A Perfect Day with My Mother

A Perfect Day with My Mother

Veronica KaramanBy Veronica Karaman23 Minutes

Excerpt from My Shot of Joy: A Miraculous Journey of Redeeming a Lost Mother-Daughter Relationship by Veronica Karaman


It isn’t often a mother and daughter share a perfect day together. The Reindeer Fun Run, held in early December 2007, was as close as it got for Mom and me.

The air was cold as I put on my doubled-lined sweater and prepared for my early morning race. What was special about this morning’s inaugural race in Southern Pines was that you could run in it with your dog. Teddy-boy, our dog, was an American Eskimo. I was excited to decorate his all white coat for the event, face-painting him with some green and red stripes. He looked like the official Christmas dog.

As easy as it was for me to get ready, Mom in her fragile health was much more of a challenge. I knew her time was short as she was nearing the end of her race at nine-one. A few weeks before, she’d had some flare-ups with congestive heart failure, and the problem only exacerbated her aortic stenosis—a terminal heart condition. Her breathing was shallow; her heart was shutting down. Contemplating the doctor’s determination that she had only about six weeks to live, I questioned the decision we had made by faith the day before, to venture out just as we had done so many other times. Should I take her to the race or leave her home? As careful as we needed to be about her health, her spirit was strong and vibrant. After all, everything about this morning’s event reflected what her life and our relationship was all about: family, the dog, fun, the small town atmosphere, and running a race!

After I helped Mom get ready, we headed out the door. “I used to run everywhere,” she proudly said as we drove to the race. “I would run to school and run home. I just loved to run.”

“I know, Mom,” I replied, finally realizing why just a year ago, at ninety, she had to walk to the grocery store and back, carrying her groceries all the way home, despite the doctor’s strict orders not to do anything that would put stress on her heart. She was an athlete. That was her wiring. “That’s why I bought you those pink Nike tennis shoes you’re wearing. I wanted to see you run all the way to your finish line.”

Mom continued, “I used to like basketball, too. But one day my stepfather made me quit playing the game because it scuffed up my one pair of shoes. Back then in the Depression we had it hard, and he wanted to be sure those shoes lasted.”

“That’s exactly why I bought you those shoes several years ago,” I explained. “I wanted you to know that it was finally time for you to run free—and be the athlete you were always meant to be, even in your eighties. Those shoes represented a fresh start for you.”

We both laughed over those pink Nike tennis shoes. She looked so “with it” despite her age and condition. I wasn’t sure how much of the race Mom could actually enjoy or participate in. I did know she would gain much pleasure just from being in a competitive environment and watching her dog run. One of the greatest pleasures we had together was watching Teddy-boy run at full speed. He would run lightning fast with a big doggy smile on his face. Mom would be smiling just as big. Here was a chance for her to watch us run together in a holiday event designed for family fun.

We arrived at Broad Street early, before the crowd showed up. We discovered a parking space right in front of the park where the race would begin. It was a good place for Mom to view all the action.

Mom felt strong enough to venture outside for a few minutes. Finding a good perch on the bench, I could tell she enjoyed the view before her. The scene was the essence of small-town community: kids getting excited, moms and dads preparing for the race, the joy of being outdoors and engaging in sport—particularly in a race—everyone chuckling at the variety of dogs in their Christmas outfits, the camaraderie of neighbors. Every now and then a kid would stroll by our perch, point at Teddy boy and remark, “Mommy, look at the green dog!” It was about as good as it could get for us. Although the air was cold, it was a perfect morning.

When it was time for the race to start, I gave Mom a kiss and headed to the starting line. She promised she would walk up to the starting line shortly after I got there to see me off, if she could.

“On your mark . . .” As the announcer spoke, I looked back to see Mom. I couldn’t find her anywhere near the starting line. “Get set . . .” Was she able to get out of the car? My heart pounded as I realized this was the first time she was unable to walk more than fifty yards. “Go!” I had to trust that she was in the car and okay. My heart raced with joy and sadness as Teddy and I took off. Mom was with us, but right now it would be only in spirit. It was a strange feeling to take off without her in sight. I was moving forward while Mom was moving backward, both engaged in the race in very different movements.

As we rounded the last leg, I was slowing down. The ladies in front of me kept turning around and shouting to themselves, “We have to stay ahead of the green dog.” Santa Claus and his elves were right behind me.

I repeatedly called out to Teddy-boy, “We have to stay ahead of Santa Claus!” My claim to fame is that I actually finished the race jogging most of the way. I looked for Mom and found her in the car.

“I tried walking up to the starting line, but I just didn’t have enough wind in me. I came back to sit in the car,” she said.

“I had a great race,” I replied as I gave her a big kiss and the spear of reality pierced my heart. Mom is shutting down.

“I tell you what, Mom. Now that the race is over, let’s drive up to the finish line.” With everyone gone by then, I parked the car right in front of the line and helped her out. “Now raise your hands as you go through the arch!” Mom thrust up her arms in a cheer of victory as she paced through the finish line in her bright pink Nike tennis shoes. I caught a great picture of her with the word FINISH emblazoned right over her head on the big gray arch. It was as if she really was in the race with us, and at the same time, finishing up the race of her life.

Afterward, we headed to Lu’s house. Lu was an elderly lady I thought might be a good friend to Mom. Again, I was torn between the need to face the inevitable, given the uncertainty of her survival, and the pull of faith that said, “Keep helping her to live life each day.” Lu was possibly looking for a roommate, and although I didn’t think it would be the right situation for Mom, I figured it would be worth it for the two of them to meet.

After our initial greeting, I just sat in the chair and watched Mom engage in a lively conversation with Lu. It was if I was suspended from the conversation, not even there, sitting back and observing Mom present herself in a way that made me so proud of her.

While she always complained about her lack of education and a sense of inadequacy she had felt her whole life, there—right before my eyes—I was watching Mom carry off a brilliant conversation. I marveled at her poise as she sat up in her chair, her back straight, laughing and talking as if nothing at all was wrong with her.

Lu’s sister, Karen, stopped by for a few minutes to chat. One of her first questions to Mom was, “Well, how old are you?”

“I’m ninety-one years old!” Mom exclaimed. The look of shock on Karen’s face was a showstopper.

“You’re not ninety-one! I can’t believe it. How do you take care of your skin?” Mom had beautiful, smooth skin with few wrinkles. People often marveled at how radiant and supple her skin looked. Karen looked at my mother as if begging for the inside scoop on the latest beauty cream.

Without hesitation, Mom replied, “Hard work!” We all chuckled.

As I continued to watch Mom and Lu engage in “the good old days” talk, what all was wrong with their body parts, and insights about their various joys and pains, all I kept observing were my mother’s excellent qualities: her extreme beauty, great intelligence despite not having more than a grade school education, a sharp wit, an inner strength produced by the very Depression I hated so much, and a flair for lively conversation. “Now there’s an amazing woman,” I thought to myself, as I observed her in a glorified state. She was revealing the true champion that she was and that I yearned to see my whole life. In that moment of insight, I saw that Mom was everything I had hoped to be, and I was deeply proud of who she had become. As in golf when you hit a pure shot, you not only feel it—you hear it, enjoy it, and are always surprised by the sheer fluidity of all your body parts working together to produce that hoped for, though not always realized, perfection. I had just observed a pure shot of my mother.

After about an hour at Lu’s, we decided to grab some lunch at Nature’s Own, my favorite organic food store. The store also has a small section where you can sit and eat a good lunch at a reasonable price. As we sat and enjoyed a small bowl of soup, Mom decided to get up and stroll around the store. Because of her allegiance to Food Lion, I was a bit surprised she was interested in shopping at a rather high-end organic food store, but the food-shopaholic in her could not help herself.

Having a moment to myself, I reached over to the bookcase in front of me. I grabbed a book by one of my favorite authors, Dr. Kathleen Northrop. Mother-Daughter Wisdom was a big, comprehensive book on the effect a woman’s relationship with her mother has on her life. I had first read Northrop’s book on menopause that outlined how a lack of nurture from our mothers can affect our health. She was the first person who tied together medicine, emotions, and spirituality to explain dysfunction and a path to wellness. She was the one who helped me to realize that much of my own illness through my adult years was due to a lack of nurture from my mother. I was now experiencing the fruit of forgiveness and my champion commitment to reverse that plight.

I began flipping the pages, thinking what a good read this would be. Then Mom came back at the table. “You’re not going to buy that book are you?” That one question summarized the downside of our relationship: the squelching of my own freedom of choice and a cascading condemnation flowing down from the spirit behind her question which denounced spending money on anything that wasn’t a bargain. To me it was a worthwhile investment, a great read on my continuing journey to wholeness as a woman. Do I buy the book or don’t I?

There was a time when I would have sent the condescension right back to her with a defiant, “I’ll buy this book if I want to!” Over the course of time, however, I learned to choose my battles. “Yes, I will buy this book if I want to,” I asserted to myself inwardly. “I’m my own person, freed from the ill effects of your Depression scars.” I further affirmed myself by thinking, “I’ll just come back another time to buy the book.” So, proud of myself for affirming my own personhood without having the need to be outwardly combative, I picked up the check. “C’mon, Mom, let’s go.”

On the way home, she wanted to stop at Food Lion, her daily stop. As I strolled the aisles with her, I thought, “Why does she have to come to Food Lion every day? What’s the deal?” And then it hit me. “This is the only place she can come to where she still has the power of choice. So much has been taken away from her because of her condition. At least at Food Lion, she can still exert control over her own life.” Satisfied with my new insight, we both happily went through the checkout line and then home.

Once home, I said to myself, “I just had a perfect day with my mother. We enjoyed a great time at the Reindeer Fun Run, being outside with Teddy-boy, the kids, their families and dogs, enjoyed a small town community in the spirit and décor of Christmas, went to meet a new friend, and had a delicious lunch. We topped it all off with a routine visit to Food Lion.” I couldn’t contain my joy. The day represented everything my mother’s life of simplicity entailed, and I told her so. Mom smiled and agreed. We hugged and called it a day.

And what a day it was. Little did I know Mom’s coming through the finish line at the race would be more than figurative. It would become a very real moment of closure to her life and our relationship. This was the last normal day I would spend with her—and it was a perfect day. The next day she suffered a heart attack and died three weeks later.

As I look back, I realize just how significant the impact of that day was for me. It represented the pinnacle of a lifelong journey to have a real relationship with my mother. It represented my trophy of arrival from the previous seven years of taking care of her and the closure of a God-appointed season to know her. It represented God’s faithfulness to me, in a very real way, to answer my prayer that He would not spring a surprise on me in taking Mom. It was an advanced notice from heaven that all things have been wrapped up and that her time had come. It was a profoundly real end of a ninety-one-year-old race well run by my mother. It was an amazingly loving gesture from God to show me that I, too, had run well. Mom had reached her finish line on a day that will forever be etched in my mind as my perfect day with my mother. It was an exclamation mark from above that a lost relationship had now been fully restored.

What was also profound for me was the realization that the language I used with my mother in telling her I was going to run all the way to the finish line with her was more than metaphorical. God literally took us both all the way to the finish line together. We ended up our seven-year journey, and more accurately, our life journey together, with an actual race, the Reindeer Fun Run. We weren’t a twosome in the run. We were a threesome, being divinely guided by our Master Coach from above. Even more, having had our last normal day together at that memorable Reindeer Fun Run, I had to think that in a way, we were part of every family’s race. Our relational dynamics were representative of the needs and desires of every family to be close, to bond, and to reconcile.

Reflecting on that day, I now also realize that the setup for my perfect day didn’t just begin with a single decision made in advance of whether “to go or not to go” to the event. Rather, it had begun seven years before with some heart-wrenching, sleepless, and turbulent deliberations in the middle of the night to turn my heart toward my estranged mother.

Order your copy of My Shot of Joy: A Miraculous Journey of Redeeming a Lost Mother-Daughter Relationship by Veronica Karaman