Life is at times whonkeejawed. Now, this is a term I have heard my entire life. Only recently did I discover that not everyone is familiar with the word “whonkeejawed.”
Indeed, I cannot swear it to be in the Oxford English Dictionary. My maternal grandmother used the word frequently, and I never thought to question her. She was a fireball of energy and emotion, no matter what life threw at her.
I am not sure there is a reason for everything that life sends our way. I do believe that with intense scrutiny we may in some way determine reason — even create reason — for some events that enter our existence unexpected and unwelcome.
A year ago, life threw another curveball. It was during this time that I discovered more common features of the women in my family: my mother, grandmother and myself. We try too hard, worry too much, and care passionately for those in our realm of responsibility. And my realm became, well, whonkeejawed.
I thought I was exempt from the plight of the sandwich generation, caring for parents and children at the same time.
Yet for a few months, the balancing act and threat of loss profoundly affected each day. Not only was I watching my mother slip further and further away as her body succumbed to a rare form of dementia, but my youngest child, William, was also slipping away into his own life, preparing to leave for college.
Yet as her body weakened, Momma’s wisdom became profound. At peace with her circumstances, she worried over me and over my future without her, reassuring me even as I attempted to reassure her.
One day as a cousin and I were visiting with Momma, she stopped and looked me in the eye, saying “Don’t be sad. There is no end to life. It is a circle. It is like your earrings. There is no end.”
I was wearing hoop earrings, a Christmas gift from William that turned my ears black, but I did not care. They were a gift of love, paid for with his hard-earned money. I wear them still when I am especially mindful of missing William and my mother. For her words have both haunted and comforted me in the six months since her passing.
The loss of my mother to disease continued to parallel the loss of my son to his new life. She was diagnosed as William began his senior year of high school, and her decline accelerated the week he completed his college applications.
He learned of his early admission to his first choice of college the same week Momma moved into an assisted living home.
Both were leaving me, and I would seemingly no longer be a daughter or a mother. But I was left with words of comfort: There is no end — life is a circle.
As I stumbled through her funeral service in late February, I kept thinking of a book given to me when my first child left for college, titled “Letting Go.” All that came to mind at the time is that letting go would be easier if I did not need to let go of so very much, all at once.
Last Friday marked three weeks since my son left for college. As part of the academic service learning project of The Academy at Wood’s Mill, my middle school students visited with Gainesville natives ages 60-to-90 and older. We have begun a project using interviews as a form of primary sources, allowing Georgia history to truly have a voice.
We traveled to Dogwood Forest, flowers in hand as a way into the lives and memories of strangers. My wonderful students sought out anyone visible, approaching with the offer of a flower and a visit. That was really all it took to connect the lives of the young with those who have shaped our local history.
And so the circle continues. Even as one journey concludes, another begins. Even as I have an empty nest for the first time in 23 years, I have new and precious children to fill my life — and my heart.
I will always be my parents’ daughter, through the lessons they taught. I will always be a mother, for my children will always need me. I heard it when William called me that same Friday night of our visit to Dogwood Forrest. I will forever be his Momma. (He especially enjoys passing the phone to his Northern roommates, for some reason, so they can listen to the way I talk. Maybe I should introduce them to the term “whonkeejawed.”)
There is continuity in life — a new chapter, a new school, and always new children to teach and to love. There is no end.
Renee Hand Morris teaches in the middle school of The Academy at Wood’s Mill. Her columns appear occasionally.