Meet my mom, Karla Jo. She was a beautiful woman, who left behind an incredible legacy for her children to follow.
I was born to an already large family in 1995, to parents who weren't expecting anymore babies. My mom was 37 and my dad had just turned 40. Mama always called me their miracle baby because I wasn't supposed to survive the pregnancy. She was getting sick, with what we didn't know at the time, but they told her she didn't have much time left. My mom didn't care; she just wanted to raise her babies.
She lived an incredible life, like the ones of heroines that you read about in Nicholas Sparks novels or see in romantic movies. My mom came from a terrible, abusive life in a trailer park in Montana. She ran from a dangerous home and a frightening man. Somehow, she ended up living up on the South Hill of Spokane. My dad was a man of the military, and currently deployed when she purchased the plot of land next to his home. He returned from assignment to find "a crazy woman - she just bought the giant field next to me and started building this ridiculous house with a ridiculous sunk-in living room."
He fell in love with her at first sight. That's the kind of woman she was - enchanting, irresistible, charming, compassionate...you name it, she was wonderful. My dad was a lovesick fool after that. They were married just a couple years later. My oldest sister, Alyssa, was born in 1986 right after they were reassigned to an Air Force base in Arkansas. My mom raised her with little help, as my dad was always working. That didn't change a thing, though. Mom provided everything for Alyssa and their relationship is probably the closest bond I have ever witnessed between mother and daughter.
When our family was moved back to the Northwest, my mom gave birth to her first son, Nathan. He was very sick at birth, but mom refused to give up on him. She spent weeks in the hospital, caring for him, giving him the nurture that nurses could not. They told her that his chances were slim, but never did she lose faith that her boy would grow up to be an upstanding man. She was right, and she raised Nate to be the most incredible man I have ever met. His work ethic, respect for others, and remarkable compassionate nature are carbon copies of my mother's. She instilled a wondrous spirit in my brother, all through her hard work and love.
She built up the Subway empire of Coeur d'Alene in her spare time. At one time, she ran five stores in the Northwest, all while raising three of her own kids, as well as three stepchildren. Never once did any of us feel neglected because of her work. She always traveled with a baby on her hip and a briefcase (filled with toys) in her hand. I was born in 1995, just a few years after my brother. She had been becoming progressively ill over the last year, but chose to plow forward, because living for her family, and serving others in charity, is what she did.
I grew up behind the counter of Subway, learning how to count, work a cash register, and cook, all with her at my side. She never left me with a babysitter; not once. We were bonded in a way not even my dad could ever understand. Out of 3 children, I was the only one to end up with the dominant features of my mom; the only with her beautiful green eyes and excess of laugh lines and dimples on my cheeks. She was my hero, and still is.
Mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was in fourth grade. It was a shocking blow to our family. She rose from the ashes of the fear with a newfound determination to survive. In the middle of my 5th grade year, she packed up a few belongings and moved to Seattle for a year to undergo vigorous treatment. I was lucky enough to spend a summer alone with her in a small apartment overlooking Lake Union while she was treated. During that time, our roles began to change. I was the one holding her while she threw up, the one tucking her in at night, and the one monitoring fevers and medication.
She sang to me every night when we went to bed, from the time I was born, until she didn't have a voice left to sing with anymore. "You Are My Sunshine" and "Go to Sleep" are two lullabies that still resonate in my mind when I go to sleep.
After a year, she returned home, but the treatment had done little. She was very sick, and struggled to balance children, work, church, and charity all in one....but somehow, she did. I never felt like I didn't have a mother looking out for me, even in the worst of times. You could find her baking bread in the middle of the night, or making cookies for her Sunday School class at 6 in the morning, just because she didn't want to waste time feeling sorry for herself. All she wanted was to serve others.
My freshman year of high school, things turned for the worse. She began to lose her memory and her basic motor functions. She was in and out of the hospital and underwent extensive treatment, but the doctors knew her time was coming to a close. The family banded together for what we knew would be last year of her life.
It was a Sunday morning, we were leaving for church. Mom taught a class of 30+ (often unruly) teenagers; she loved them like her own babies. She took a terrible fall off of the garage stairs when she lost a hold of her cane and misstepped. My father and I raced to catch her, but it was too late. Her injuries were severe. While my dad got the car, I helped stabilize her broken hip and carry her to the driveway. The entire drive into Spokane, I held a towel to the wound on her head, gripped her hand, and sang our lullabies back to her. She demanded that we take her to church, instead. She told us that her purpose in life was to serve the kids in her class, and that she would die doing it.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were seated in a room in the ER. My dad went to call my siblings, and I was left with mom. It was the first time in months that she truly recognized me. She looked me in the eye and smiled.
"Emma," she murmured, "it's going to be okay. Never forget how much I love you."
Just a few minutes later, they wheeled her into the big double doors. Those would be the last words she spoke to me.
They ran every test in the book and discovered that the fall had caused a brain bleed. Immediately, she was transferred to Deaconess for brain surgery. They knew she was weak, but expected her to survive with at least some cognitive function.
A week passed; my brother and I returned to school. That Friday, we received the call that she wasn't waking up. We were rushed to the hospital for our last few hours with her. Her beautiful green eyes were open, but blank. She was hooked up to countless machines. For the next twelve hours, I held her hand and sang our lullabies. At 1 AM, she passed from this world. My siblings clung to each other and told stories about her all through the night, and the next week.
At her funeral, more than 400 people showed up. All of whom she had touched at some point in their lives.
It's been two years since she passed, and her legacy shines all around us. Alyssa now has a daughter of her own, and my brother is soon to be married. I am at the end of my junior year, and looking ahead to a bright future. A future that would have never been made possible without the influence and the teachings of my mama.
So on this Mother's Day, it is not a day of sadness. Instead, this year, we are celebrating the legacy Karla left behind. A legacy of a life lived in service to others.