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My mom’s necessity of creation: What a body ravaged by MS has taught me

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A couple of years ago, there was a large fire at my parent’s house that destroyed years of memories and decorations but was also motivated us to action. They have lived in their home for almost 45 years. Between my mom’s crafting career, the closure of her beloved tea room and gift shop, inheriting mementos of loved ones who have passed and her love to shop, the house is literally busting at the seams.

The closets in every room are jam-packed with treasures, many of which haven’t been opened. My mom’s craft area/laundry room/storage room were the worst culprits and were literally floor-to-ceiling with boxes upon boxes of beautiful ribbons, outdated lace and flowers, sequins, fabric, glue guns, dishes, baskets, unfinished wreaths and over 50 straw hats.

Growing up, my mom WAS Martha Stewart. Everything she touched was gold and she was (and still is) beautiful. She could cook anything and craft everything. She was the life of every party and the mom many of my teen-aged friends loved to visit because she provided them with the laughter and  stability they craved as their own families were rocked by divorce.

As my mom’s Multiple Sclerosis has worsened over the last 25 years, she has spent less and less time in her craft room. Now, navigating the stairs by herself is a herculean task so she rarely goes into the basement. Her craft table had become a dumping ground and was literally piled three feet high when I visited after the fire. I resolved to help my dad put a dent into the seemingly insurmountable clean-up. We had to tread lightly because Mom was still reeling from the losses sustained from the fire but also knew there was no better time.

It took my dad and me several hours to remove the hundreds of hanging dried flowers and wreathes. We purchased several storage bins but it was a painfully slow process and I was filled with frustration at the ostensible pile of outdated “junk” in front of me.

 Late one night after I put my two kids to bed, I resolved I would start small and put all her ribbons into one bin. My then-7-year-old daughter Hadley approached me, asking if she could help. I hesitated but followed a prompting that this was something we should do together. We worked side-by-side into the night. After organizing the ribbon, I decided the craft table was the one area I had to finish and so we delved into all the thimbles and threads and needles and paints, neatly placing them in bins.

 A transformation happened as that craft table started to appear underneath the clutter–not just with the table but with me. Hadley would grab many of the items I was ready to dump and marvel at their beauty, of the time it must have taken Grandma to make them. Soon, instead of lamenting the many stains on that table, I saw a Picasso of my mother’s art take shape. I could remember the many late nights she spent down here creating–it was her breath of life and what made her truly exceptional.

 My disdain for the process turned to love and respect for a gift I have never had, nor appreciated.

I then looked at my little girl who is more like my mom than anyone on this earth. Her creativity, her spark, her spunk and even that stubborn streak that is sometimes so extreme it can be detrimental to her own health. All of it, she shares with her Grandma Christine.

 It was a humbling, sweet moment as I caught a very powerful glimpse of the loss my mom is sustaining. Real life has no filters. Sometimes it’s raw, hard and messy and I finally understood what it was like for her to suffer so deeply–and for so long–as her body slowly betrays her.

But I also saw how she has prematurely given up on the joy she once had that is still obtainable in a different way. She can no longer create masterpieces but she can still inspire her little artists. I know Hadley will be the first in line to sit in her workshop to learn her art.

 And now, so will I.

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From now until Mother’s Day, Mile High Mamas will be featuring essays dedicated to your favorite mom memories.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Monica May 5, 2014

    I’m crying, I get it. My mom has suffered from a similar neurological disease and watching it is so so difficult. Thank heavens for wonderful caretakes and family.

  • comment avatar Paige May 5, 2014

    I just wanna wrap you, your daughter and your mom in a big hug. Beautifully written.

  • comment avatar carrie May 5, 2014

    this post didn’t go in the direction of where i thought it would go. my mom passed away last year and we’re still cleaning out her house. i never really felt like i understood her because we’re so different. but was i go through all her treasures, i have been able to catch a glimpse. god bless.

  • comment avatar gretchen May 5, 2014

    This is beautiful, Amber. What a powerful, quiet gift you shared with your girl. Three generations, one love.

  • comment avatar Carol May 5, 2014

    This makes me cry and also remember why I ride a bicycle from Houston to Austin, TX every year. Each year I say I don’t want to do it again but every year I train and raise money to fight this awful disease. My heart goes out to you and your family.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2014

    Monica–I’m so sorry. And I agree with wonderful caretakers and family. My dad and brother’s family have been such tremendous supports to her.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2014

    Paige–Lovely sentiment. Thank you.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2014

    Carrie–I’m so sorry for your loss but I’m so glad you’re able to catch a glimpse at the woman she was.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2014

    Gretchen–Beautifully spoken as always.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2014

    Carol–For years not I’ve wanted to do one of the MS rides but am intimated by the length. You inspire me!

  • comment avatar Kara Williams May 5, 2014

    Weepy. That was lovely, Amber. XO

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz May 5, 2014

    I love it when a post gets me to see an old thing (a messy craft room) in a new way (a legacy of creativity, passion and vibrance).

    Thank you for this, Amber.

  • comment avatar Amber May 5, 2014

    Kara–Thank you. Highest compliment. 🙂

  • comment avatar Amber May 5, 2014

    Lori–That is the beauty of writing/sharing. Your Huffington Post article did the same for me today.

  • comment avatar Erica B May 5, 2014

    Beautiful and inspiring, thank you for sharing.

  • comment avatar Kristen May 5, 2014

    What a wonderful way to capture your mom and her special talents, and how they live on. Beautifully written!

  • comment avatar Diane May 5, 2014

    Beautiful that during such a painful time, Hadley helped you appreciate the beauty during such a trying time. Loss and change is never easy.

  • comment avatar Kristy R May 5, 2014

    Very tender, Amber

  • comment avatar Jennifer T May 5, 2014

    I love this Amber. Ribbons and sequins and glitter and glue can often be the catalyst for many important conversations at our house. Sitting at our craft table brings us closer without us even being aware of the connections we are making. I look forward to reading about the greatness Hadley and your mom create together.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2014

    Kristen, Kristy and Erica–thank you.
    Diane–Every day my daughter teaches me about my mom!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2014

    Jennifer–I’m thinking I need to rethink my sequin policy. I need more of them in my life!

  • comment avatar Stacey B May 5, 2014

    Each time you visit, you should let Hadley choose one bin’s worth of items to bring home to create some items of her own with materials picked out by your Mom. That way Christine’s Mini-Me can carry on where she has been forced to leave off.
    On another note – I totally remember you Mom’s crafting area! Growing up just 3 doors away. I always wished I had the talent to make some of your mom’s crafts. All these years later, though – I still have 2 baskets she made me and my heart shaped key holder. I also fondly remember visiting her tea shoppe. I only got there one time, but I can still close my eyes and see/smell it! It was the epitome of Christine!

  • comment avatar Shannon W. May 5, 2014

    Beautiful article!

  • comment avatar Katherine D. May 5, 2014

    50 straw hats!!!? I’m sure your daughter will have a lot of fun with those! I remember your mom always had some sort of bedazzled jean jacket on and fancy glasses. She wore pretty makeup and smiled a lot. I’m sorry about her MS, that is rough. My parents have been in the same house for over 40 years as well…SO much stuff!!!

  • comment avatar Juddy O. May 5, 2014

    Beautifully said, Amber, your Mom has been a great part of my life, best friends since birth, We have had so much fun growing up together, so many great memories, it hurts my heart at her challenges, but she endures them well. So eager to share her talents. I love her dearly. I need to take a drive North.

  • comment avatar Lindsie May 5, 2014

    My Dad has MS and has been slowly suffering for years. The things he once loved he cannot do anymore like fix cars and ride a motorcycle and it is at the point where he can barely drive or walk. There has been ups and downs throughout my life with my Dad’s MS but what has always stuck with me was his perseverance and what he had on his motorcycle before he had to sell it “I may hVe MS, but MS don’t have me”.

    Thank you for sharing, Amber.

  • comment avatar Lorraine Tewson May 5, 2014

    Hi Amber. I went to school with your Mom and then she went to a university. She came back to the big city where I lived and stayed with me for a week. Its funny…. yes, she was and is the spunky friend. I have stories I could tell but won’t on here. Its not fun to have MS. My husband has Parkinsons. I know… its hard.Thanks for this post. She truly is a mile high mama!!

  • comment avatar Keri May 8, 2014

    Thank you for sharing this. As a mom living with M.S. I find myself wondering, in the dark, quiet, private corners of my thought that I rarely admit to, what it means for my son and for our family in the future. This piece is a powerful testament to gifts our families can receive from us, and to the strength found in the ties that those gifts create.

  • comment avatar Dianne Chipman July 7, 2014

    Thank you for your thoughts about your mom.We were friends in High school,its been 50 years since we talked,please give her my love,I would love a visit with her. Maureen Gadeski and I both live in St. George and we talk about your Mom and we love the memories that we have.
    Dianne Chipman

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