In Memoriam: 35,542 Sunrises
The Gift of a Long Life
My mother Frances lived 97 years, 3 months, and 20 days. She passed away on November 29, 2016.
On the morning of November 30, I looked out of the window as the sun was climbing in the sky, and I thought, “This is the first morning since August 8, 1919 that the sun is rising over North America to shine on a world in which Frances is NOT breathing and living.”
This means that the sun rose over North America 35,542 times to shine on a world in which Frances WAS breathing and living. And, in her own way, she made that world a better place, leaving behind a legacy of love.
We all get only so many sunrises; we cannot know what the number will be.
Our best hope is to do whatever we can to leave behind our own legacy of love.
My mother’s longevity is remarkable. But, the way in which she lived is the reason that Frances left such an impression on her family members and on countless others with whom she came in contact throughout her long life.
“The Greatest Generation”
Author Tom Brokaw famously called my mother’s generation “The Greatest Generation.” He had distinct reasons for characterizing an entire generation in that way.
Here are some highlights from my mother’s early life.
- Frances’ teenage years coincided with the the Great Depression. At a time when girls naturally want the newest clothes, entertainment, or gadgets, the girls in my mother’s generation had to face the realities of scarcity and deprivation.
- The U.S. entered World War II when Frances was in the second year of her career as a high school teacher (at age 22). Rationing of food and other necessities became the norm for all Americans. My mother and her contemporaries learned (again) to live with scarcity.
- As a bride in 1942, Frances was married in a simple ceremony, wearing a tailored suit. Lavish weddings and expensive bridal gowns were out-of-step with the sacrifices that Americans were making for the war effort, and money for extravagant spending was just not available.
- Although married in March 1942, it was because of my father’s military service in WWII that my parents did not start a domestic life together until November 1945 (44 months after their wedding).
When I think about our present-day life of abundance and privilege and compare it to the circumstances of my parents’ early lives, I appreciate Tom Brokaw’s wise words.
A Life Well-Lived
My mother was not a famous person. Her passing has not been announced in national news broadcasts.
Frances’ sphere of influence did not extend beyond her family, friends, neighbors, students, co-workers, and acquaintances in church/school/community endeavors.
Over the course of a long life, that sphere of influence adds up to be quite impressive!
Among Frances’ personal qualities and accomplishments, I remember these:
- She demonstrated undying love for my dad and provided a secure home environment for her children.
- Frances made friends wherever she went, reaching out to show concern for others and adding humor and a personal touch to any situation.
- My mother was the one who started the PTA at my elementary school, started a Brownie (Girl Scout) troupe for me and my friends, worked in numerous projects through our church to help people in need, and served as a leader in community organizations.
- She showed unconditional love for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We never had any doubt that Frances loved us completely and eternally.
None of this adds up to fame or fortune. But, the legacy of love left by my mother is rich and far-reaching.
Loving Life Right up to the End
One final story from 2016 highlights Frances’ personality and the effect that she had on people.
In September, the activities director at my mother’s Assisted Living facility organized a Prom for the residents, just like a high school dance, complete with decorations and a DJ.
Frances was not aware that in the days leading up to the prom, residents and staff alike were filling out ballots to vote for a Prom King and Queen. Well – you guessed it. Frances was voted Queen of the Prom!
She was surprised and delighted. In the days and weeks after the prom, numerous friends and staff members told me, “We all voted for Frances. She’s our favorite resident!”
And so . . . you see, the sun rose over North America 35,542 times to shine on a world in which my mother Frances was living a very good life.
Do you have favorite memories of someone who has passed on?
We’ve just recently enjoyed the winter holiday season and entered a happy new year. This is a time when we particularly pay attention to memories of loved ones who are no longer with us.
Do you have a favorite memory to share? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
Enjoy Life Creatively!