Tag Archives: mom

How much time do you have… Mom?

9 Jan



Jane Summers (1929-2016)

Mom was breathing really hard. But she was still alive. She had waited for us:)

Mom had not been conscious for four or more days. She had eaten little the week before and stopped taking fluids. But she was resilient, just like her Mom before her.

Today was Christmas Day.  We arrived in the afternoon. I went into see her. She thrashed her arm a bit. I tried to re-cover it. But, she didn’t want it covered. The Visiting Angel who was watching over her, gave me space and time to be with Mom.

Mom always wanted to have her family home for Christmas. My wife and my children and I were there with her. My brother’s family was there with her. My Dad, and two other extended family members and alternating Visiting Angels traded off spending time with Mom during Christmas, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups.


Christmas 1994

The Angel shared, she can’t talk with you, but she can hear everything you say. So we started chatting with and about Mom so she could hear us and know that we were with her.  We could hold her hand and feel the warmth.

One of Mom’s favorite holiday songs was Silent Night, so my son and I sang a duet of Silent Night for Mom, this went well. Then we tried a second song, this one was off pitch a bit and we were stumbling over the words… Mom’s armed thrashed and she made a noise.  We stopped… leaving well enough alone.

In the other rooms of the house, we celebrated the traditions that Mom had established… catching up on family news while sharing cheese and crackers, admiring Mom and Dad’s Christmas tree, watching some sports, the dreaded Pittsburg Steelers came back from behind to defeat the Baltimore Ravens, knocking them out of the playoffs. This to the glee of a few and to the groans of many.

We opened gifts, retold the story of how Mom hand-knitted and then sent the huge Christmas stocking with presents to Dad while he served in the Army during the Korea War, this before they were married. We cooked Mom’s favorite dishes and shared Christmas dinner together while the Angel watched over Mom.


We continued to stop back in Mom’s room, visiting, looking in, and saying prayers. For me, many of the prayers were thank yous for the extra three months we had with Mom.  We thought we would lose her in September. However, the support from the Angels, combined with Mom’s resilience and Dad’s love kept Mom alive.  We were all blessed with time for visits and talks by phone. Mom was even able to get up and come to the Thankgiving table by wheel chair for about fifteen minutes in November.

All of this extra time was a series of blessings. In Mid-August Mom stopped eating and started sleeping most of the time. Her biological clock started winding down. We all started wondering, how much time do you have… Mom? How much time do we have? We all focused on visiting more, on getting her to eat when she was awake, and on offering her fluids to drink.


Dad, Mom, me and my three brothers

Just before Mom’s birthday, in early October, I was up for a visit. I found a box of old style – Brown-Sugar-Cinnamon (Non-Frosted) Pop Tarts at the store. Well, I had fixed one of these Pop Tarts and boiled  a cup of tea for Mom every morning before school in the later 1960’s and much of the first half of the 1970’s. Inwardly, I smiled and brought a box home.


The next morning Mom woke at a reasonable time. I asked her, Mom, would you like a Pop Tart? “What kind,” she asked. Brown-Sugar-Cinnamon (without the frosting), I replied.  She said “I haven’t had one of those in years!'” Would you like one?” I responded. “Sure,” she said. So I toasted one and brought it in for her with a cup of hot tea, with two ice cubes in it. An Angel helped her to eat and drink.


Later my Dad shared privately, that it did not really have a the right type of calories for Mom.  He was of course right, but we all sort of knew we did not know how much time we had with Mom. She was resilient, but her biological clock continued to tick towards the end. Later on, Dad or one of the Angels gradually offered her the rest of the Pop Tarts. It was with mixed feelings that I saw the box of Pop Tarts was finally gone when I visited in early December.


How much time do you have Mom? Back at the end of August, I was able to talk Mom into going for a swim in her backyard pool.  This after much resistance. She was weak but still able to get her swim suit on and walk out to the pool. “I don’t think I want to get in,” she demurred. Sure you do, I had already gotten in. “I think I’ll just watch,” she added. The water is a perfect temperature I responded. “I don’t know if I can get down the steps,” she deferred. I can help you, and I did. Mom eased into the pool, eventually her natural buoyancy took over and she was relaxed, floating on her back, she was Mom.


Mom and her sister Joan

She loved her pool. She had taught most of her grandchildren how to swim during “Grammy Camp” during summers past. Her first job as a teenager was teaching children how to swim at a summer camp.  She taught her four boys how to swim, then later drove us to a pool for lessons and to the YMCA for swim meets. It was great being able to spend time with Mom in the pool. She was back in her element.


The next time I came up to visit. Mom didn’t want to swim.  Thoughts of putting a bathing suit on were now beyond her. But Mom, I shared, I need someone to watch me. I can’t swim alone. Well, Mom, knew this well since she had instilled this precept in each of her children from an early age, never swim alone. So I went out to the pool. Mom followed up the stairs to the pool area and sat in a chair so that she could watch me.  I swam for a long time, often talking with Mom, and then even after my brother came out to visit, Mom stayed there watching over me. This, despite her propensity to sleep most of the day away and night away, she would not let me swim alone.


During a visit in September, Mom lay propped up on the couch. I went through the 1996 photo album that she had curated. I showed her the pictures, she smiled a bit remembering when her oldest five grandchildren were little. My daughter was just a baby. There were lots of smiling faces as we visited with “Grammy” and “Pop Pop” (with Mom and Dad) at the pool, at the beach, at family gatherings, and during holidays, these often organized by Mom. I re-shot images of the photos in the album and reflected on the amazing memories my Mom had preserved, but also of the indelible memories and experiences that she had fostered.


Though I continued to wonder how much time Mom would have, I was also very glad that she had so much time to share her love of her family. I realized that there were shelves full of memories, dozens of curated photo albums, and all those family pictures on the walls throughout her house. As a professional Personal Historian I had started recording Mom stories and Dad stories and Their stories back in 2012.  I have well over 100 hours of recorded memories and stories on audio tape. Mom had shared with me the queued response book that she had filled in – over 170 pages of handwritten responses to questions about her life. These, to complement the hours of recordings and the photo archives.


This helped me to reflect, that though Mom was not able to respond to my questions now, she could now interview us – asking us what’s new, how are the kids doing in college, in jobs, in grad school, and in sports. She continued to be proud of us all. She had given us an amazing legacy of memories and a legacy of love and shared family experiences.


Christmas to Mom was family time, we were playing a family game as Christmas came to a close. Other family members were back in Mom’s room as Christmas and the game came to a close. Just after Christmas ended, Mom was ready and she went home. She was at peace, we said our final goodbyes. Afterwards, I pictured her sitting in heaven with two of her lapdogs sitting on her lap watching over us.


We do not know how much time we have… but thank you Mom for loving us and for investing in us your values and all of that quality time. The memories will last.


Blog by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, Summersbw@gmail.com

Bruce also is a Board Member of the Association of Personal Historians, also Regions and Chapters Director

See also

Mom Stories


There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…


Mother’s Day and Memories


Mother’s Day – Unique Gift

6 May

Sometimes I get to see my mother on Mother’s Day, and sometimes I can not. I propose a unique gift for your Mom – an hour of time as an active listener or perhaps four hours of time of asking questions about her life stories spread throughout the year.

10470171_790404754323810_1159196822803293323_o Jane Summers talks about her grandmother Lizzie, she made quilts for all nine grandchildren

Mother’s Day and Memories

As a professional personal historian, this is an easy gift for me to give my Mom.  Every time I visit my parents I have my digital voice recorder in my pocket all charged up and waiting for the right moment for some quality active listening time, and there are always more of stories to ask about. Some are favorites that I have heard partially before. Some are new stories about her childhood, about her family, about her Mom and her Grandmothers. What did she make or bake for those Sunday lunches? What did it smell like?

Thanksgiving checklist: cranberry salsa, bread, and the Voice Recorder App.

Thanksgiving Weekend update

Sometimes we talk about interesting episodes.  I love her stories about her adventures with mice.  My Mom was always afraid of mice, my three brothers an I always knew this, but it was not until a few years ago that I sat down with Mom and asked why. Then I got the real stories.

There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…

Even if you don’t have a digital voice recorder, though they are usually reasonably priced for about $100, you likely have a voice recording app on your Smart phone.  This also works great for recording a few Mom stories during your next visit.

If you need help with questions, of if you need help from a professional Personal Historian, then check out the Association of Personal Historians website.  We are the Life Story people with thousands of years of experience helping families record and share stories about Moms (and Dads) and other loved ones.

Have a great Mother’s Day. I would love to hear about your experiences – listening to Mom stories:) Just add a comment or send me an email.


Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian at Summoose Tales and a global board member and Regions Director of the Association of Personal Histories, summersbw@gmail.com.

Mother’s Day and Memories

9 May

My mom is devoted…to her four sons, her eight grandchildren, her husband (my dad), and to her many nieces and nephews.

20140420_164151 Cherub and flowers

But before this, she was devoted to her mother. I asked her recently to tell me about where and why she chose her first college. She chose a junior college at Edgewood Park, Briarcliff Manor, NY, not too far away, just up and across the Hudson River from Piermont, NY. She was still young, completing high school a year early and started college at not quite age 17.

I asked her why Edgewood Park? “I was only 16 and my parents had just divorced, I wanted to be near home, near my mother, I was concerned about her, I saw her about one weekend a month, she would pick me up in Nyack where the boat would bring us across the Hudson, I would often bring friends with me from college,” she shared.

Her mother was a lively soul; my mom’s college friends remember her well and enjoyed these weekend escapes from college. A seemingly good time was had by all and my mom knew her mom was ok.

At age 18, for her junior year, my mom transferred to a four-year college outside of Baltimore, MD, perhaps thinking enough time had passed, that her mom would be ok, she was working as a nurse, and seemed to have made the adjustment to living alone. I am sure she wrote to her often and of course spent the summer at home with her mom.

During her senior year Mom met my Dad who was also graduating and entering the Army. While he headed off to spend time in Korea, Mom went back home, started working and lived with her mom, and confirmed that she was ok.

After she married and started having kids we would make regular visits to Grandma’s house. My mom was still regularly checking in though it was too far to visit once a month, we would go up or her mom would come down a few times a year. We loved visiting Grandma in her big house with the mysterious rooms, old TV, and the forbidden overgrown “orchard” next door. As we were leaving one day Grandma told me at about age 65, that it was a bit lonely when we were not there, since her friends were getting older and dying.

Later, Grandma moved to our home town, it was great to have her nearby; she would stay with my brothers and me when my parents were away at a convention or at an overnight function. My mom could still keep an eye on her and visit, but a bit more regularly, to see if her mom was ok.

She seemingly was, but she was also getting older, various ailments were starting to slow her down. After a few years Grandma moved in with us. For a while she still was able to “look after us boys” but gradually my mom, my dad and “the boys” started looking after her.

It was hard on my mom, she was fixing special food for Grandma, but sometimes she had an appetite and sometimes not, nothing tasted like anything. This was hard on my mom; she remembered the lively soul who picked her up at the boat landing during college and entertained her friends.

Grandma got into a routine, she had her room, her things, her TV, the run of the house, and she had my mom when she wanted to talk or needed someone to drive her to on an errand or to the hairdresser or to play cards. This lasted for several years, “the boys” finished high school, then college; her health, her energy, and her appetite continued to slowly ebb but my mom’s devotion continued rock solid.

After college I headed off to the Peace Corps suspecting that I was saying goodbye to Grandma, two years seemed like it would be a long time for her, but I know my mom, supported by my dad, would make sure she would be ok. While I was away she entered a nursing home.  They could better take care of Grandma’s physical needs, nutrition, medicine and the hair dressing shop was just down the hall and around the corner. My mom visited her every day. Grandma’s health was somewhat precarious, so my mom hesitated about going away even on a short trip for a couple of days.

Some days Grandma struggled, she seemed to be fading. My mom continued to visit every day.  Then they would figure out a better dose of medicines and Grandma would rally.  I extended for a third year of Peace Corps service and was very pleasantly surprised that Grandma was still with us when I arrived back home.  My mom continued her daily visits, bringing comfort and conversation and being there for her mom.

About ten months after my return Grandma died while I was away at a three-week professional training course. I flew back directly to New York for Grandma’s funeral service and burial. At the funeral in my mom’s home town I sat next to my mom and held her hand.  It was a sad day, but Grandma was at peace after a long but well fought struggle, eased greatly by my mom’s love and devotion to her mother.

Mom and Bruce 2010

I ponder how I will measure up as my parents continue to age slowly but with relative good health. My mom set a pretty high standard.  Thanks Mom for the love, care, concern and devotion that you have modeled and for the values you demonstrated every day.

I hope you have an excellent Mother’s Day and many more.

20140511_091532 Mothers Day LRUCC

Footnote: As a Personal Historian I continue to collect stories from Mom and Dad whenever I see them.  It’s important to get this transfer of knowledge and values… how my mom helped Grandma, how my Grandma visited her mother every Sunday, how my father stopped by to see his mother on the way home for lunch. I will continue to collect and ponder these life lessons.

Bruce W. Summers

Summoose Tales




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