Poor little mama. She could never catch a break. She was the surprise baby that supplanted the youngest brother and he never forgave her for that. She grew up in an angry household. She escaped to work in a factory in Detroit only to meet a very handsome man, elope and have a brief, but disappointing marriage.
Motherhood didn’t work out for her, either. It just wasn’t her thing and one of the wisest things she ever did was give me to my grandparents to raise. By the time I came around, things had mellowed out a bit so it wasn’t quite as hard as she’d had it.
One thing she did do very, very well. She was a hard worker. She worked for a major retailer, slowly climbing up the ranks in the bookkeeping department. Women didn’t hold managerial positions in her time, but she did make it up to office supervisor. She gave everything she had to that company, and yet when things got tight in the economy, they showed her the door via early retirement. The one thing she loved and was loyal to, didn’t love her back.
She thought I’d be her entertainment during retirement, but she just couldn’t be in relationship with me. When I drew the line and spelled out my boundaries, she chose to disconnect. For a decade. Actually, a bit more than a decade.
Still, when she was in need, I did step back in. I took care of her the last seven years of her life. It was rough on both of us, but she suffered the most. And then, she died. We buried her in the autumn in the same cemetery as her parents and grandmother. She was laid to rest in a new section of the cemetery – far away from her family. The sexton told us we couldn’t lay a headstone until the following year.
Because of other emergencies that life brought to us, I couldn’t get the headstone until this spring. I chose a small, pretty design. Nothing flashy, but it was the same color as her parents’ and I thought she’d like it. There was a family reunion in the area last weekend, so I went to visit.
Two hours, two phone calls (to Mike to call the sexton for me), and copious bug bites later, I finally found her headstone. It was wedged in between two other large family stones and looks like someone took a shoe horn to fit it in. You can see in the close-up photo that the stone on the right is an inch away. The stone on the left is the same. Nowhere else in the cemetery are the grave markers jammed together like that group. I was deeply saddened.
My poor little mama.
“Ugh! Take it away!” These were the first words I heard my mother say. Our relationship went downhill from there and never really improved.
And yet, God chose to work in our lives. Why? I do not know. But He did, and about 50 years later I put aside my art career to care for a mother I hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years I was her caregiver, advocate and overseer, and it changed me. Spiritual development rarely happens when things are going well. It takes the crucible of painful circumstances to refine us and transform us into the image of Christ as Paul speaks of in Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” Romans 12:1-2).
When my mother contacted me to ask for help, I had to ask myself some questions.
Mom is gone now. I am trying to move back into a life of creativity. This, too, is a journey. Although for 20 years I was a studio artist with gallery representation, I am finding the transition difficult. But God has had some surprises along the way.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.