Born February 2, 1928, our Mama, Mary Lillis Kelly Lindsay Fleming (mouthful there:) would have been 91 today. Happy heavenly birthday to the wonderful woman I was honored to call my MOM.
Mom lit up like a candle when she danced. She glowed with joy and happiness. It was beautiful for me to watch her, whether dancing in the kitchen or on the dance floor at Johnny Harris with Daddy, I remember an overwhelming sense of love inside me (which always caused little tears to roll down my face) seeing her so ALIVE & happy, as though time had frozen and there was nothing but the two of them dancing. It was mesmerizing for me to watch and I’d get happily ‘lost,’ as an observer in their immersion into their own world. It was as though they were the only two people on the planet.
Now I know that was her spirit all AGLOW and her SOUL ALIVE as she felt the rhythm of the music, moved to the sound of the beat.
In later years, she and Bob, (my stepdad, now in Heaven too) had belonged to the Penguin Club, where they’d dance the night away for years.
As she began to ‘wind down,’ it was apparent that her body could no longer move the way it once had (she was still an avid exerciser at the YMCA until she was 85 years old.) I thought often during this time of a book I loved to read to Kira as a child, “I Love You Forever.” My sister and I had a little tune we put to the line repeated throughout the book, “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as you’re living my baby you’ll be.” In my twenties, I’d reflect on how Mom had once held me as a child, sang songs, said prayers and told me stories. There I was with Kira doing what Mama had once done with me. Even then though, I could never imagine my Mom being so tiny, frail and fragile. The book is so lovely and it is the progression of life, love, roles changing and ultimately the passing of time. TIME…
A few years before she died, she shared she’d had a childhood dream of owning a dance studio, but never pursued it. I heard both regret and sadness in her voice.
At Kira and Arthur’s wedding reception, she sat on the seat of her walker (as if on the sidelines) and was watching us all dance. I saw her upper body twisting and moving to the rhythm of the music that played. I stopped dancing with my friends, walked over to her and said,”Let’s dance Mama,” and I held out my hands to her. She replied with,”I can’t.” (Actually, those were not acceptable words in our home cause ‘you don’t know unless you try.”) I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I’ll hold you while we dance and I won’t let you go.” And so we did and her smile lit up once more and radiated happiness. I saw pure JOY as she danced what would be her last dance in which she celebrated her life, her legacy and the beautiful marriage celebration of her granddaughter Kira to Arthur King. I told Kira this story last week, but left out that one part cause I was already crying so. I’d never thought to share it with her. It was a beautiful dance that I had with my Mama as we celebrated so many layers of love. She was worn out by dancing, but I’ll remember our dance forever.
On the morning before she passed, one of my nieces was able to get there quickly from her home and brought the “I Love You Forever” book. Josephine (her mother and my sister) had loved that book too.
There was a list of people Mom loved that had already passed before her, including one of her sons, her daughter and her husband. She was tired, very tired. She’d told her helper her final night on this Earth, that ‘she didn’t think she was going to make it through this one.’ Then she ate her last meal: a bowl of cereal.
At 10:00 pm at our home I was sound asleep. Our very old and sweet cat, Tigger, crawled up on me and literally gave me a ‘hug.’ I took a quick picture and popped up alarmed, as she had never done that before. I checked the phone for a message or missed call, there was nothing.
Fast forward, her Savannah Hospice nurse called me in am and shared that Mom was unresponsive and I needed to “rally the troops” and we all needed to get there as quickly as we could. I raced out of the bank, believe I sent out a group text and headed straight for my Mama. I climbed up in the bed with her and curled up next to her. Her heart was still beating ever so faintly. I’d already asked the sitter, “what time was it when she became unresponsive?” Her response, “10 pm last night!” Notice the time above our kitty cat gave me my hug.
As Michelle read the book,”I Love You Forever ” to Mama, the years flew by in an instant: my childhood, her dreams, my dreams, her telling me over and over the last few years how proud she was of me, of our family, of how far Rachael had come, of how glad she was that I’d followed my dream of being an artist (she’d been pretty strongly opinionated and insisted I not be an artist when I was in my twenties.) All of these memories raced through my mind and was all jumbled together.
Kira sat in Mama’s mechanical chair and as I lay next to my beautiful Mama who was slipping away, I thought back to the times I’d read, “I Love You Forever ” to Kira. It occurred to me twenty something years had passed and suddenly, there we were, not nightly prayers and story time but the Rosary and ‘good bye’ time. I rubbed her tiny hand and snuggled next to her making sure she was covered by her favorite blanket. As we finished the Rosary (Michelle had been taking her pulse and gently holding her wrist) I heard Michelle whisper that she was gone. Shortly thereafter more nieces and nephews arrived as well as my sweet husband. I’m not sure at exactly what point I became uncontrollably hysterical, but I did come unglued. The reality slapped me in the face, she was gone. It was harder saying goodbye than I thought it would be.
I knew her spirit was free from the confines of her tiny, old and withered body. I dream her soul is fully alive and all AGLOW in Heaven. I smile as I imagine her dancing freely through a field of wildflowers.
Within the last two weeks, we were cleaning out Richard’s side of the closet. We were going through stuff. He just wanted to throw a lot of the paperwork, cards, etc. away. I knew he was overwhelmed. I told him that I didn’t mind going through the piles. I opened one of his Father’s Day cards we’d given him and there was a folded piece of paper in there. I was puzzled as we’d written in his card. I unfolded it and immediately tears welled up in my eyes. It was a letter from my brother Fred years ago and I had no memory of ever seeing it or reading it. His birthday was this past week and my sisters was a few weeks ago. They’d certainly all been on my mind.
I cried happy tears as he even mentioned how proud Daddy would be of all of his grandchildren. I showed Richard, who confirmed he’d never seen it either. I forwarded it to our son Kaelan (he was very close with his Uncle Fred and had worked with him) and he too said it was his first time reading it. Almost tossed in the trash, that letter was a little hidden surprise that I am calling a beautiful treasure: my brother speaking to me one last time as we didn’t get to say goodbye before he died in 2015. I find peace knowing they are all up there together again. Rachael and Richard danced tonight at a beautiful wedding. We all danced. Ashton and I twirled and I smiled as I thought about how much the girls and I love to dance too.
As Ashton used to say in her precious raspy happy childhood voice, I pray to see you ALL “maybe later on another day.” Until then, happy heavenly birthday Josephine, Fred and Mama.