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A mother’s gift: Two sisters’ love

By Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch writes on Health for The Charlotte Observer. Her column appears each Tuesday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/17/18/nNQDL.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - Courtesy of Karen Garloch
    Millie Wessel with her daughters Edie Sons (middle) and Karen Garloch on Christmas 2001.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/17/18/1iwKzD.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - Courtesy of Karen Garloch
    Sisters Edie Sons, left, and Karen Garloch, right, and Edie’s daughter, Kelly, center.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/17/18/RLSSZ.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - Courtesy of Karen Garloch
    Sisters Karen Garloch, left, and Edie Sons, daughters of Millie Wessel in 2009 at DisneyWorld.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/10/17/18/1cesMx.Em.138.jpeg|460
    - Courtesy of Karen Garloch
    From the 1950s visit to Santa Claus, Indiana. Karen Wessel, left, and Mom (Millie Wessel) holding Edie.

It’s been more than six years since my mom died, but on this Mother’s Day, the power of her love lives on in one of the greatest gifts she ever gave me. It came on the day she died.

Early that morning of Oct. 13, 2007, my sister Edie and I were called to the hospital by a nurse who said Mom’s condition had worsened. We sat with Mom, holding her hands and talking to her as if she could hear. She had been unconscious for three weeks, after being resuscitated in a dramatic Code Blue episode. Mom was breathing so erratically, it was hard to tell when she actually took her last breath. But after a few moments of silence, the end was obvious.

We dropped our heads and cried. We held on to each other tightly. And in the midst of that great grief, Edie looked me in the eye and made me promise we would always be devoted sisters, no matter what our differences.

Silently acknowledging the conflicts in our past, I agreed.

Hours later, after we’d said goodbye to Mom and made the necessary phones calls, we took a break for coffee at Starbucks. On the news stand, I glanced at a newspaper, and one of the headlines caught my eye.

“Wow,” I said. “Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Edie looked at me quizzically. “You think that’s good?”

“Yeah,” I said. But in light of our hours-old pact, I quickly added: “But you don’t have to agree with me.”

We laughed.

It was the beginning of a new relationship for us.

Choosing to be like Mom

Before Mom’s death, Edie and I had drifted apart. She lives in Indianapolis. I live in Charlotte. We heard about each other’s lives mostly when we talked to Mom. We saw each other when I came home to Indiana for holidays and other visits, but we didn’t call each other often between times.

I was a little jealous, I think. Edie and Mom seemed to have a closer relationship because they lived in the same state and spent more time together. They also had motherhood in common. I didn’t have children, but Edie had a daughter, Kelly, the youngest of Mom’s grandchildren.

The details of our differences don’t really matter. A lot of little things grew bigger than they needed to, creating tension and distance that kept us from being friends.

Looking back, I can see how my sister and I found each other dismissive and judgmental. We were never estranged. We just disagreed on some sensitive topics – and we still do. But thankfully, in that moment when we held hands across our mother’s body in that Indianapolis hospital, we were able to see the big picture.

We chose to pattern ourselves after Mom, who respected our choices to move from the country to the city, even though we knew she would have preferred that we live closer to home. If she was disappointed in any of her four children, she never said so. She always seemed content and chose to be glad we had all become independent, responsible adults.

With this in mind, Edie and I have chosen to focus on our shared heritage – a farm-family upbringing and deep love for our mother and our father, who died in 2001.

Today, we have rambling phone conversations and share frequent text messages and emails. Often, it’s about Kelly and her 1-year-old, Abigail, Edie’s first grandchild, who amazes us both and makes us wish Mom could have known this adorable, wide-eyed little girl.

We talk about our two older brothers and their families and any news we’ve heard from our hometown. We talk about our jobs, our husbands, the weather. We talk about the many things that make us think of Mom. And we discuss plans for our annual Thanksgiving get-together – a tradition we all pledged to keep when we realized that, without our parents to come home to, we might never see each other.

Another loving gesture

In the months after Mom’s death, when it came time to empty our childhood home and decide what to keep, sell or throw away, Edie stepped forward again with a loving gesture. She offered me, as the older daughter, one of Mom’s most valuable possessions – the white gold ring with her original wedding diamond and three newer, smaller diamonds in ribbons on either side. Mom had bought it for herself after Dad died.

I don’t know what this ring is worth in dollars. But for Edie and me, it is priceless. We remember Mom’s delight at finally spending money on herself for something sparkly and impractical, something she didn’t need but just wanted.

Since I slipped the ring on the middle finger of my right hand, I have rarely taken it off. When I see it there, I think of Mom’s long lovely fingers, so skilled at quilting and embroidery. But I also think of Edie, my little sister, whose love and generosity, voice and likeness, remind me of our mother, too.

Eventually, Edie and Kelly each had identical rings made, and now when we’re together, we hold our hands out and remember Millie Wessel, the woman who started it all.

Recently, when a store clerk complimented my ring, I wished I could have told her the whole story: Of two sisters who came together, setting aside differences, and choosing to focus on the love we share for the mother who taught us so much.

Instead, I just said: “Thank you. It was my Mom’s, and it means a lot to me.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078
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