Letting Go / by Hayden Michelle

[Mary Agnes Klee McNamara Strayer, July 24, 1933- July 8, 2016][

[Mary Agnes Klee McNamara Strayer, July 24, 1933- July 8, 2016][

In the early hours of Friday morning, my Mom crossed over.  Living with Alzheimers for 10 years offered us opportunity to grieve the bits of her that left as her memory eroded, but what became so clear to me in the 10 days leading to her death, was that her truest self was still present. Her essence remained until the end-- full of love, grace, respect, gratitude, inner peace, beauty, humor, and compassion.  Every person that came into the room shared the ways that Mom had shown love and kindness to them, from family and friends, to the nurses, aids, kitchen staff, and front desk employees where she lived.  And she embodied that her entire life, always giving of herself, finding ways to help those in need, and offering nurturance through coffee, baking, art, hand-written notes, prayers, playing the piano, tending her beloved kitties, and offering her gentle touch.  

Mama was a powerful role model in so many profound ways.  She showed tremendous strength and courage in raising 8 of us after my dad died when she was 40, a living example that you can do what you need to do, even when it is difficult beyond words, and unchartered territory. She showed much perserverence and patience in many parts of her life, while maintaining a sense of love and optimism for those she loved.  She truly was a warrior woman in her own quiet and humble (understatement!) ways.  

Another gift she shared abundantly was her art.  She was an amazing artist, and expressed it in so many ways.  She made all of her children quilts, and drew birthday signs that she would post around the house to discover as we awoke.  She painted and drew and stitched her love through all of these years, and we were blessed and delighted to receive it.  Mama used her creativity in a myriad of ways, and nurtured this resourcefulness and artistic sense in all of us, a gift for which I will be eternally grateful.  She had an eye for color, and always pointed out the congruence of colors in our clothing, food, and nature.  Mom deeply appreciated nature, and was rejuvenated by the birds she faithfully fed, the flowers she tended, and the trees and sky she so often studied and reflected upon.  And she was so aware of the details that were easily passed over, pointing out the smallest of forms and reflections that were present in the natural world.  This is a shared connection that I will continue to cherish in my own life.  She carved out time to make her art, showing the importance of nurturing things in ourselves that need expression. 

Mama always got up before dawn to pray, listen to the birds sing the morning in, and have coffee, soaking up the precious quiet.   She said it gave her fortitude to face what the day might bring.   Besides being immersed in raising all of us, she was devoted to her volunteer work weekly with hospice, the prisons, soup kitchen, and nursing homes.  We often went with her to the nursing homes to visit, play the piano, and be with those who needed company.  She would bring fresh salad to one woman who loved her greens, and butterscotch candies to a man who would line them up across his whole tray in perfect order, before eating them one by one.  Mom taught us by example that all are worthy of love and respect and compassion, and that we always have something to offer each and every person we meet.  I am quite sure that it is this modeling that influenced me doing social work, my sisters being nurses, and in the many ways that we continue the care-taking that she shared with us.

I will so miss Mama's sense of humor.  She had a contagious smile and full laugh, and was quite easily amused.  She shared much silliness and playfullness with my boys, part of what they loved most about her-- she could be a kid right along with them, especially as the Alzheimers removed some of the layers of repression, connecting to her free-spiritedness.  She was up for adventures and outings to Goodwill and garage sales, always keeping her eye out for good finds.

She appreciated the simplest of things, from watermelon on a hot night, to Yardley's lavender soap, to a sweater to keep herself warm.  Mom taught us mindfulness without even knowing it.  I could write on and on about the ways she influenced us all and am keenly aware of what a profound gift her life has been to all those she touched.  We will carry her love forward, inspiring us to keep her spirit and goodness alive.   She will be profoundly missed, but is finally free.

Rest in peace, sweet Mama...