Missing My Mama

12:56 AM

My mother saved every paper that passed through her hands and that is not an exaggeration. For the last ten years, my mother’s mind had become a jumbled mess of fragmented thoughts and words. She had survived Bulbar polio as a child and now the post-polio was slowly weakening the very center of her nervous center. She would write her thoughts down as words or disconnected fragments of sentences and phrases. She also saved papers and so she’d write on whatever paper was close to her at the time she had the thought; used envelopes, newspapers, letters from someone, sticky notes, etc. Often, she would start writing in one direction and then turn the paper around and write in between the print that already existed.

I think that my mother would write down her thoughts as an attempt at organizing them and I was struggling with the thought of just throwing them all out. I felt I owed it to her to look at each paper no matter how sloppy or small each writing sample or paper seemed. They were often to-do notes to herself and others. Many of them were notes from church meetings or thoughts about someone in the family. If the writings were not illegible, they often did not make sense. It was an overwhelming job and would often make me feel depressed or sad to see so vividly how her thinking had become so confused.

I kept reading on for hours, within days, and during a very long month, while packing up her apartment and every once in a while there would be a note addressed to me. It would snap me out of the mundane. I’d be surprised, thinking, “She knew that I’d read them all.” It would be a note telling me what to give or say to someone else in the family. Sometimes the message would be a clump of words or disconnected phrases usually related to gospel or life choices. I realized after a time, I wanted a letter (not a to-do list) written to me directly, telling me that she loved me and how she was grateful to have me as a daughter, etc.  I was looking for a coherent love letter from my mother in all the mounds of words and papers. I wanted to feel connected to her again.

After two or three of these organizing and throwing away sessions, I was feeling really emotional and angry. I realized that I was frustrated because I was longing to connect to my mother and to connect with her when her mind was clear and her thoughts flowed in meaningful sentences. I was emotionally drained and exhausted. The mom from ten years ago would have never left me with this mess, but would be helping me and chatting along throughout the project. Instead, she was laying confused and weak, in a hospital bed inside a nursing home on the other side of town.

After weeks of going through all of the various stacks of letters, notes, and pictures (including a very large assortment of paper and magazine clippings, which she had also written  “Do Not Throw Away” and which I promptly threw away), I finally came across some treasures. I found some neatly written, standard-size papers in a large, plain, manila envelope. It was an assortment of poems written by my mother.

The first poem I read, my mother had wrote while she was in high school. The words were beautiful and written in a very careful and precise way. I knew right away that the meaning of each stanza had a very personal connection to her life. My mother grew up near the ocean and loved lighthouses! The thought of lighthouses had brought her comfort as a young child laying sick in the hospital. I had found my mother again and I felt so close to her as I read and wept.

Faith    by Penney Smith Griffith

It was a night as dark as pitch.
A thick mist lay all about
The crew of the crawling ship
Strained to hear a welcome shout.
But from nowhere did a sound
Come to help that ship along

The captain and the crew said
not a word.
But in silence they hoped their
Prayers would be heard

For He alone,
could lead them home.

This was a crew of faithful men
They knew they would see their families again.

The little ship crept deeper into
the night
Never hearing or seeing, a sound
or a sight.

The men still had a prayer and a hope
They knew somewhere they would come afloat

To feel the solid earth under
His feet again
Was a glorious thought in the
Mind of each man.

One man said, “Listen, I hear
A faint sound.”
And they listened, but to no avail

Soon after, another clearer
Sound pierced the air
And it sounded to them like a wail

A wail from a foghorn, a voice
In the night.
They knew they were no longer alone
Soon through the fog they began to see lights
And, soon, they knew they’d be home.

Because in Him such faith
Had been shown
That little ship was lead home.

My mother wrote this second poem in 9-16-99. The year before she started mentally declining.

Steadfast by Penney Smith Griffith

The Lord, my Savior
               Has always been with me.
In good times, in bad times
               His presence is near.
The blessings bestowed upon me
               Seem unending
The love that He feels for me
               Truly is clear.
He clothes the lilies and
               Feeds the birds
I, His royal daughter am clothed
               And fed by His words.
In them I've found solace
               In them I've found peace
In them I've found hope, joy,
               And love without lease
He freely gives mercy to my soul-ever failing
He asks nothing from me but a soul that is willing.
May I steadfastly consecrate soul,
                              heart, and mind.
So the heavens will open
               And eternal life I will find.


The poems my mother left for me, my sisters, and our children were a far greater gift then the love letter I longed for earlier. I knew my mother loved me and adored me and was so grateful for me. I had always known those things. I just needed to be reminded of them. These poems were a treasure that described her life-long commitment to her Savior and her never-ending faith that endured throughout her life. 

I will never regret spending the time it took to look through each of those endless stacks of papers and notes of every size and shape. I had found treasures of written words. After packing her apartment that month, I felt deeply connected to the mother that I always known and remembered. I felt strengthened by her faith and example. 

Then, I had the strongest realization that my mother had already earned her place in heaven a long time ago and that the reason she was still here, was to help me find mine. 



My mother had bone taken from her hip and fused into her back . They doctors grafted thigh muscle into her stomach to replace the core muscles that the polio had destroyed. She was in and out of the hospital throughout her childhood.
My mother was around 10 or 11 and had just spent almost a year in the hospital in traction. She was just happy to be standing and excited to be able to go home to be with her family.
My mother loved being a mother! She was always happy and grateful. She grew up thinking she would never be able to have children because of the effects of polio and all of her surgeries and treatments. She called us all her little miracles.

My mother loved the water even though she could never swim in it.  She only had 50 % lung capacity and could never float.
She would always joke and laugh about how great she could swim along the bottom of the pool, but little good it would do her. This was a fun family vacation at Shasta Lake, California. 1976



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