Memories of Carolyn L. Farrell
On January 18, 2015, at 77 years old, my Mom died peacefully at home from Lewy Body Dementia.
My Mom was a beautiful person, inside and out. She was our Snow White. Snow White was her favorite Disney princess who was also “born” the same year as Mom- 1937.
Mom was smart and sassy, with a great sense of humor that not everyone saw. She could be totally spiritual and totally irreverent at the same time. She loved her family fiercely and always strove to make home a beautiful place filled with great food and love.
Mom worked in the home and, at different times in her life, as a medical researcher. She told me stories about her love of research, which was both fueled and tempered by her love of and respect for life. She had a hard time researching on animals and was keenly aware of the ethics of the HeLa cell research she did. She felt honored to be responsible for the life in her hands, and never saw animals as “just animals” or a cell as “just a cell.”
Mom felt that “cleanliness was next to Godliness” and her house reflected that. Although she had no idea how to cook when she got married, and she threw the first pie crust she ever made on the floor and stomped on it, she became the best cook any of us have ever known. She was known for her perfectly flaky pie crusts, amazing lasagna, four-tiered German Chocolate Cake, and gingerbread cookies. She could make a fantastic meal out of nothing, and somehow managed to get all the food on the table at the same time when hosting Thanksgiving for 30 people.
Mom taught me that God is love and to always test any “rules” or creeds by that belief. God would not harm or punish anyone for who they are or what they believe- because God is love. She felt strongly that we should treat all people with kindness, even if they were mean to us. If I was struggling with a bully, Mom always said: “kill them with kindness.” She knew that people were hurting and that is why people act out. There was no need to hurt them more, but rather a need to love them more.
Mom was keenly aware of what it meant to be a mother. When I was little and I was scared with panic attacks, Mom gave me her Miraculous Medal, which her mother had given her, so that the Virgin Mary would always be there to help me. Mom made sure I always had the presence of a mother with me, even if she could not physically be there.
Many people saw Mom as a quiet and shy woman, but her family and close friends knew she could swear like a sailor and make us all laugh at her one liners- such as at dinner when she would ask: “Will someone please pass the butter up my end?”
Like Snow White, my Mom was beautiful in body and soul, even if sometimes she did not see it herself. She loved fashion and wore Revlon’s “Cherries in the Snow” lipstick. She had silver, not gray, hair- which everyone commented on. She looked like a movie star, even in her last days. She was kind and people trusted her with their most important life stories.
Mom and I shared a love of all things Disney and bonded over the magic of it all. We had special rituals, such as when my Dad was out late working at the hospital, Mom and I watched “Murder She Wrote” and ate Kentucky Fried Chicken. We both loved art and music and we would sing the score of “Secret Garden” together, even though Mom is known for her not so wonderful singing voice. We used this to our advantage to have even more fun with the music.
She had very close friends: The Cultured Purls knitting group, The Mermaids who swam together, The Church Ladys who met for lunch all the time, and many more. They laughed and ate and talked about their kids. Her friends visited her until her last days, one friend religiously having coffee with Mom a few times a week for the last three years.
Mom was strong, traveling around the world to live in Taiwan when my father was in the military. Raising four kids there, without much extra help because she wanted to be the primary caregiver for her family. She weathered typhoons in Taiwan and seriously difficult camping trips that my father dreamt up, but she had to devise how to manage with four tiny children. Then when she had almost all of the kids grown up, she welcomed the fifth “extra” kid that came along, and went through all the phases of motherhood again to raise me. She loved being a mother, even when we tried her patience or when she had a hard time. Mom loved each of her kids equally but differently, because we are all different. We were not perfect and she was not perfect, but we all worked together to stay strong and connected.
After her kids were out of the house, Mom was able to take on the art projects she wanted and became an excellent porcelain doll maker. She poured and fired her molds in the basement and then sanded everything with care. With paint, she somehow created the most beautiful doll faces with just the right amount of rosiness in the cheeks and the most perfect smiling mouths. She then lovingly sewed beautiful clothes for them to wear.
Even as an adult, I called Mom all the time. She was always there to tell me how to cook a roast and how to handle being a mother when I was tired and scared. Then, my husband, son and I were so lucky to be able to live with Mom and Dad for two and a half years to help care for Mom when she got Lewy Body Dementia.
Mom taught my son to read by helping him read the text on his video games. She taught him how to make chocolate chip cookies even though she could no longer follow the recipe so Mom and I worked together to teach him. My son sleeps every night with the white blanket Mom knit him when he was a baby and the fleece Star Wars blanket she made for him just before she lost the use of her hands due to Lewy Body Dementia.
Mom considered all of her children-in-laws her own kids. She taught my husband, Jeff, how to cook, and even shared with him Grandma Tillow’s cheesecake recipe before he had married into the family- that was a big deal. Mom and Dad taught Jeff and me how to be married, through the good and the bad. My parents love each other to a depth I cannot explain. Even in hard times or when they upset each other, they came back to the fact that they loved each other. They were in love from the day they met in the morgue when Dad was in medical school and Mom was working in a research lab. My Mom and Dad are very different in likes and dislikes, but not core values. Dad drove Mom crazy, and she loved him for it. Dad would often surprise us all and do things he hated, like going to Disney World, because it was something Mom loved.
The last nine years of Mom’s life were filled with the disease she feared the most after she saw her mother die from it- dementia. Mom was scared to loose the memory of her kids and struggled with feeling like she lost her purpose in life when she could no longer do all the things she thought a mother should do. We all saw that although the tasks she could perform changed, her purpose remained the same. Even in the last few years, when she had no mobility and very little words to use, her life and presence had purpose and meaning. She could sit silent with her eyes closed at the dinner table while we all talked, and out of no where she would sum up our conversation in a short sentence. She was still mothering when she would tell us to “be quiet” because we had become our rowdy selves, or “that is beautiful” when one of us kids would share something important to us with her.
Mom was a wonderful woman who taught me many things and I will miss her every day. I hope I can live out those teaching in my life and honor her.
(originally posted at www.RevKatieNorris.com)