A Mother’s Legacy

Considering the circumstances, it should not have been a great weekend. (Spoiler alert: it was the best weekend in recent memory.)

First, I’m still unemployed; and, as you might have guessed since reading it’s at the top of my list, being unemployed is the bane of my current existence. It rears its ugly head when the alarm goes off in the morning (“What? You think you have something important to do today? You don’t.”), when I’m cooking lunch or dinner (“Careful. You should probably store up for a stormy day like other warm blooded animals in the winter.”), and always at night (“Good sleep is for people with jobs. Their ex-boss doesn’t come at them with a knife in their dreams.”). My chin is perpetually up, however; looking forward to some good news this week (#fingerscrossed).

Second, and more importantly, the weekend centered itself upon a funeral for a friend’s mother. “Ruby” had lived a hard life, and it caught up to her health a few months ago in the form a brain tumor and, later, lung cancer. The diagnoses, the surgeries, and the hospice all came so fast, I don’t think my friend really had time to process any of it. As you can imagine, the funeral hit her hard. My friend had her second child about two months ago; she lives in New York while most of her immediate family lives across the state of South Dakota, so Ruby never had the chance to meet her newest grandchild, and I know that weighed heavily upon my friend’s heart.

My friend’s loss struck me to the core: Ruby was just 55 years old; a young doe by most accounts, who should have had a solid two or three extra decades to spare for her growing family. My own mother will be 51 this year – and due to an active, healthy lifestyle, she looks (and probably feels) better than I do at nearly 30. That’s the rub of it: For all intents and purposes, my mother could easily have been Ruby. They came from much the same impoverished, reservation-life background. But where Ruby turned to alcohol and smoking – maybe other things, my mother turned to education and soul-searching. My mom will be the first to tell you she isn’t perfect, but I’ll tell you she’s damn near close.

While contemplating life in the presence of an open casket, where Ruby’s body lay sunken and pulled into itself, I gave thanks to my mom for being an inspiration, someone my daughter and I – and my older sister and her children – can look up to, someone who has lived a full life, with plenty of mistakes to learn from and even more accomplishments to be proud of.

My friend is a family friend, and she once told me she envied me for having a mom who cared enough about her children and grandchildren to take care of herself and be something better.

That’s made me think, more so now than at the time she said it several months ago. As the body was lowered into the ground, Ruby’s 5-year-old granddaughter rushed from the crowd, crying, “GRANDMA! GRANDMA!” over and over – like many Lakota children, she had been raised almost exclusively by her grandmother. My heart went out to this girl, who looked on as her whole world was swallowed up by the cold prairie landscape.

My thoughts immediately went to my own child, now 3, who represents everything I live and fight for. Mimi loves her “gma” so very much; and because of the choices and sacrifices her grandmother made in life, Mimi will flourish. My mom’s legacy is not just survival, but life – living. What a magnificent gift.

And that’s why it was a great weekend: I got to spend time with my family, to cherish them now. My sister and mom both came up from Nebraska for the funeral. They picked me up in Sioux Falls and we spent four treacherous hours driving carefully along the icy interstate toward Lower Brule. We chatted the whole way. We laughed – hard. We also cried – hard. But we were together, and at the end of our travels we returned to our families, rejuvenated and ready to overcome challenges.

When I look back, I am sorry for my friend’s loss, but know Ruby is no longer in pain and that my friend has chosen to live her life in such a way as to make Ruby proud. To make her children and family proud. And to make her people proud.

Nothing like a funeral to help you appreciate life a little bit more.

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