Twelve years have passed since my mother exclaimed, “I’ve died and gone to Heaven!” as she leaned back in her big donut-shaped tube and splashed her toes, enjoying the serenity of the river. 

Twelve years since I stood on the shore of that same river, 45 minutes later, watching to see if the hopeful EMT would be able to revive my mother as she floated toward his outstretched hands.

Twelve years ago, I stood alone in my bedroom, weak and trembling, as I opened my mother’s Bible and all the little keepsakes she’d stowed inside tumbled to the floor. 

It was then, after she was called to her eternal home, that I began to realize all the perfect ways she had learned to love me. 

I’m doing my best to mimic her example. 

Although I’ve nothing like her determination and perseverance, I have been taking notes:

1. Love Jesus more.

She cultivated a relationship of intimacy with her Savior, and it showed by her love for others. People shared things with her they had never told another soul. Everything she received passed fluidly and with deep faith to her Lord. She did not gossip or hold a grudge. The year of her death, she actually asked my dad, the love of her earthly life, if he was jealous that she loved Jesus more? He wasn’t. I mean, who could compete with that? Who would ever want to? She was ready to go be with Him at any moment, and that clarity of heart was a testimony for us all.

2. Pray.

When I opened that worn Bible, a bundle of notecards slipped out. Prayer cards, handwritten. One for each day of the week, rubbed smooth by her loving touch. My name could be found on each and every one. Seven unique aspects of my life—including my spouse and children, whom she would never meet—were committed to Heaven’s mysterious plan. Where would I have been without her prayers? Who would I be today without her example of faith? The path of prayer she walked left grooves for my wandering feet to fall into.

3. Pay attention.

Another memento I found was a list, entitled “All The Hard Things that Steph Has Done on Her Own”. Oh, the power of realizing my mom was not only noticing my accomplishments and struggles, but she had recorded them! She acknowledged the hard stuff I faced by naming each and every one. It helped her notice when I was growing, and she’d speak it into my life. She said so many encouraging words to me in the last few days before her sudden death that I’ve often wondered if she somehow knew she had to get all the kindness out in a hurry. I want to live every day with eyes open and a mouth ready to encourage as she did.

4. Ask questions. 

My mom’s interest in me fueled my determination. She asked after my friends by name, was curious about school, and wanted to know how it all made me feel. Even when I was off at college she wanted to visualize everything, down to what color I had painted my nails! It was hilarious, but always made me feel good. She wanted to know me, and I (usually) reveled in being known.

5. No regrets, aka: communicate.

We were the kind of family that took it literally not to let the sun go down on our anger. She was an enforcer of this rule. We stayed up as long as it took, rarely sleeping until we felt heard and understood. When I recall my teen years, she is right there—a permanent fixture at the end of my bed. I’d get dramatic, sobbing and agonizing, questioning and critiquing, but she took my harsh words and she told me how she felt, too. We always hugged. even when were angry. And when we said “I love you”—which was often—we really knew what that meant. Sometimes it was exhausting, but I’m so thankful for her high standards in this aspect. It shaped our family culture in a way that impacts my parenting approach today. 

Today, there are no regrets, just as on that hot summer day by the river. Nothing had been left unsaid. She went home. We were left behind. It still hurts terribly. But the love . . . it was all around us there on that pebbly shore, and it will always remain.

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Stephanie Ross

Stephanie is a kindergarten teacher turned homeschool mom. She’s finally living the off-grid homesteading dream (that took about a decade to agree on) with her hubby and three girls. For her, writing is a way to get the words out without having to talk; though she really loves to talk. Her favorite person to talk with (mom) has been in heaven for eleven years. She writes about living with grief, parenting, and relationships.  

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