(editor note: it's a long post, but I hope you read it through. -JW)
When Nelson Mandela passed away a couple days ago, I had planned to make some mention about him in a blog post. With a recent event more personal to home, I decided to start with Mandela and transition into what else I have to say.
I'm not here to say that Mandela had a huge influence on me. I know as much about him as we learned when he was first released from prison. Until that time, South Africa was nothing remotely on my radar as a child. And now, all I really know about him I have gained from stories on the news and the internet - his 27 years in prison, his compassion after release, his goal to unite black and whites in South Africa, his messages of peace in his travels. These basic facts I know. But I know that Mandela is a great man, because I see the videos, the press releases, the tweets from the famous and the known about who he was and what he did, and I understand that this was a once in a lifetime man. Mandela came along and made change happen. First a few people, then a few more. He changed a country, and followed that by changing the world. Fifty years from now, in whatever will pass as text books, children will learn about Nelson Mandela.
Fifty years from now, you will count on your hands the number of people that know Elizabeth Wilk. She won't be in books or movies. About the only mention of her you will find in six months will be a few search returns that point to her obituary. No words of praise associated to Bono. No press release attributed to Muhammad Ali. No tweet from President Obama. She lived her life simple. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother and a grand mother. She worked and she played. She laughed, cried, yelled, smiled and loved. I hope she changed the world of others, but I know she changed my world by being my mother.
I received a call last Thursday about an apartment in a senior living complex. My mom was on a list should there be openings. Calls sometimes came to me because either she turned off her phone or the call didn't ring through to her home. I figured the wiring inside was damaged, but it wasn't a big concern. She would be out of the house soon, and me taking the initial call and relaying the message worked fine. My mom "retired" a couple years ago. It wasn't that she wanted to, but companies don't hire people of her age. When she was downsized out of her job at 70, there wasn't much else to do but retire. She didn't have much to live on and had put herself in a hole on the money side. The house was too much and while it pained her, she needed to give it up. The plan was to come to my house until an apartment became available. It would only be for a few months. Not ideal, mind you. Not for anyone involved. But it was what was best, and what was right, so it was decided.
Some days I would stop by and visit, see how things were going and invite her to my house for a night or two. "Come see the kids" or "come over for dinner and just stay the night". Any offer to get her to come out, visit, eat a good home cooked meal and spend time with us. She was over recently as my son was in town from Denver and it was her first chance to see him in over two years. While here, talks included plans for organizing the house and her personal items that we needed to move, among other standard discussions. Nothing spoken would rank as great, enlightening, or revealing. It was my mom, my wife, my son, my daughter and myself, talking whenever the conversation started. I can't say I remember anything heartfelt in what would be our last words to each other. I believe she thanked me for letting her stay and for the meals. She reminded me to let her know if I hear anything about the apartments, gave me a hug and said "love you". I said "love you" back and told her to drive safely.
I had Friday off. One of those "use them or lose them" vacation days. Since she wasn't answering her phone, I would swing by and have her contact the director for an appointment to see the apartment. Knocks at the back door went unanswered, along with attempts the front. The days of mail left in her box raised my concern, which was unfortunately answered when I finally broke in through a known, unlocked window. There she was in her chair, some movie channel on the television. She looked peaceful but I knew she wasn't just sleeping heavy. I knew.
Years back I had an idea for a t-shirt company. The first shirt I created had an image silk screened on the front of one of those "Hello, my name is" tags. And on it is written the name "PRIDE". But this tag would not look new and fresh. In my design, the tag appears old and peeling. Maybe a corner or two is torn, and it would look at if it had fallen to the ground a few times, dirtied, faded and scuffed, with a shoe print over it. I came up with that design because too often, that's me. I have been knocked down, beat up and crushed. The moment I thought up that idea, years ago, I thought of my mom, cuz that description fits her as well. She lived not worrying how other thought about her. Never worry about who you are. Maybe you are not wealthy or talented or famous. But dammit, there is nothing wrong with who you are. When you are knocked down, you pick yourself up, hold your head up high and you keep going. My mom was knocked down a lot, but she never quit. She never let anyone make her believe there was anything wrong with who she was. She always wore her badge of PRIDE with honor, no matter the worn out condition it was in.
She was moving out of her home because she could no long afford in financially. Along with being proud of who I am, the other main gift my mother gave me was her “wonderful” money management. Be sure to read "wonderful" with a strong sarcastic tone. When it comes to money, my mom and I don't handle it well. She liked to shop way too much and there are still boxes that need opening in her house today. She spent herself into a corner, I believe, to deal with some unresolved emotions. And yet, one amazing gift she gave me was her wonderful money management. My mom was willing to give anything she had to someone else. I can't think of a time I ever left her house without something in hand. And the rare times I did, it wasn't until after numerous statements of "I'm good" or "I won't use it" or "you need it more than me" - that last one being a total lie, cuz whatever it was, I know for a fact she didn't need it. My mom bailed me out on many occasions when I put myself is a tough situations. I am sure she really didn't have it, but she would insist to cover this bill or that, and while you can stop her from giving you some National Cranberry Day commemorative serving tray she bought on QVC, she was going to cover that past due amount.
So while Nelson Mandela is praised throughout the world by dignitaries and world leaders, I don't think any higher praise for my mom will come from anyone but me. But maybe, in a sense, I can let the US government have the last word in the life of Elizabeth Wilk. See, when I was at the house, and the authorities were doing what they needed to do, the mailman was making his rounds. Since he couldn't approach the house, he handed my mom's mail to the officer, who brought it to me. In the mail that day were two envelopes that spoke to both sides of her financial savvy. One was a notification of a sale on a small piece of trailer park property that was her "summer retreat", with a camper on it and everything. She had long failed to pay for it as she couldn't afford it on social security earnings. It was now owned by the co-op and would be sold off. The other letter was from Advocate Christ hospital, thanking her for her $25 donation they received two weeks prior. It is quite possible this is the last check she wrote. I am sure she had little in her bank account and that money should have been used somewhere else. I bet Peter is looking to get back the money she took and gave to Paul. But to her, everyone but her came first.
I can't think of a better time to remember her each year than now - Christmas. There is both a new and an old feeling for the season, and both will always make me think of her. The new thought about Christmas is to shop. We are bombarded over and over with reasons to spend. Go out and buy this or that as a gift to lil' Tommy. Don't stop buying until Christmas Eve, and then come back the following day and buy some more. My mom loved to shop. And while much of it was for decorating ideas that never transpired, much of it was given to someone else to showed that she thought of them. And that is the old, but real meaning of Christmas: giving. Give not to get. Give not to gain favor. Give to love. In that, my mom loved a lot of people with her whole heart.
So here at 2x3 Heroes, Tis the Season will not stop, nor will it pause. My mom was about giving, and I hope that comes through with each trade and PWE I make. Her passing won't change how I live and how I give. It's the best way I can honor her.
When my mom would eat with us, she would always comment how she was full after the meal. We would always ask if she wanted more and her response, every single time was "oh no - that was just the perfect amount". I like to think St. Peter greeted her and asked "would you like to go back down and have some more time?"
I'm sure he was told "Oh no....that was just the perfect amount."