Monday, January 07, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 1): First


The challenge for the beginning week of Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 "52 Ancestors in 52 weeks" has to do with "firsts," appropriately enough.  The inspiration that immediately came to mind was to write about my first relative on this Earth:  my mother, Doris.

Doris with Chery (age 2)
This is so important for me to write, yet so difficult.  I went through life never being able to accept that I would one day lose my mother.  In March of last year, she was hospitalized with a flu virus.  Although she recovered, she passed away from the complications of vascular dementia on August 3rd.  She lived a long life, spanning ninety-eight years, but I will never be one to say that it was long enough.  I feel like there were still so many firsts that we had yet to experience together, in addition to repetitions of comforting habits and traditions.  Out of necessity, I have gone through many "firsts" over the past months, including the first time I have helped a loved one through the end-of-life process; the first time I have spent my birthday, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas, without a mother to share in them; my first up-close and personal experience with profound loss and deep grief, and more.  So many heartfelt and lonely firsts.  No matter how much loving support you have at times like this, you must navigate certain dark waters on your own.

As Mom's eldest child, I provided her with many of her own "firsts":  a first pregnancy; the first worrisome ride to the hospital for delivery; the first pains of motherhood (childbirth was only the beginning!); the first time she ever had to care for another individual "24-7";  the first time she ever heard the word "Mama" spoken to her; a first case of measles, a first day of kindergarten, the first time she had to begin letting go of a child who had become an adult, a first grandchild, and so on.

Mom grew up on a Norwegian-American farm near the small town of Leonard in northern Minnesota.  She cherished her rural upbringing and never wanted to leave.  But leave she did, as circumstances required.  At age twenty-five, immediately following the end of World War II, she reluctantly made her way to the west coast with an aunt.  The train was so crowded with military personnel that the only place they could sit was next to the bathroom, atop their suitcases.  As might be expected, during the last weeks of her life she often returned to the little farm of her youth, reliving the best parts of her memories.

It is in large part thanks to Mom that I appreciate history, genealogy, and family history.  As I grew, she took the time to share stories about the people and places of her childhood.  It was much like being exposed to sporadic installments of a historical novel.  Together with the family photos, letters, and cards that appeared in the mail on holidays or birthdays, these stories deposited themselves inside a mental treasure box that I did not find the key to open until I became older.

My mother was always the first to anticipate my fears and worries, and also my particular joys and abilities.  She was the first to correct, guide, comfort, and defend me.  She understood me.  And, she will always remain first in my heart.

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