84 years ago on September 21, my mother entered this world. One year ago, on her 83rd birthday, family gathered in her hospital room, a scant 6 days before she died. Hard to believe it’s been a year.
The twelve months since then have been a time of ongoing change. Just 5 weeks after Mother transitioned, her sister followed.
What a strange feeling, the open space that was formerly occupied by the two family matriarchs for 60 years. They filled that space with tremendous generosity of spirit, expressed in different ways. The Allen girls were a study in contrasts: Barbara’s constrained stoicism provided counterpoint to Norma’s outgoing chattiness and flashes of temper. Mother studied what interested her; Norma pursued it. Mother’s quietness seemed subdued next to Norma’s sunniness.
But they both loved with incredible constancy – steadfast and unyielding, especially in support of causes they believed in and championed. And they both believed in others and championed the possibilities they knew lived within those they loved and served.
So a year later, even in the ache I feel when I reach into the space they held, I also feel the steadfastness of that love as an enduring legacy. I marvel (and get misty) when I think of the countless people whose lives are different because of these women: People in need of food, clothing, shelter and medical care in Houston have options because of Norma’s tireless commitment to grassroots, sustainable community support programs. Special needs children learned to read because of her.
In the weeks before Mother’s death and at her memorial service, countless people shared the impact she had on them. “I graduated from high school because your mother refused to let me fail.” “I’d have been in jail by now if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Sappington believing in me and straightening me out.” “I got the scholarship I needed to go to college because of your mom’s help.”
Twelve months have lapsed since I had the opportunity to see these two remarkable women not through the eyes of the girl child they both shaped, but from the perspective of those they served. I’m still reeling. You see, they were “just” Mother and Aunt “Normal” to me. I knew they were special to me, but I could not fully appreciate how deeply they touched this world…until their time of contribution was at end.
I sit in this time of remembering and missing – and appreciating! – how much the legacy continues just because all of us who were touched by these two are able to do what we do the way we do, in some part because of their influence.
Norma taught me how to fish for crabs using chicken necks as bait on a string. Mother taught me how to sew, arrange flowers and host a dinner party. Norma bequeathed me her unquenchable thirst to discover and explore. Mother gave me a sense of aesthetic harmony and balance in creating a gracious home. Norma gave me play and wonder. Mother instilled the Southern Lady’s 11th Commandment in me: Thou shalt cope and smile while you do it! (To get the full impact of that you need to speak the Commandment out loud and growl slightly when you say, “smile.”)
Even as I miss them, they live with and within me, always: Every time I lick freshly whipped cream from the beater (which they both did). Whenever I see the bookshelves throughout my home filled with books (because theirs were). And any time I’m privileged to be present when another soul grows in some way, stepping into new possibilities so they can shine their light more fully. Because now I know that’s essentially what these two women were about: Giving life to possibilities so people could live fuller lives.
Would you join me in celebrating and honoring those who have touched your life? Who has influenced you, helped you grow, championed your stepping into the possibilities you are here to realize? I want to know. Please post here who you want to acknowledge for how they helped bring to life more of the light shining within you.
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