There are so many things...

I feel like I've lived a thousand years in the past week. In the early hours of Wednesday, January 26th, my beautiful mother passed away, surrounded by family. We have spent the last several days crying, hugging, laughing and honoring the amazing woman she was.

Somehow in the midst of this, I wrote something for her, and on Saturday stood on wobbly knees to share it with a standing-room-only crowd at her childhood church in Quanah, Texas.

I'm sharing it with you here. But first, a few favorite photos of my Mom...

1950. Age 8, the same age as Doodlebug is now. They have always looked so much alike. *

1966. Quintessential cake photo. I love that smile. *

My classy Mom was also very adventurous. *

Her favorite place on earth. (And my favorite photo of my parents.) *

1971. Apparently she was so happy to have a daughter that she wore pantyhose and a dress home from the hospital. *

1973. I love this photo, even though I look like a professional wrestler. Look what my poor Mom was dealing with...three kids in 3 1/2 years! *

1976. She was always the picture of calm, no matter the situation. *

1997. Three generations. What a beautiful day. I was so happy to have them both there. *

Christmas 2002. Holding Doodlebug, her first grandchild. *

Thanksgiving 2003. Sharing a moment with my wonderful Dad. *

There are so many things you should know about my mother.

You should know that my mother drew her deepest strength and peace from her faith. From a very young age, she walked to First Christian Church by herself every Sunday. She and my Dad were married in the original church off Main Street. And when the new building was completed 35 years ago, she insisted on having an oak tree shipped in and planted out front.

You should know that my mother was generous with her heart. She shared a love with my Dad that is so rare I’m not sure there are words for it. He says he was able to care for her simply because she loved him so much. That love gave him the strength and devotion to honor their marriage vows every single day for 44 years.

You should know that my mother was a beautiful and loving mom. She read to us every night. She taught us to be open-minded. She encouraged us to be more than just siblings, but also friends. She wanted us to laugh and learn and find people we would love for our entire lives.

You should know that my mother welcomed people into her life. If you met her, you were a friend. And if you were a friend, you were a friend for life. One of her favorite times of year was when the flood of Christmas cards and photos arrived. She cherished the annual updates from so many of you.

You should know that my mother was kind and warm. She adopted every stray cat that came within 20 feet of our house. When she finally allowed dogs into the family, they seemed to arrive in pairs, until she eventually had more animals than kids.

You should know that my mother loved to learn. She loved books and language and history. She loved stories and she loved to see new things. Her beautiful eyes sparkled with a joy and curiosity that we now see every day in the eyes of her grandchildren.

You should know that my mother loved nature. She was happiest outside, in the sunshine, near a field of wildflowers or with her bare feet on a sandy beach. She had a keen eye for seashells. She loved everything about the ocean—the smell, the breeze, the warmth, the sand. All of it.

You should know that my mother was gracious. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, she took the news with a steady determination. Her family, her friends, her doctors, and her nurses will all tell you that she never once asked “Why me?” Instead of focusing on the things she couldn’t do, she celebrated the things she could do.

When she lost her vision, my mom started ordering books from the Talking Books Library in Austin, and from then on there was always a steady stream of recorded books arriving in our mailbox. I am not exaggerating when I say she listened to thousands and thousands of those books on tape.

When she became more and more debilitated, my mom lost many of the simple luxuries we all take for granted. But she met each and every loss by redefining the phrase “quality of life.” She found joy in the birds and windchimes outside her window, the conversations at her bedside, and the “I love you’s” from my Dad.

You should know that my mother brought out the best in us. She had to depend on so many people in her life, for so many basic things…yet everyone who knew her has always said that she gave them much more than they ever gave her.

You should know that my mother was well loved. That she will be missed. That she will never be forgotten. That she left a beautiful legacy of family and friends. That she will live forever in our hearts.

You should know that every time I see a field of Indian paintbrush or a gentle surf along the shore, I will turn my face toward the sun and feel her warmth and her love shining down on me.