October 27, 2012
Throughout the last couple of months as my mom's health was deteriorating - the mother that I thought about the most was not the mother that I had during high school or my young adult years, it was not the mother that is a grandmother to my children. The mother that I missed and mourned the most was the mother of my childhood. The mother who read stories to me - Millions of Cats and Ask Mr. Bear - the same stories she read to my children and her other grandchildren. I thought about the mother who used to do my hair while I played aliens with her dangly earrings. The mother who introduced me to the beautiful world outside to see the blooming lily of the valley that she would sing about in her lullabies. The mother who would catch a butterfly and have me feel the tickle of its legs on the back of my hand - or she would take a pin and uncoil the long proboscis to show me how it sucked nectar. This is the mother of my childhood - that taught me to really see, feel, smell, experience and appreciate the world around me. As my brother Kip wrote in my mother's obituary - she loved this quote from David Thoreau, "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." My mom believed this with all her heart and couldn't help but share her passion with others. On hearing the news of her passing, dozens of friends and family have expressed their gratitude for how my mother taught them to see, really see and understand the beauty of nature and God's creations. Her love of nature was infectious! She devoted an entire closet in our home to this pursuit - we called it the "nature closet". It was filled with boxes of shells, rocks, bird nests, insect nets, pinning boards, and collections, bird feeders, an ant farm, dissecting tools, larvae and insects preserved in formaldehyde, identification posters and an entire shelf of National Geographic magazines. I loved this closet and spent hours exploring it!
I was born into the Clark family as the youngest child by 8 years. With all of my siblings immersed in their busy lives of elementary and high school - I became my mother's shadow. My arrival was unexpected and with the bedrooms already occupied by my siblings, I was situated in my parents' walk-in closet. This arrangement lasted for more years than any of us anticipated. I went from being in a crib to a cot and finally a twin size bed - in my parents' closet. I slept for years with my mom's clothes hanging above half of my bed. I even had a few sleepovers with friends in that closet! But honestly and embarrassingly for a lot of those years I slept in between my parents in their bed. I would take each of their hands and cross them across my chest to fall asleep.
Needless to say - I was very attached to my parents, especially my mother. I witnessed a mother who was in the throes of raising five children on top of being involved in countless other activities. In recently reading her journals I was astounded by the extent and number of her accomplishments - all within one years period of time. Not only was she a wife and mother raising five children, she and my father were running a very successful and growing retail gift business called The Naturalist - with a storefront in Trolley Square. They were constantly travelling back and forth to Salt Lake City to set up product displays and to manage the store. She also designed products that were sold at The Naturalist and other retail shops across the country. And if that wasn't enough for one woman - she was in the PTA, a member of the Utah Quilt Guild, the Utah Valley Symphony Guild and the Etienne club group. She planned and executed large family reunions, class reunions, company parties, neighborhood parties, extended family gatherings, family cabin ski trips and countless showers and lady's luncheons. She and my dad were in charge of July 4th parade floats and the Produce of Utah County booth at the Utah State Fair. She held church callings, bottles dozens and dozens of quarts of apricots and peaches and volunteered to help exercise the disabled daughter of a dear friend - several times a week. She helped organized a humanitarian aid project with neighborhood friends to help a Vietnamese family in need. She took an English class and sculpture class at BYU. And she did all of this in the year of 1979 - 1980. I was four years old.
I know now that she often felt stretched and overwhelmed by her life. But as the baby of the family - I was adored and protected from any of the stress that she might have been experiencing at the time. I would often accompany her as she went from activity to activity which was usually pretty easy for her because I was such a well-behaved child. This was actually not true all the time. I would like to read two excerpts from her journal to illustrate one particular frustration she had with me - swimming lessons. "Friday, August 17, 1979: Emily took her first swim lesson. Out of the five other children, she was the biggest boob there. She seemed excited and pleased with herself however." And "Wednesday, August 22, 1979: This afternoon Emily had her swim lesson again...She has made very little progress. The little 'Chicken Liver!' Afterwards I took her swimming, hoping to reinforce what she had learned, but I also made no headway.” I am sad to say that this behavior lasted more than one summer. Despite my silliness - my mom was ever patient with me and didn't take any of it very seriously - tired after 4 other kids.
She was a devoted mother that was absolutely determined to do everything in her power to raise us to be successful, well-rounded human beings. She would almost go to any length to help us overcome challenges. When I was 16 years old I was in a very serious car accident with 5 other friends. Due to the head trauma I had received from the rollover I was life-flighted to a hospital in Grand Junction Colorado where after 1 week, they determined I was stable enough to go home. But full recovery would take months and I was in the first semester of an AP US History class. One of the side effects of the head trauma was that I had trouble reading and had extreme fatigue. My mother took it upon herself to read and outline each chapter of my US History book and then sit down and review each chapter with me - many times having to wake me up from constantly falling asleep. I am happy to report that I passed the test - all thanks to the loving efforts of my mother. She told me later that she found the information extremely interesting and actually enjoyed the reading!
My mother had a delightful sense of humor and loved to laugh. There were 3 people in particular that could really get her going. One was my husband Weston. I think Mom was a little shocked at first by his quirky and sometimes inappropriate humor but he eventually won her over and there were times when I wondered if she loved him more than me. The second person that could make my mom laugh to tears was her brother Larry Beck. Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting among my parents and her siblings – listening to them converse. Larry would tell us tales of his wild and crazy adventures - which usually involved driving a school bus and being in Mexico - and my mom would be speechless with laughter - tears rolling down her face. But the man in her life that brought the most joy and laughter was my father. He also could bring her to tears with his sense of humor and often eased tensions and conflict with his wit. Almost to the very end he could get a rise out of her with his charming humor. This past Thursday was the last time that Wes and I were with my mom when she was somewhat alert and coherent. We sat around her hospital bed as my dad fed her lunch - we had brought in one of her favorite meals, coconut shrimp from Red Lobster. My dad was trying to get her to drink Ensure which she hated so he kept calling it a "malt" - giggling every time he offered it to her. She rolled her eyes, semi-smiled and unfortunately could not be fooled saying with exasperation, "He always calls it a malt!"
My mother herself had quick wit and a sharp sense of humor - and was one of the best story tellers around. One thing that was most endearing to me was her constant use of old fashioned similes and quirky phrases that she used in her conversations. They describe things so perfectly that I find myself using them at times. I think she inherited most of these from her own mother. But as I have grown older - I have found them so charming that I started to write them down. I would like to read the list of her sayings to you now and as you hear them...I am sure you will be able to hear her voice.
Strong as an ox, poor as church mice, sick as a dog, ran like a deer, memory like an elephant, sharp as a tack, brown as nuts (usually used to describe the Collins family after they returned home from the beach each summer), worked like Trojans, swim like a fish, happy as a clam or happy as a lark, like a bull in a china shop, worn to a frazzle, wild as a march hare (often used to describe the grandchildren), mad as a hornet, grinning like a “Chesey” cat, keep your eyes peeled, lazy lout and wilting violet.
I want to take just a few minutes to thank each of my family members for the beautiful care that they gave my mother. Each person brought a unique quality to these interactions that strengthened and comforted her. Shawn's presence brought leadership and wisdom that we could not have done without. I am especially grateful for his guidance and insights as we navigated through the final weeks of Mom's life. Kip made a huge sacrifice in moving in with my parents to support them physically and emotionally. He was a friend to my dad and of course always provided the most delicious comfort food. Tess – as my mom would say, “worked like a Trojan” and was tireless in her efforts to do things like bathe mom and to do her hair. She had no qualms about standing in the tub with my mom washing her and caring for her. It meant so much to my mom. Amy always lightened the mood with her humor and had a genuine interest in mom and her well-being. Mom told me a few times that when it came to her personal history, Amy was the one who seemed truly interested and would sit and ask questions and listen while Mom would talk.
And my Dad…if there possibly could be anything good about this experience, it is that is provided me an opportunity to really come to know and grow close to my father. I cherish the relationship that we have developed through the years of caring for my mother. My father is a good, good man – the best there is. He is selfless and self-sacrificing. He tenderly and patiently gave his whole self to my mom – definitely throughout their marriage of 54 years – and especially during the past 8 years. I will never forget watching such sweet moments between them as she became completely dependent on him.
I wish I had time to recognize and thank each person that has shown us love and support through all of this – but you know who you are. And there are many. And we are eternally grateful. I must thank my husband and children for supporting me through this difficult time – I couldn’t have done it without them.
I feel incredibly blessed to have lived my life as Janet Clark's daughter. Everything that I am today is because of her. She has been and always will be the voice inside my head. This experience has been intensely difficult - more so than I ever would have imagined. But every tear, every heartache, every sorrow that I feel is a testament to the deep love that I have for my mother. So I will mourn and grieve and cry and hope that in time the raw emotions will fade. I know I will see her again – I know it without a doubt. I am grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that gives me that knowledge. Several friends who have lost loved ones have testified to me that the veil is thin – that she will be close. I am grateful for that knowledge because heaven knows I need her!