A phone call I received the morning of Saturday, May 2, 1998, at my home in Portland changed my life forever. My sister received a similar call in her Wisconsin home from our brother in St. Paul. My brother received a call as well, telling him that our beloved mom had been found dead in her bed that morning in her supported-living apartment. Signaling something was amiss inside, she had not opened her door and put out her “I’m OK” sign.

My siblings and I are not excessive talkers, and that morning was no different. “I’ll let you know when I can get there,” said I.

What I wanted to shout was “Why didn’t I call her last night?” The previous evening I got a call from a friend in Austria. We talked infrequently, and our long conversation was delightful. I hung up with such a warm feeling of loving friendship, and thought of my mom. “Call her.” The clock said 10:15 p.m., the time she was often in bed or asleep. I promised myself, “I’ll call her tomorrow.” That call to my mom never happened.

As I prepared to travel from Portland to St. Paul later that day, I felt many emotions, disbelief being the one that was pounding at my heart, like a person locked out of the house pounds to get inside. I’d never reach my mom on the phone again, ever.

My mom had chronic health problems, congestive heart failure the most long term and life threatening. She was 83 years old and had an arduous and challenging life, but was known as a loving, gracious and most generous person, even though it didn’t feel that way to me when I was a child.

Phone calls were costly back in the 1980s when I moved from St. Paul to New England. Letters were more common between us. After my dad died in 1991, I told her I wanted to talk more often and that I’d call her on Sunday nights every week.

That was my promise to her and to myself, although sometimes it felt like work. I heard the family gossip and what was happening in the garden or at her church. Heartfelt sharing was not in her playbook. “That was just how it was back then,” a loving neighbor friend from my childhood told me years later when I lamented to her about Mom’s lack of feeling vocabulary.

More than 20 years hence, I’ve come to a peaceful place about that phone call I never made on May 1, and all the Sunday night calls I did make through the years. I’ve come to a place of loving gratitude toward my mom, for all that she taught me and all that I learned from her living examples of kindness, friendship and a welcoming spirit to newcomers and strangers, black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight. She was not perfect, but she lived her faith in action to others. Such a gift!

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