A Poignant and Beautiful Tribute

When Heyward’s mother passed away recently, he wrote a very poignant tribute in response to messages of condolence that he had received from his friends. With Heyward’s permission, I would like to share this message with you because I think it is such a beautiful way to memorialise someone we love who has passed away, and is full of wisdom for how we might live our lives in everyday awareness…

“Last night I sat at my desk well past midnight and simply let tears flow as I read every post, text, email and message that came in as people got the news. The effect she has had on lives, the people she has touched and the friends and admires… it is beyond my grasp. So many of these messages have expressed a heartfelt desire to do something. I have deflected these request, as there doesn’t feel like there are things we need right now. That, however does not account for the very real need of those who are hurting, either for themselves or for us, to do something. So I made a list.

1. Hug your children, partner, parents and friends. Let them know how you feel about them. A large part of the peace I am able to feel in this is knowing that there is nothing that I needed to say to my mother that was left unsaid, nothing I wanted to do with her that was left undone. Every box was checked.

2. Talk to those people about your end of life. Get a living will. Give them the tools to be able to do for you as we have been able to do for mom. Those that mourn you will be sad enough, do not let them also feel powerless.

3. Drink a Gin and Tonic.

4. Be kind to an animal. Though it was many chapters ago, my mom once lived in a home filed with rescued bird of prey. In more recent years a screech owl fell down the basketball goal pipe in our yard- mom remembered that in those days her owls would climb her blue jeans. So she made a strip of denim and placed it down the tube- an hour later the bird was free.

5. Wear something Orange. Mom did not go to Clemson. Neither did anyone else I am related to. Our family moved there in 1978 and my dad became involved with the Clemson Sports Car Club. Though that organization my mother made some of her very best and most enduring friendships. Those friends, and the support they showed my mother in the wake of my parent’s divorce earned her loyalty to the school and its teams. In the years that I learned the terms and conditions of those years I asked her if there was conflict in her feelings about Clemson, she said no citing, when Clemson wins the people she most loves in the world are happy.

6. Feed someone. Mom was heavily involved with the Hickory Soup Kitchen and spearheaded the annual Octoberfest Castle of Cans effort. I do not know how many tons of food she has distributed to those in need, but I suspect the number is among her proudest achievements.

7. Be a mentor. The one theme of the messages I am getting that is most consistent is how much my mom was looked up to, and how much her perspective, experience and skill was appreciated. The environments of her mentoring seem limitless- from schools, to church, to race tracks to homes. I think mom would be most proud of those who she was able to help develop as a parent. It is truly the toughest job you can love, and I am tremendously thankful for the coaching I received.

8. Figure it out. Many have told me that my mom is a fighter. I do not subscribe to this. She is a figure-out-er. Mom finds the work around. Tell her it can’t be done, there is no budget, the challenge is too great, and watch. Her determination lead to creativity, not conflict. She built a medical clinic out of trash and a TV station out of scrap. It was not because she fought for them, but because she wanted them, and with enough will there is always a way.

9. Laugh. When I was a kid, there was a night that the curse of school buses upon hillclimbs was being lamented. I, being of an appropriate age for shenanigans, offered to insert potatoes in the tail pipes of said buses. The conversation and I offered a clumsily phrased query as to how this whole potato thing worked… without a beat missed, mom answered, “you just schtick it right in there.” For the next 20 years, the word stick, pronounced with a extra emphasis on the sch- has resulted in the same laughter that it did that night.

10. Watch an episode of Hill Street Blues or Northern Exposure, eat some peanut M&Ms and drink a diet coke. Read a book, go for a walk, scratch a dog.

11. Be a leader in your community. Mom never aspired to have titles or power, but she was a leader in every community that she entered. Her brand of leadership was that of doing what others would or could not. it is a leadership of action, purpose and drive. Managers arrange, oversee and direct the flow of credit. They make noise. Leaders head the effort, the do, think, carry and move.

12. See the ugly, and share it. Mom spent two summers and a winter in Poland in the the late 60’s as my dad did research toward his PhD. There are many, many stories of those months, but the ones that stick with me most are those of my mom’s visits to concentration camps in the area. I cannot explain her fascination, but I like to think it effected her humanity and spirituality. Facing something so horrific, knowing how cruel humans can be on the grandest level must certainly drive one to be kind, gentle and humane. Mom used to present her accounts and slides to kids as they studied WWII- I find it hard to believe children saw her images and heard her words have the same perspective on the war as those who simply read about it in book.

13. Do something that will make a hellva story. Mom also made good friends with a professor in Poland. In the late 80’s he came to visit us in NC. His young daughter was fascinated with box turtles, though they are not native to Poland. The day after his departure to Clemson and then on to Atlanta to fly home, Mitch and I found one on the walk home from school. Without a second thought, Mom put us in the van and we rushed the turtle south. I am told that the Turtle was successfully delivered to the daughter via the interior pocket on his sport coat and at last report was still living a happy life in Poland.

14. Build your Treasure. In the coming months we will attempt to tackle the mountain of memories that is my mom’s house. I call it that because Mitch, Alan and I all live there, but it was mom who made it. For many, I imagine the task of sorting a parents things is dreaded. I will not speak for others, but I am excited. Mom’s house is a treasure trove of memorabilia of her life spent with our family and a half a century of the life she has shared with our SCCA family. A few weeks ago I was going through my things there and found notebooks full of her hand written letters to her mother, a box of Chimney Rock control logs 1978-1995 and perhaps the most complete collection of Polish stamps in the country if not world.

15. Mourn. It is okay to be sad. We all are and we will be for some time. I will always be grateful for the way mom is passing. We had time after the shock to be with her, to let her be a grandmother, mother and wife. That is rare. The time we have is mercifully brief, and that too is rare. These are the blessing we have to make the sadness manageable and bearable. Mom is going out as a leader and a mentor. It is graceful, creative, powerful, just, fair and smart. She has empowered us to help her and taken charge of her fate. She is not fighting. She is showing us how. I am so proud and thankful, but also so sad for myself, for Alan, Mitch, Marshall and Cole and everyone else who would have liked more time.”