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It’s between giving birth & the final bow that mothers shine bright

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POSTED May 9, 2010 2:15 a.m.
I’ll never forget the last time I hugged Mom.

I couldn’t get used to the physical frailty that came with being an 82-year-old who was recovering from a series of strokes.

But even though I could feel the bones, the same arms that once rocked me to sleep were as strong as ever in what they radiated - love.

It is the same hug that had given me comfort, joy, a safe haven, and strength over the years. The grip may not have been there, but the spirit was as strong as ever.

It isn’t easy watching your Mom grow old.

I didn’t admit that she was getting older until about 18 months before her death after a series of strokes managed to do what the harsh realities of life could never do - knock her down to the mat.

But even though she tired easier, talking of being cold on 85-degree days and talked much slower, she still rolled with the punches.

Mom was raised on a working ranch. She did indeed walk four miles to school one-way until she was old enough to share riding a horse with her twin sister. She survived the Depression, World War II (including a stint working in Firebaugh as a telephone operator), four child births, raising four kids as a single mom when Dad died 15 months after Mary was born, and a vicious beating at the hands of two muggers who slammed her jaw with a baseball bat.

Never once did she complain about the hand she had been dealt.

I used to joke that I inherited my bunions and my poor eye sight from Mom. I’d always quickly add “and my wonderful personality too.”

Funny, but what was meant as a joke has quite a bit of wisdom in it although I didn’t realize it as I hugged her for the last time on a late winter day some five years ago.

Bad comes with the good. It’s the way it is. You can dwell on it and let it stop you from living the fullest life you can or else you accept the negatives you can’t change and build on the good.

There have been hundreds of Mt. Whitneys I’ve scaled in my life thanks to Mom. There have been royal pains to deal with and physically exhausting times as well. I thought about giving up when the comfort level was getting mighty thin as it did after a near fatal fall seven summers ago when I hiked the real Mt. Whitney. But I rarely have. Mom had one simple rule that was steadfast regardless of the situation. You don’t run away from a challenge.

It didn’t mean that as one who wasn’t exactly blessed with athletic skill that I should keep playing Little League until I mastered the game or stay in Cub Scouts until I was an Eagle Scout. It simply meant you had to see the thing through once you started it whether it was for a season or a year. Real growth is as much about trying and failing and not walking away at the first sign of adversity as it is about meeting success.

It is a philosophy that Mom lived by. It also helps explains how at 82 she was refusing to let a stroke get the best of her.

I’m not going to lie. It ripped into my heart watching her as she used my grandmother’s cane that was hand-carved and lacquered by a relative in the 1880s to get up and down steps and to walk in public. She refused to be even 10 percent dependent on it at home. It was the same tenacity my grandmother had. I have little doubt that my Mom benefited from the example and life that her mother led. It is perhaps a gift to generations in the future that eclipses anything a gene pool can provide.

It’s difficult to accept the fact Mom has been gone now for five Mother’s Days.

I catch myself every once in awhile wondering what Mom would think with what I’m doing to the house or how she’d react to some news.

I find those moments comforting in a way realizing that what she taught me, what wisdom and humor she shared, and how she lived her life is still very much alive in not just myself but also in what I try to impart to my grandkids.

It’s one of life’s absolutes that you can’t escape: Once you start the overture, the show begins to end.

But no matter how glorious that start is or how heartbreaking the final curtain might be, what is really important is what goes on in between.

And that is where moms really shine.
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