My mom often tells me what a good parent I am.

I admit that I love my four kids with all my heart.  I try to be a good role model, encouraging an active lifestyle and inquisitive nature, helping them understand the role God plays in their lives and teaching them right from wrong.  As hard as I try, I make mistakes.  But, despite those mistakes, my children are becoming wonderful people and I have enjoyed the role I’ve played in their development to date.

As much as I enjoy being a father, I want to talk about another parent I know.  My mom.

For so very long, my sister struggled with depression in one form or another.  After the initial shock and devastation of my father dying more than 25 years ago, I thought she rebounded OK.  She remained close with her Iowa friends and made many new friends upon our move to Omaha.  She had an active high school life and was adventurous enough to attend school at Arizona State.  I still remember quite fondly driving with her in her little red Nissan Sentra–including the ticket she got! :)–for her freshman year in Arizona, exploring the new campus, traveling to attend a Nebraska-ASU football game.  I know she enjoyed much of her time there.  But in retrospect, she was never the same after my dad died.  Over time, gradually at first, then more dramatically later, she turned inward.  The two of us grew apart.  She was clearly becoming unhappy.

She earned degree after degree.  She got married.  She saw several counselors.  Went to church.  Volunteered for causes close to her heart.  She tried so very hard to find her place in the world, to figure out her life.

But she never found the peace and happiness for which she so longingly ached.

She viewed the world as cold and heartless.  She felt like a stranger, an alien, wherever she was.  Though I am far from a social butterfly and I am not big on some group situations, I simply cannot imagine the foreignness, the rejection, the heartache, the desperation she felt.

But there was an exception.  A single light in her otherwise bleak life.

After my dad died, it was my mother who pulled our family together and helped us move on.  I find it hard to fathom what it must have been like; raising two teenagers on a secretary’s salary.  Though I knew what she did, she never let us know how much of a struggle that must have been.  She cared for us without being overbearing; she shepherded us through the confusing time that so dominates the teenage years.  She bought us a house, taught us to drive, gave us advice, helped with late-night homework . . . she did it all.

So it really should not be a surprise that the one person who helped my sister when nearly no one else could was my mom. When Sara was with my mom, she came out of her self-imposed prison, she opened up, even if only slightly, even if just a crack.  She talked about what was wrong with the world.  Wrong with her life.  About what she wanted for her community, her family and herself.  I wouldn’t say she was the bubbly, outgoing talkative sister I grew up with . . . but she was as close to that as she allowed herself to be.

While my sister’s degrees were in nursing, it was my mother who became the greatest nurse I know.  They walked and talked for hours on end.  Not always happy talks or refreshing walks, but to Sara, they were important.  A connection to a happy past.  Those times mattered and helped her realize she was loved.  She needed that more than anything else.

How hard it must have been for a parent to talk to a child who is so despondent . . . I can only imagine and I pray I never have to do so.  (If I am confronted with a similar situation, I hope to meet it with the same grace and courage.)  Without her, the day I feared certainly would have come much sooner than it did.  It was my mother who nursed her along.  Who gave her hope.  Who offered friendship and comfort where she otherwise found none.

My mom never gave up.  When one tactic failed, she moved on to the next . . . and the next . . . and the next . . . always in support of her daughter, my sister.

Sara passed away last week.  The circumstances surrounding her death are unimportant and those details are not what I will choose to remember.  I will remember exploring new places with her as a kid, riding in the backseat during family vacations (literally) from coast to coast, spending my childhood years with a good, fun, happy person.  What is important is that I believe she is happy again.  She is where she needs to be.  What I will also remember and cherish is what I have, if not learned, what I’ve had reinforced, who my hero is.  Without question, if not for my mother, Sara’s life would have ended long before it did.

So, mom, for what you’ve done and sacrificed for me, my family, and for Sara, for being my role model and my hero . . .

Thank you.  You are truly amazing.