life, when measured, does not come out to a number of years. it does not include the size you grew, from an infant, to a child, through adulthood. the number of smiles, tears, laughs and even winks – despite how novel it may be to reflect back on these stats, life cannot be summed up in simple numbers of emotions. how would you measure love, how would you quantify moments of joy and sorrow? and then, after one’s passing, what truly lives on is a person’s spirit, a mysterious but certain thing that affects us all in ways we can and cannot see.
anne tillery’s mother, frances, passed away in 2012, but the story of her passing has me believing in this idea of an everlasting spirit. it was the spring of that year when frances, always a healthy and vibrant soul, was suddenly struck down with fatigue, a shortness of breath, and even an inability to walk. the diagnosis was stage four cancer, and it came as a tremendous shock to anne and her entire family.
things moved quickly from the diagnosis to frances’ final stage of life. after a brief time spent in a rehabilitation center with the goal of recovering some of the strength she had lost to cancer, frances ultimately decided that she did not want painkillers, and she did not want to remain in the center. “lucid,” was what she wanted to be for her final days, and she told her daughters anne and amy that “i want to be home.” for frances, home meant to be where she was most comfortable, surrounded by the ones she unconditionally loved.
anne, her family, and her sister, amy, understood. she and her family had been spending most of their days visiting their mother at the hospital and the rehabilitation center. to bring her mother home, and to honor her wish, anne needed to change her summer plans. what was supposed to be a summer spent as a chaperon on her daughter’s school trip to japan, was suddenly changed to a summer of turning back the clock: anne and amy would be moving back in together, to care for their mother. it had been over 25 years since these two sisters had lived under the same roof. for so many reasons, this would be a summer that these two sisters would always remember.
there really is nothing seamless about moving back in with your mother and sister after so much time of growing into your own person, and raising your own family. when one sister arrives with a giant bernese mountain dog (amy’s) who is also terminally ill, the transition back to family life is all the more frenetic, and at times, even silly. both vegetarians, anne and amy found themselves making meals of home cooked beef stew to feed amy’s dog. another moment of humor came after anne made a trip to the local food bank, where she had dropped off much of her mother’s food that she would no longer eat or need. shortly after the drop-off, when anne was at work, she received a call from her sister: “where is all the food i just bought?” amy asked. what anne thought was frances’ unwanted food was actually amy’s groceries, including meals and meals of home-cooked food that was given to the family by amy’s best friend. anne knew instantly the mistake she had made, and all she and her sister could do was laugh – living with a terminally-ill mother helps you gain a perspective of what is actually important.
but the summer was most notably marked by the time the three of them spent together. when neighbors and frances’ friends found out about the news, everyone was deeply affected. the mailman, frances’ haridresser and even the owner of the video store that frances often frequented all expressed to anne how much her mother meant to them. anne was touched by how many people came to express their love and support, for frances had all accepted them into their lives in such a loving and compassionate way. surely this is part of frances’ spirit that continues to live on through her daughters and everyone she touched during her life. indeed, anne described it as part of her mother’s legacy.
and the beauty of this legacy is that frances’ spirit will be around for a long, long time. it was during one of her final moments, when she was able to find the strength to speak aloud and ask her two daughters to sit on the bed with her and hold her hands. the three of them sat there, connected by their heritage and their ancestors, and now connected physically by hand. it was a moment when frances could hold and see her legacy being passed on, from her generation, to her daughters’ generation and beyond. and it was a moment that words simply cannot do justice to.
shortly after frances’ passing, anne’s friend sally brought over a glassybaby to help commemorate frances’ life. grace now sits on anne’s altar, alongside a photo of her father, and it reminds anne daily of her mother’s spirit, and “the light and presence that she was.”
all of us at glassybaby are humbled to be a small part of anne’s story, but our gratitude most lies in anne’s courage to share her story with us. we are touched by the beauty of her family’s love, and how she and amy continue to honor her mother’s legacy. surely, frances’ spirit lives on through her daughters and how they continue to shed light in their own families and communities.