Monday, May 12, 2008

Laurel,,....Mother, Teacher and Friend

My mom,... mother, teacher and friend

Almost two weeks ago, I sent out a call in desperation.

My mother had just asked me to do her life's tribute and for the first time in my life,...I was at a loss for words despite having written many public, some even award winning, tributes. Although as a journalist I always carried the heavy burden of doing a person justice, for this tribute I looked in the mirror and asked, "How do I do her justice and let everyone know exactly what she meant to me and so many others?"

Many good, talented and wonderful people came to my aid though and if nothing more, helped me pull it together so that I could get through it and paint her life in a way her friends and family wanted to remember her.

And for that I thank you all and hope that I did justice to all of you as well.......

Tribute For Laurel Stapley Gooch

Almost exactly a year ago I stood in my mom’s upstairs office and cried after she’d gotten the grim news about the state of her cancer. I told her that she had to stick around – I wasn’t prepared to be the matriarch of this family and take on the responsibilities that entailed.

“Mom, that is a mantle I am so under qualified and so thoroughly unprepared for – you have to beat this.”

I was expecting comfort and words of wisdom but in her classic way, she put her arms around me, smiled and said, “Oh Sis, that title is more of a yoke rather than a mantle,….have you looked at this bunch lately?”

Despite what she personally thought of her abilities, she always knew how to be strong when we found ourselves crumbling and she did it with grace, dignity, and when the situations warranted it – a dose of humor.

I had always been so independent and self assured that my mom and dad used to kid me that God gave me to them so I could raise her. And then Becky had been given to them so they felt like they had had a hand in raising a daughter. But that night when faced with the possibilities of losing my mom, she saw a new side of me – one that needed her in the worst way and felt completely inadequate at the prospects of following in her footsteps.

I remember one night about five years ago when dad was sick and looking back through his hospital room door as she gently cradled his hand. I looked at my mom and saw something I’d been remiss to see before. Or more accurately, maybe I just hadn’t needed to see it before.

She’d been the woman I watched as a ten year old trying to corral the dog into the back yard before he could have an accident. When the dog ended up on the couch trying to escape the loony woman waving her arms in arcs and whooping at him, she hadn’t skipped a beat. She fetched the vacuum, put it on the couch and turned it on. The dog, who was more scared of the vacuum than the crazy lady, jumped off the couch onto her new carpet and urinated in fear.

I got a scrub brush and helped her until there wasn’t a dribble left.

At twelve, I watched as she cried because a mother bird who’d built a nest in the air conditioning vent that spring had pushed her babies into taking their first shaky steps and watched as they had failed. She cried even harder when the mother bird pushed them to keep trying until they finally succeeded and flew away that fall.

That moment, for her, had defined the true nature of motherhood – putting ones biggest fears aside for the betterment and ultimate joy of knowing that you’ve done your job and your children are succeeding on their own. Every fall as the kids returned back to school, she would remember the birds and the role of a mother and she would cry mixed tears of joy and sadness.

Back then I had put my arm around her and tried to give her comfort by telling her that I’d never be far away.

At thirteen, I had watched her secretly act out a scene from ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ in her old blue polka dot bikini in front of her dresser mirror. I sat down on the edge of her bed and told her that she looked great for an older lady.

I watched as sadness mixed with a hint of wistfulness churned in her eyes when she recognized the disappearance of her youth.

At seventeen I watched her with a bit of disdain as she sat at the table one Sunday afternoon looking at five of us and said with the shock and utter amazement of someone who’d just won the ten million dollar lotto, “I’m a mother!”

I rolled my eyes and said, “Duuhhh…” I figured she had become a bird brain.

At nineteen, I’d fought with her because she’d tried to force her dreams for my wedding upon me. She’d put her foot down when I’d asked for a miniature waterfall under the cake with rose colored water matching the decorated fondant tiers. She said it made it look trashy. I ordered the fountain anyway yelling at her to get out of my life. I was sure I completely understood why the baby birds had flown away never to return home again.

I did not see her cry that time but hoped that she had.

Throughout my twenties as I had my children, I watched her wring her hands and fret over my brothers and their choices in mates hoping that these young women would support them through their educations. She had wanted my brothers and their families to be able to live out their dreams. Education afforded better jobs and better jobs afforded dreams. Only when those diplomas were obtained could she rest peacefully knowing that they’d be okay. And she fretted over Becky hoping that Josh could give her the life my mother felt she deserved. She later told me that she had never needed to worry. Jen, Syd, Josh and Shiloh were the best things that could’ve ever happened to my brothers and to Becky.

I finally understood why, when looking at my siblings through a mother’s eyes, she had cried over the baby birds.

I was thirty-seven, that night at the hospital when I watched her at my father’s bedside having patience, adding strength and holding onto faith believing that all would be well. She was fighting for him with a determination that only someone in that situation could understand. I also remembered smiling as I headed around the corner. I knew I didn’t need to be there to catch her if she fell. She was bravely moving forward into unchartered territory and handling it with the grace I wish I had.

But when I got home I cried because somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew she had taught me to be the mother bird. And I could not have had a more qualified and magnificent teacher.

She lost her dad when she was 29 to cancer, and on the day of his funeral, she had cried but told me that she had thanked God for giving her such a wonderful man as a father.

She lost her father-in-law to cancer when she was 37, and I watched as she took on the house, five children, the yard and scrimp on a budget so dad could fly back and forth between Denver and Phoenix spending what precious time there was left with his father. At grandpa’s funeral she shed tears and thanked God that she’d been blessed with another good man who’d raised a fine son – the one she had grown to love more than life its self.

And when dad developed a limp that would not go away, at 57 she chauffeured him from doctor to doctor in a fervent quest hoping to find the cause. She once again faced cancer and bravely took my dad’s hand saying, “We’ll fight this together.”

He was 61 when mom wept as she rested her head upon his knee knowing he was steadily growing closer to taking his last breath. And although most of her married life she had been afraid to give voice to her darkest trepidations, we children knew that her biggest fear had always been to be left alone. Yet, she lifted her head and whispered so those in the room could barely hear, “I love you, Bill, but I can do this. I don’t want to see you hurt anymore. Go, my love, go….”

Moments later, dad took his last breath. Mom kissed him gently on the forehead and left the room to make the arrangements.

On the day of his funeral when every cell in my body wanted to scream at the injustice of it all, my mom put her hand on my shaking arm and said, “I thank God for having such a wonderful man to share my life with,” and she sadly but tenderly watched as the love of her life was being put to rest.

Her doctors told us that mom’s case was a complex one and quite frankly, that was fitting since she was a complex woman. Although her emotions were clearly defined, her words often were not. She loved fiercely and fought to keep her family close but sometimes we as children just heard the fight part and not the love behind them.

But on the evening of her death, there was no mistake as to her feelings. We wondered why she did not just give up and go. Her body was racked with pain and as much as it was excruciating to let her go, she held on with a fierce determination proving once and for all that she was indeed more stubborn than my brother David.

Although she had not been responsive for more than 24 hours, right before her passing her breathing calmed, hers eyes barely opened and she looked at her children. As testimony to our mother’s love and complex ways, tears of joy and anguish ran down her face before we had the opportunity to usher her into my dad’s waiting arms.

She loved the scripture in Proverbs which reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thy own understanding “ but she also lived by the creed question everything.

She said she was never good with words but she gave amazing talks and loved to learn new and unusual words in the dictionary and engage in word play.

She could cry and laugh at the same time.

She was every bit a lady but was also a tomboy as a little girl who ran through fields, played in mud and with snakes and even once wore her boy cousin’s underwear.

She always praised others and marveled at their talents but had a hard time recognizing her own as true gifts and as marvelous works.

She said she couldn’t die – she had not found her purpose in life and yet she gave everything to her family and friends.

She sometimes questioned her own faith and yet she had the uncanny ability to teach faith, perseverance, strength and forgiveness by example through the things she did on a daily basis.

Over the course of the last year as we drove to and from appointments, I had many opportunities to talk with her and understand the true nature of her heart and the tenderness she had for her children, her grandchildren, her other family members and her friends. And if there was a word that could define those conversations besides love, it was gratitude.

She was grateful for the blessings in her life. She would have given her life for anyone of her children or grandchildren, and gone to the ends of the Earth for any one of her friends. She could not live without her siblings or her mother. And of them all, she was fiercely protective and passionate.

I’ve also watched many times over the last four years as she’s forlornly gazed at daddy’s picture and harbored insecurities that she couldn’t do it as well as he had – couldn’t laugh as much, couldn’t live as well or love as perfectly as he did. But everyday, she faced the day and did it as best she could hoping to make proud those who meant most to her in this life as she found moments to laugh and love perfectly – just like she had taught daddy to do.

And she did make us proud.

And then I remember the night when she talked one last time of the birds. It was the night she asked me to be the mother bird. She told me that although my brothers held the priesthood keys to the family, she was counting on me to be the heart of it. She told me to be there for Becky and do all those things she’d need another woman’s touch for like shopping and advice on raising two active little boys and to help her keep her panic under control. She told me to make sure the boys played nice; don’t let Rex take himself too seriously, give Tim free reign on his emotions and to remind David to take care of himself as well as others. She also wanted them all to know that she knew their hearts and that they had made her extremely proud. She then gave me the charge to make sure I all feathers were kept unruffled and when they were, to make sure they did not stay that way.

As far as she was concerned, she had done seven great things in her life – married my father and raised six children that any parent could be proud of.

And then she spoke of Taylor – her one last great success - and told me that I’d been a surrogate mother to him since the day he was born. She was counting on me to make sure that he felt a mother’s love every day for the rest of his life. And Taylor, you will because we have a mother who taught us all the importance of bonding together as a family. No one can take her place but we as a collaborative whole can lead, guide and direct you,….and each other, as our parents would have done. And that is my promise to you - my family, including mom – that I will be here for you whenever you need me and live my life in such a way that our parents will live on and can rejoice in our accomplishments.

It is now time for a new generation to pick up her baton of hope and strength. I do not know what the future holds but I am assured – thanks to the example of our mother – that we will have the courage to face whatever is asked of us. And I am grateful that God has given us a mother to teach us how to face our fears with faith and with dignity. We love you, mom.


“Hey there, Goochie, I’ve waited a while….”

He welcomed her warmly with his lopsided smile.

“I know it’s hard but you too, will see,

How strongly and united is our family.”

“But the kids, Bill…” and she shed a tear.

“They need my love, they need a parent near.”

“Have you forgotten the mercy of our Father here?

We WILL be close,…there’s no need to fear.”

“I am so conflicted between here and Earth

Because God gave us stewardship the day of their births.

I have loved them as only a mother could

And fought for them, and beside them stood.”

Ah, Goochie,” he nodded as he took her hand,

“That’s exactly why you can know how strong they’ll stand

Together united as we taught them to be

And we’ll still be watching over them - you and me.”

She then looked back at her mortal form

And at all of their children as they lovingly mourned,

And she knew he was right as she drew close to death.

Their family would be fine, they had already been lead.

But she would still miss them if for only a short time.

And a tear from her mortal eye was their final sign

That their mother knew joy but also felt pain

Over missing her children until they were untied again.

“They are a good bunch, those kids of ours,

And I do know God won’t keep us far.”

She smiled up at him with her big blue eyes

And then looked back one last time to whisper goodbye.

He then twirled her round and did a dippy-doo

“It seems like forever since I could dance with you.”

She couldn’t help laugh as she did a two-step with her love

While watching over their family from God’s kingdom above.

Written by Stacy Gooch Anderson

April 30, 2008