Spread Love - (Mom's enduring lesson)

On a Friday afternoon in Tokyo last month, I was waiting in an office and heard these lyrics:

Seems like everything we hear is just a tale
But I've got something that will never, ever fail
(It's called love)

Spread love, instead of spreading lies
Spread love, the truth needs no disguise
I've often said love could open any door
Oh, but I wish we had much more
More love is what we need
(Take 6 – Spread Love)

Just as it was when I first heard this eloquent song almost 30 years, I was overcome with joy and a chill ran through my body. What made this moment different is that I immediately thought of my mother, Isabella G. Payne (IGP as I affectionately called her). She died one year ago, on May 1st, 2015.

During the past 12 months, I’ve been thinking about the way she raised me, what lessons were taught and the values she instilled in me. When both parents are deceased (my dad died in 2005), the mind wanders in ways I could have never imagined.

I knew what was important to her in terms of character, integrity and helping others, but I wondered if there wasn’t a theme I was missing; one which would encapsulate the lessons my mom wanted to impart. We spoke (verbally and with our eyes) during her last 24 hours, although there wasn’t any particular wisdom given. That wasn’t her style. I knew that my being there put her at peace. My article about that day is below.

The title (Spread Love) of the aforementioned song gave me the answer I had been searching for. Those two words exemplify what Mom strove to do in her life, how she raised her only son, along with the joy she gave to and received from the hearts of others.
A few of many moments:
  • Our house was never without love and my mom was the catalyst. My parents separated more times than I care to remember, yet happiness towards me was consistent from both, despite their difficult marital issues.
  • When I threatened to run away at age 10, I didn't intend to follow through on it and never thought Mom would let me walk out of the door. We had been bickering for weeks and I was fed up. Without hesitation, she said “Go Ahead”. She had called my bluff, so of course I had to gather some things and leave the house. It wasn’t long (1 hour) before she came to pick me up at the home of a family friend. I could have gone anywhere, but she knew exactly where I would be. After that day (and lesson), there were no other moments nearly as tense.
  • When I became the class clown in grade school, she sternly threatened to kick me off the basketball team if it ever happened again.  She was as mad as I ever remember her being. Her eyes froze me, as she had to take time off from work to come meet my teacher. Needless to say, the clowning stopped forever that day.
  • Being a high school sports star, everyone was nice to me and I had almost no peer pressure. My mother never gloated (at least to my knowledge) about my basketball skills or treated me any differently than she did before the basketball fame. We rarely talked about the game, my performance or college scholarship ambition. She was more concerned about raising a good man. I didn’t quite understand her actions then, but am grateful for them now. How was she was wise enough to know that my basketball success would take care of itself?
  • Moving away from my Pennsylvania hometown (Boston, New York City and Sweden) was very difficult for my mom, especially when I was a 9 hour plane ride away in Scandinavia. She never complained though, even when we only saw each other once a year. She supported me fully and her love remained strong. IGP never got in the way of me “believing I could fly”.
  • All the love she put forth in her numerous volunteer efforts (i.e. Dinners for  the Homeless, Central PA Food Bank, Hospital Rides for the Elderly) had a profound impact on me. I doubt that I would be as interested or capable in helping others without her constant inspiration.
  • The 250+ people who attended my mom’s memorial on May 11, 2015, spoke volumes about the love she spread throughout her life. Numerous people told me stories about what she did for them or meant to them. Some of these precious moments came from people I had never met before. The wonderful eulogy, our family, her friends, the private conversations and the immense about of love that day has helped to sustain me during the past year.
  • The Central PA Food Bank had over 20 people who came to the memorial. My mother volunteered there for 17 years. My cousin, the kids and I had a chance to tour the Food Bank last December, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We could feel the love of IGP in the place.
  • The love she had for my family, her godsons, my cousins, her siblings and dear friends was powerful. Those relationships gave my mom tremendous joy and the bonds they shared were wonderful to witness and hear about. She didn’t always give you the advice you wanted to hear, but it was love inspired, and often what one needed to hear.
  • My mother’s career didn’t define her, but she was proud of her 35 years in State Government, despite not having a college education. She had prominent managerial roles, and I know the daily grind wasn’t easy for her as it was sometimes written all over her face. Witnessing her discipline, persistence and joy regarding her work performance was a beautiful form of love and pride during my early years; one that I learned from and keep top of mind.
  • My mother and her two sisters (Eleanor and Mary Ann) had far too many years of not communicating well and/or not speaking at all. All three of them played a part in the strained relationships. Fortunately, they mended whatever was ailing them and became close again. My mother was thrilled. She loved her sisters dearly, and was overjoyed when the tension was removed and the love was back in its proper place.
  •  Mom spent a lot of quality time with my dear cousin Andrea in the last decade, which I am thankful for. Their bond was lovely to witness and comforting for me since I was far away. They enjoyed each other and Andrea looked after my mom like a daughter would.  When I talk to or see my cousin, the love of IGP comes shining through. Andrea’s love enabled me to deal with the memorial and estate issues quite easily. Along with my wife Matilda, Andrea has been and continues to be my rock.
  • As I was flying in the air to see my mother for the last time, she had the presence of mind to tell Andrea to make a ‘fresh bed’ for me at her home. There was no way I was leaving her hospital room that first night, but even in her toughest health moment, her love was standing tall.
It was bittersweet when the reality hit me that both of my parents were gone. Comforting in that I no longer had to think about their health and getting older, yet more challenging than I thought in that my emotions got the best of me at times. For me, it was anger that crept into my being, which is not something I often feel. I found myself angry at the smallest things in our new Tokyo home. I don’t think many people noticed, yet I was determined not to let it take hold of me in a stronger way.

In those moments, I thought about my mom and the love she kept near to her, particularly with a life much more challenging than mine has ever been. In addition, I had seen her face numerous obstacles with remarkable grace, along with handling difficult situations in a calm and collected manner. Those memories soothed my emotions.

After the anger subsided, the same cancer my mother had appeared again in my life - twice. One was a Swedish dad I had met for the first time and the other was a longtime friend from the USA, both living in Tokyo with two young kids each. The 47 year old wife of this brave dad had just died of lung cancer when our first conversation took place. Soon after, I learned that the husband (50) of my American friend was diagnosed with lung cancer.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that these two circumstances came my way. I’m grateful they both opened up to me and that I was able to provide some form of comfort to them. Since I had gone through the 5+ year lung cancer battle with my mom, there were many things I could relate to, empathize with and advice I could provide.

Finally, I received a note that made me smile. It was from a woman my mom had helped in 2010 with some of her health issues; something nobody knew about. She wrote a letter to my mom in August of 2015, to say hello and check up on her.

Part of it said:

Dear Isabella,

“I think of you often, especially when I go out to Hershey Medical and how you were my Angel who helped me when I really needed it.”

When my cousin Andrea informed her that my mom had died, she continued in her praise and ‘Angel’ wording, even noting the specific date (Oct 22, 2010) of the help and the love my mom had shown her. I may never know the details of their relationship, but the love described tells me all I need to know.

My mother’s giving heart and loving spirit is a beautiful memory to have. With that in my soul, I can now delight in the wonderful examples of her life, honor her by the way in which I live, and spread love in the best way I know how.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Me, Mom and Andrea - (Artist is Roland Williams)


Andrea Nolley said...

As always this is a beautiful and heartfelt testimony of love. I know that more lessons from IGP will be shared with us for years to come through your eloquent words. Thank you.
Love your "Sister" in love,

David Veitch said...

George, your honesty is touching. Your mother sounds an amazing lady. I never met her but I believe I see her in you.