Have To? I’d Love To.

Nan and Mom 2One day, several years ago, I was leaving work and in the process of saying goodbye to co-workers I said, “I have to go see my mom.”

Have to.

Mom lived in a nearby assisted living community. She was in her mid-80s and she was fit as a fiddle physically, but her dear mind had begun to play some pretty significant tricks on her. Visiting mom was pretty much a daily event. You know, routine. “I have to go to work, I have to go see Mom.”

I didn’t mean anything by it, that “have to” I tossed out there. In the moment, I didn’t really even realize how I had said it…or how it may have sounded. And I doubt anyone else gave it a second thought.

But I did.

On the drive over to spend some time with my mom, my heart reached up, tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Hey…you don’t have to go see Mom. You get to. Remember that. Because someday you won’t have to and you sure won’t get to.”

Oh heart, you wise and wonderful muscle! How right you are, I thought.

You have to go to the dentist. You have to pay your taxes. You have to take out the trash.

Mom and her girlsBut spend time with your beautiful 85 year old mom? Spend time with the woman who rolled your fine little girl hair on those pink spongy rollers every night in an attempt to have curls for even a minute the next day? The woman who made your family amazing fried chicken every Monday evening in the pre-cholesterol concern era? The mom who dutifully drove you to the horse barn every non-school morning and then repeated the trip to pick you up every single evening? The mom who encouraged your love of drawing and who saw a spark of something good in your early writing? The mom who was always 100% there for you, even when you didn’t really realize it?

That’s a get-to visit. A grab and cherish every moment you can get-to.

From that day forward, I consciously changed my phrasing and my attitude from “have to” to “get to.” Oh sure, some days weren’t easy. Some visits were taxing, emotional, and draining. My mother, in the grips of dementia, was not always the sweet, compassionate, gentle, fun-loving woman who raised me. Some days it seemed nothing made her happy.

But still, I did get to see my mother. And for each of the days, in the last years of her life, that were a bit of a struggle, there were 10 days that were great ones. Most of our time together we laughed, we sang, we danced, we held hands, we played with one of my dogs, we talked, we walked together, we conquered Bingo as a team, and we loved each other. Always.

Now, I don’t get to see my mom. It’s Mother’s Day and I don’t “get to.”

But I do get to celebrate her. I do get to remember her. I do get to feel her spirit alive and well within my heart…the heart she created and nurtured. She didn’t have to. She wanted to.

Do you have to, or get to? We should all think carefully about the ones we love, the ones who spent a lifetime caring for us, and who perhaps need to lean on us these days. “Get to” now because some day you won’t be able to, and you’d sure love to. I’d sure love to.

mom and donkHappy Mother’s Day, Margaret Kirk Gallimore. You were and are loved so dearly. You are missed every single day. What a cool, amazing, fun mom I get to remember.

Thank you for sending me seagulls and for popping into my head every time I find a button for our jar. 

A Different Kind of Mother’s Day


“Do you have big plans for tomorrow?” said the grocery store clerk named Judi, according to her nametag, as she scanned the items from my cart. I know she was referring to the two bundles of roses atop my groceries and the obvious-unless-you-are-in-a-coma fact that it is Mother’s Day weekend.

“No, not really,” I replied. “Just a quiet day.”

This was obviously not the reply she expected. After all, I am a woman who has obviously seen her child-bearing years, but who is also still young enough to have her own mom around. After a brief moment of silence to mull the lack of a rosy-Mother’s-Day response on my part, Judi offered another opportunity for conversation.

“My son called me last night. It’s a busy weekend for his family and he wanted to be sure to wish me a happy Mother’s Day.”

“That’s so sweet,” I commented. “You have a very thoughtful son.”

And then silence as I scanned my credit card and punched in my pin number. Sorry, Judi, I thought. I don’t have much to offer in return. I am never quite sure how to answer these questions…how to join in this conversation.

“I got to talk to my grandkids too,” she nudged, hopefully. “I have a grandson who is nine and a granddaughter who just turned six.”

Ok, time to give this woman a nugget…she’s trying.

“That must be fun for you. I didn’t have kids and my mother passed away a few years ago, so Mother’s Day is a bit quiet for me.”

Judi’s response?


And then she proceeded to scan my groceries a tad faster. I spared her the awkward silence by asking her a few questions about her grandkids. She loved this line of conversation and I am a very good listener. Awkward moment averted.

Her son, who lives in Kansas City, actually calls her every single night on his way home from work. He has done this since her older son passed away a few years ago. He likes to make sure Judi is ok. Ah Judi, your son. That’s a tough one. I see we’ve all had our losses, I thought to myself.

“You have a very good son,” I said with a smile. “I just bet he calls you tomorrow even though he wished you a Happy Mother’s Day yesterday.”  Judi smiled and agreed that he probably would. We loaded my bagged groceries back into the cart, the flowers placed carefully on top, and I told her to have a very happy Mother’s Day.

“You too,” Judi auto-replied as I walked away.

“Thank you,” I said, “I will.” And I will.

Mom and her girls. Cindy was the oldest, Terry was the middle child. Me? Yeah, I'm the little one in the fancy glasses.

Mom and her girls. Cindy was the oldest, Terry was the middle child. Me? Yeah, I’m the little one in the fancy glasses.

Mother’s Day is not a sad day for me. I had a wonderful mom. She was loving, supportive, funny, fun-loving, compassionate, and a whole lot of other great adjectives. My mom was a stay-at-home kind of mom. She was the cook-a-big-meal-every-day kind of mom. She was a put-every-scribbled-drawing-prominently-on-the-fridge kind of mom. She was a tuck-you-in-at-night-even-when-you’re-a-little-too-old-for-it kind of mom.

She was a great kind of mom.

Mom passed away in October of 2010, after a long battle with dementia. Disease robbed my sister and I of our mom years before we actually lost her, but our memories serve us well and I still feel her presence with me. My mom is gone in the traditional sense, but she’s really not gone at all.

Mom is everywhere. Wherever I am, Mom is there too. I see little things all the time that remind me of her.

A beautiful little finch coming to my bird feeder? My mom delighted in each visitor. I learned to enjoy bird watching thanks to my parents who kept their feeders religiously filled and marked each new species sighted in their bird dictionary.

A dead tree stark against an otherwise green grove? Beautiful! My mom would want to stop to photograph the gracefully bare branches, ignoring the flourishing leaves all around it.

A precious little baby offering an innocent smile and a gurgled laugh? Melt a little. Mom sure would.

A beautiful shell washing up on a beach? You can’t have too many. Take it home to add to your collection.

In fact, anything beach related was something my landlocked mom appreciated. She loved to make pilgrimages to the beach in Texas or Florida as often as possible. Since she was, as I mentioned, an avid bird watcher, she was particularly drawn to the birds found at the ocean. Pelicans were among her favorites. The seemingly clumsy, comical birds just fascinated her as their unlikely bodies balancing those shovel-inspired beaks somehow lifted gracefully into the air and then plunged into the water to find the morning’s breakfast.

She also loved seagulls. On vacations, she would take little snacks down to the beach at sunrise delighting in finding herself surrounded by the demanding aerial acrobats.

In fact, I am quite convinced that mom now uses these particular little feathered reminders quite often. Though we are nowhere near a shoreline, there are seagulls in Oklahoma. They fly along the shores of the Arkansas River. You don’t necessarily see them all the time, but they’re around.

I truly believe that my mom sends seagulls to me when she wants to say hello, or when she knows I need her. It has happened since the day she passed. I’ll be driving along, or I’ll be out for a walk and a random seagull will appear to hover over me for a bit and then soar away. I always smile and say “Hello, Mom. I love you.”


Amazing seagull image captured by my dear friend, Lesleigh Shaefer. Leigh is a talented photographer and when I told her how much I loved her seagull photos and why, she immediately shared some with me. Thank you Leigh…I will treasure them as much as I treasure you. This photo used here with Leigh’s blessing.

One day, not long after Mom had passed, I was having a bit of a rough day. I missed her terribly. There were things I wanted to share with her and ask her. I wanted to sit with her. I wanted to hug her. There was no denying it. My heart was heavy with a healthy bout of grief.

I was home alone and had walked out to the barn to check the water troughs when suddenly I heard a familiar screech.  I looked up to see a few obviously lost seagulls circling the barn.

As I smiled and watched, the sky suddenly started filling with seagulls. Not a few, not a dozen, literally hundreds of them. Maybe this is a scene you might find near a fleet of fishing boats, but it’s certainly not a common occurrence in the skies over Mounds, Oklahoma. Our farm is not anywhere near the river. Seagulls do not flock to my little farm pond.

I just stood in awe as the air over my farm filled with hundreds of seagulls swirling and soaring overhead. Their performance went on for several minutes. Then, just as quickly as they appeared, they were gone. I searched the brilliantly blue sky for any stragglers and didn’t see even one.  In that moment I knew that I had just received the most spectacular hug my mother could deliver.

Through tears and laughter I thanked my mom for reminding me that she is still with me. No matter where I am, she can find me. Her seagulls can always find me. And leave it to mom to send them when there were no other witnesses to confirm or deny my sanity.

Tomorrow, I will take flowers to her grave—the very flowers I purchased today from sweet mom and grandmother, Judi. I will brush the dust off of her headstone and I’ll talk with her and with Dad as well. I’ll arrange the roses nicely in the urn that marks their little place in the earth. I’ll sit for a moment to enjoy the peace and beauty of this place.

And I won’t be one tiny bit surprised if I see a clever little seagull supervising my visit. Not one bit surprised.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you too.