meet up before league night and bowl a few games together. She would always win. Not because my dad would let her, but because she was crazy good! He would bowl in the mid 100s and she would bowl in the low to mid 200s.
Then it happened.
He won a game.
So, right before the league night started, she got on the loudspeaker and proclaimed over the entire bowling alley that “If Fred Noble’s team wins tonight, he will wear a skirt.” Well, that was it, every team tried their hardest to lose.
After dad told me that story, I realized just how much he loved my mom. In a couple days would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. As he and I sat and reminisced about mum last night, he would spend almost the entire time smiling.
He was remembering all the good times.
Not once since the death of my mom have I seen him without a smile.
He knows he was a very lucky man. He had an amazing wife.
In the upper center of the collage is two of mom’s favorite things: her mother and her jobs. My mom had an amazing mother, which is probably where she learned her skills to be an amazing mom. I know for a fact it is where she learned to be an amazing cook and baker!
When my grandma, her mom, was diagnosed with cancer, she came to live with my parents who took care of her along with hospice. One of the really cool things about that is that the same hospice nurse that took care of my mom’s mom is the same one who took care of my mom. Over 20 years ago, a fairly new hospice nurse named Michelle came to the house to take care of grandma. She was there until the end. My mom would rave about how great she did.
20 some years later, that same nurse walked in the door of my mom’s house. My dad explained it as “an old homecoming.” He said they held on to each other for what seemed like forever and just cried until they could cry no more.
Then there are pictures of her at work. When I was in school, she would work in the cafeteria. Not only was I not really the smartest kid out there (2.2 GPA in high school and 2.6 GPA in college, thankfully I got a 3.5 in seminary), but I was also a little trickster. I liked to have fun. My mom worked in every school so she could keep an eye on me.
Honestly, it didn’t work that well. I still was a trickster.
When I graduated high school, I told my mom that she was not allowed to work at the college that I was attending.
Moving into the upper right of the collage there are a lot of pictures of mum having fun, usually with someone else.
You see, mum loved people more than she loved herself. She always treated others better than herself and lived a servant’s life. But she knew how to cut loose from time to time.
She absolutely loved to go to Ocean City, Maryland. It was her absolute happy place. I can understand why it is probably one of my favorite places in the world as well. Every year we would go down and stay at the Santa Maria, which I don’t believe exists anymore. She would never go down in the summer. She always said it was too crowded. Her favorite time, and mine as well, is early October. She and pap would sit on the deck of the hotel and just watch people.
That was her favorite pastime. She loved people-watching.
She said she would make up stories in her mind as to what those people were doing and why they were doing it. I really think it is because of her that I get my creativity.
I know the picture doesn’t do it justice, but in the top right of the above picture my mom has my dad on a dog leash. I really have no clue what is going on here. If anyone has the story to that, please share. My dad seems clueless (perhaps intentionally) about it.
Then there is the picture of my two kids with them when they were young. My mom loved both Matt and Kenzi. When Kenzi was born, she was the daughter that my mom never had. The first few years of her life, Kenzi spent a lot of time with mum and they bonded tightly. Those two were inseparable.
When Matt came along, even through all of the problems that Matt has had with being lovable, mum never gave up on him. Matt was always the strong-willed and stubborn child. If it wasn’t his way, he would shut you out. He still does to this day. But mum never gave up on him. She continued to love him and pray for him to turn around and have his heart feel again. She always knew how to make him smile, even when he didn’t want to.
The final corner shows what mum loved best, family. On her birthday, April 1st, this year she cooked a full dinner for us even though she was in intense pain. She would have it no other way. She told us it was the last meal she would ever make us, as if she knew.
She loved having everyone around the table.
And she absolutely loved the big family we had become. As a divorced dad with 2 kids of my own and adding a wife and 2 other full time kids and 2 other grown kids to the mix, she loved being able to love on people again. She loved being surrounded by those she loved. She loved my dad, me, my wife Mimi, Ryan, Matthew, Kenzi and Jacob.
Right before the viewing, my dad met with each person in the family individually to tell them words that mum wanted told to them. I have no clue what was said to each person. I just know what was said to me.
And it fills my heart to know it.
So now we are back to the original photo that got me thinking about this. My mom’s favorite picture.
But notice something, it is not a frame without a photograph. It is a photograph without a frame. The picture is framed by other pictures. And each of those pictures are framed by others. And all those photos together are framed by memories that we have of mum.
And what that leaves us is not a single snapshot of a person who died of cancer, it leaves us a description of the legacy of great woman. A woman who deserves to be celebrated and called blessed.