October 23, 2021

I remember Mama

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” — Shannon Adler

Mom with her great-grandson Andres

Five years ago yesterday I lost my beloved mother. Ida Mae Wingren Allee, the daughter of a Swedish immigrant, was 95 years old when she passed to the next life.

Until that day, she was my steady rock, even in her last months when she was in a nursing home. Mom was always my biggest support and confidant. She never gave up on me even when all seemed hopeless.

What I remember most about her was her strength. She was made of steel, fired in the mill of a difficult childhood.

When my dad died in 1997, I thought she would join him quickly. They were very close and interdependent. But she rallied after a period of grief and enjoyed her friends and independence.

What she taught me

Mom was a real estate agent and a firm believer in home ownership. She convinced me to buy my first house when I was 27 and I’ve owned several since then. Financially, it is the best thing that ever happened to me.

She also encouraged me to do and be whatever I wanted and never imposed her own dreams on my life. She supported me when I moved far away to pursue a career as a journalist, even though she wanted me to stay closer.

And another thing – she was very frugal. A child of the Great Depression, she didn’t waste food or become much of a consumer of goods. She took care of what she had and refused to throw things away, even when they had lost their usefulness. Despite her penchant to hold onto things, she kept a clean and orderly home.

After she died

A few months after Mom died, I did an update on my laptop – you know, the kind where some invisible force performs software changes while you twiddle your thumbs?

When the update finished, I had a new home screen picture. It was of Mom holding her great-grandchild Andres. I don’t know how that picture popped up, other than to conclude that Mom, wherever she is, is still watching over me.

That screen shot is still there all these years later, but the image is blurry now, like Mom is letting go a little. Every once in a while she comes back into sharp focus.

As part of my grieving process, I wrote a letter to Mom, thanking her for her example and support. I told her I missed our weekly trips to the grocery store and to Schlotzky’s for lunch, where we always split a medium sandwich, bag of chips and a brownie. I missed going to church with her on Sundays.

I still miss her terribly, but I know she’s in a better place and free from the physical pain she suffered in her final years. Rest in peace, Mom. You deserve it.


Writing spark

My favorite theologian Henri Nouwen writes about living a life that keeps giving even when we pass away. My mom lived that kind of life. It’s hopeful, healing and helpful to remember those we’ve lost in the light of the gifts they bestowed on us.

Write a letter to someone you have lost. Maybe it’s a parent or sibling or spouse. Maybe it’s a friend. Be sure to mention the specific experiences you had and the attributes that you cherish about that person. Talk about the gifts they gave you and the lessons they helped you learn. Maybe you need to reveal in the letter some burden you carry. Just write whatever comes.


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