January 1, has long been a bittersweet day for me, as it marks the day of my mother’s death. I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when I got the call from my brother, Joe, to tell me she was gone. I didn’t make it back for her funeral, as there was no American embassy in Beirut at the time, and I had just given birth to my second-born son who didn’t yet have a passport. Instead, I had to travel with my new-born and 3-year-old to Cyprus (Raouf stayed in Lebanon) to get an emergency passport and then on to the States. I arrived on my birthday, seven days later.
Twenty years later, I, like my brothers and sister, are thinking of her once again, none of us, I’m sure, able to believe we’ve made it this long without her. She held our family together, and since we lost our father in 2016, we feel her loss even more.
I have already read my sister’s thoughts on Mom, and now, my brother David has written his as well. I’m sure if we each compared notes to what we loved and remembered about our mother, each of us would have a different perspective. It’s like that movie, “Vantage Point” where the same event is seen through different people’s view, making it take on a complexity that you would never have seen through a single lens.
That was our mother — complex. Each of her children see her through the lens of their birth order, years of life, school and church activities, marriage partners, and even vacations…not to mention our “unique” personalities. So, as the youngest of our tribe of five, I’ve chosen to look at Mother through a few select pictures and remember her legacy of love, sacrifice, and service.
The year was 1964. That December she had to sing a solo at church, nine months pregnant, at a time when the country was in crisis and grief after the recent assassination of President Kennedy. She made it through both and welcomed her fifth child into the world on a cold winter day. I was the one who “got away with everything,” according to my brothers and sister…because I was the last. I just respond with: “They saved the best for last.” Enough said.
This is how I remember her — the original multi-tasker. She could hold the phone to her ear and do just about anything else at the same time. She was one the phone a lot, checking on friends or her sisters, or getting ready for a meeting at church. She would tell me, “Carol, can you call so-and-so up, so I can talk to them?” I was her phone secretary. She also always had a cup of coffee going somewhere in the house…which she inevitably lost. Another of my important jobs growing up was finding her latest cup of coffee she’d misplaced.
This is how many remember her — the ultimate hostess. Though this is a picture of just a family gathering, Mom could put on a party. She hosted library staff, church library staff, and friends in our big house on Main Street, filling the wide hallway with card tables covered in red and green cloths and her finest china. She would let me and my brother, Joe, sample the food and sip coffee out of china cups for fun. Neither of us ever developed a taste for her favorite drink, though we did love the Vienna sausages she served over the double boiler.
I think the thing that endears me most to my Mother is that she retired to come visit me in West Africa; she even shed her “holy grail” girdle and panty hose for the few weeks they stayed with me in Ivory Coast! What a sacrifice for her youngest daughter, and it meant the world to me to have my parents travel to an unknown land just to visit and see the world through my eyes.
I am sure each of my siblings have a special moment with Mother at their wedding. Mine is a bit more difficult, because I didn’t marry in my hometown, but Texas, and had a vert short engagement of seven weeks. When I told Mother that I was going to rent a wedding dress, she said, “No, you’re not! You’re going to buy one!” I obeyed and bought the first dress I tried on. I’m glad I listened. Mother and my husband Raouf had two things in common — coffee and antiques.
Though Mother had gone back to work after her Africa trip, she retired again to come visit us in Syria and Egypt. I was expecting my first child, and she and Dad wanted to have the chance to bring some things for me and the baby. Besides, the pyramids were on Dad’s bucket list! Mom did some things during that trip that were “not” on her list (see camel pics), but she had a great time, and I will always be grateful that she was able to taste and see a small part of the world I loved.
When my husband died in 2015, I worked through my grief by writing a book on his life (A Life Surrendered: Raouf W. Ghattas). The only way I was able to do it was because of my mother. She had saved all my letters from our years overseas. Reading through them brought back so many memories, not just of our life in missions, but my relationship with my mother. She was a faithful letter-writer (who turned into an email writer), and I loved getting her newsy letters. They didn’t just remind me of home, but of how much she loved me in order to take the time from her busy schedule to write.
Ultimately, that’s what I miss, as I know my brothers do as well. Steve, when he lived in Kalamazoo, Chicago and San Francisco; David, when he lived in Georgia and Virginia, Joe, when he was in the Navy. We all miss that handwritten note that said, “Love you, Mom” and the woman who wrote it.
Love you, Mom. Carol