Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lessons from my Mother Part 2


When my parents had been married about 25 years my dad's partner decided he was done working at S & D Mechanic, a gas station/ mechanic shop that Dad owned half interest in. Dale wanted out. Dad was forced into selling his beloved auto shop and coming home.

At the time I was a student at BYU. In the spring of that school year my parents came up to visit and I could tell my mother was very unhappy, something I had never witnessed before. I was finally able to get her alone and asked what was the matter. After some prodding she finally opened up and expressed her frustration at how Dad was home all day and had basically taken over her job of running the home, critiquing how she had done things their whole married life. She was suffocating under his control and very unhappy. I remember feeling, for the first time in my life, nervous and very concerned about my parent's relationship.

In June I returned to San Luis Obispo to work my two jobs to pay for school. It was obvious the instant I got home that something had changed. Mom was once again her content and peaceful self. As soon as I could I cornered her to ask what she had done to get Dad to back off. I will NEVER forget her reply.

She said, "The situation got to a place that was unbearable. I was SO unhappy. One morning I sat down and had a talk with myself. I said, 'Joyce you basically have three options here. First you could divorce him. But I knew that would never be an option. My covenants and my eternal family was worth more to me than any earthly happiness. Second I could stay married but continue to be resentful and unhappy. I knew I couldn't continue feeling that way, not one day longer. Third I could choose to be happy. Starla that was my answer. I chose to be happy!!!" And she was!

Dad never changed. I eventually realized it was his way of taking care of Mom and showing his love. Instead of saying the words, his way was to do. He never did realize how difficult his way of showing love was for Mom. But true to her word, she remained cheerful and happy, even though the situation remained the same until the day she died.

I can't tell you how many times through-out my life I have thought of Mom's example of choosing happiness. At the time it sounded so simplistic. But I'm here to testify that sometimes it truly is as simple as that. I know because I've done it and it works! What an example I had in Mom!


I can never remember a time that I didn't adore my mom. Thankfully I always made sure she knew how I felt. I'm so grateful that I have few regrets around my relationship with Mom. But there is one instance that haunts me to this day.

When Mom was around the age of 62 she started having difficulty doing little things she had always done for herself. We attributed it to Dad's need to do everything FOR her. At the beginning of her illness our family lived in Mission Viejo. Because I wasn't with her all the time I noticed her behavior before my siblings did. By time she was 65, it was apparent to everyone, except Mom and Dad, that Mom had a serious problem. It was obvious what Mom was suffering from.

By time my parents finally went to a doctor, Jim and I had moved our family to Orem, Utah. It was early evening when I got the phone call from Mom and Dad. In a child-like, trembling voice and on the verge of tears, mom shared with me the Doctor's diagnoses; Alzheimer's!!! She started to cry as she told me what the doctor had told her, what she should expect in the near future and that she would eventually die from the disease.

No time for tears from me!!! I needed to be strong for my mom and dad!!! I cut her off and took over. I explained in a logical, firm voice that we all would be there. No one was going to abandon her. We would take good care of her...no need to cry because we would always make sure she would be watched over. I went on and on.

My mom stopped crying and went silent. After reassuring her for several minutes we hung up. I remember being grateful I'd been able to stay emotionally strong and not break down.

It was only after my mom finally passed away from Alzheimer's that I had a spiritual epiphany. It came with the painful conviction, that I had lost an opportunity to truly give something precious to my mother. What was spiritually conveyed to me was that in that phone call moment my mom wasn't needing my assurance. What she truly needed was for me to simply mourn WITH her, to cry WITH her, to grieve WITH her at the terrible loss of any future hopes or dreams. Why couldn't I have let her FEEL what she needed to feel and be deeply sad WITH her. How could have I have missed this?

Looking back I believe I was so into dealing with my own pain and future loss of my mother that I was blind to what SHE needed. In the ensuing years I have prayed to the Lord and silently spoken to my mom many times asking both to forgive me for my lack of compassion, for not "getting it".

I continue to pray that my mother can now see my heart and know how I wish I could have change those minutes. When I next see her, one of the first things out of my mouth will be seeking her forgiveness. Knowing my mom, I won't need to even ask.


Not long after moving to Orem from San Luis Obispo, my friend Linda Bramwell, called me and asked if I'd be interested in being in a production she was going to direct. I knew Linda from doing plays with her in Mission Viejo. She was an Equity actress, VERY talented, and a marvelous director as well. I jumped at the chance to work with her again.

The play was actually a musical that I was unfamiliar with. It was called "Quilters. It's a pioneer story of a mother and her 5 daughters. The whole play surrounds the different types of stitched blocks found in quilts. The stitches in the quilt becomes the metaphor for stitches (traditions, values, love) in our lives that we pass down from one generation to the next. The music was marvelous with an Aaron Copeland/ Americana feel to it. I was asked to play the mother and, blessedly, Jami got to be one of my daughters and had the most beautiful solo in the whole play. I loved Linda and the women I got to act with, I loved the profound story line and I lOVED the music. The experience was a delight from start to finish.

My mom and dad came from California to see the production. I was so excited and anxious for them to see the play. I had always been able to count on them being my biggest fans. But by this time my mom was deep into her Alzheimer's. I remember my deep sadness when, at the close of the play, I realized my mom hadn't been able to follow or enjoy any of it.

It was shortly after finishing the play and my parents going home that I had a precious experience with my husband. It was a grand amen to the message of the play. It happened upon awakening early one morning. Jim and I started talking about Mom and the message of the musical I'd just finished. A line from one of the songs was "Who will count my stitches", basically asking the question who will remember my life. My heart broke and I started to cry. At the time I had 4 teenage daughters who I now realized would never fully experience and benefit from the greatness of my mother's wisdom, learning, all the stitches of her life. It literally broke my heart and I started to sob.

With a sweet tenderness, Jim gathered me in his arms and with love and a conviction that went straight to my heart, softly said, "But Starla they will know her because they know you."

And the spirit whispered to my soul that it was true.


  1. Thank you for these stories. I love grandma more than ever and I adore you. What a legacy of great, strong, committed, happy women I come from. I have much to live up to.

  2. Oh how I love you Shmart! I love reading your stories about your mom and the way she loved, what an amazing woman. I especially loved your epiphane you had giving your mother's day talk...and how true it is, I cannot imagine ANYONE who is more perfect for your amazing 5 kids! They are so blessed, and I am so blessed that I was "adopted" in and could learn as much as I have from you! I love your mom choosing happiness when your dad's love language was acts of service and it smothered her...what an amazing lesson in choosing. I feel priveledged to be reading this blog, and blessed to be able to hear your voice in my head as I read these posts as if you were telling me these stories out loud. Oh how I miss sitting around the table and listening to you and Jim tell stories. My testiony would just grow and grow just sitting there. I love you, Allie

  3. I am LOVING this! I am so in love with her and you i could die! What a neat thing this will be to continue our own stitches and make them tighter and more brilliant! I love you Ma' and im proud of you for doing this!

  4. Wow, Aunt Starla...this is incredible. WHAT a precious testimony!! Love hearing your soul in your writing...it almost beats sitting across from you and hearing your voice. Almost. ;-)