When I Die

I want people to smile at my memory like I smile at the memory of my foster mom, Carol Sheets.  She was, in no way, a perfect person, but she was a force of nature that had a vision for goodness and actually strove to bring that vision to life.

My first impression of Mom Sheets was before I ever lived with her.  It was when our messy, loud, dirty family of Hoorns were invited to their house for some reason.  At that time, we all went to the same church.  I don’t really have any idea why we were there.  I just remember us kids in the basement with the Sheets kids (I didn’t know them well) watching a Detroit Tigers game and eating watermelon by the side door.

My next impression of Mom Sheets was as my savior.  I’d been home from the Bethesda Maternity Home in Valparaiso, Indiana for three weeks after leaving my son in the hospital for his adoptive parents to pick up.  I’d come home to a house where I was permanently grounded (that happens when you get pregnant, I guess), no longer had a bed (my sister had commandeered it), and, as my mother put it, I was angry.  She’s right.  I was really angry.  If you know me now, and have dealt with any aspect of my rage, imagine that in broken, hormonal, lost 15 year old.  Angry is an understatement.  My parents didn’t know what to do with me.  The Sheets said they’d take me in.  They’d dealt with angry children before.

And, that’s what happened.  I moved in with the Sheets right before what was to be my sophomore year in high school.  In September of ’89, Zach Sheets was born and I cried.  It was an awful thing, but it just reminded me of how much I’d left behind in that hospital nursery.  I didn’t regret my decisions (and still don’t), but it was Zach’s birth that turned much of anger to mourning.  That sound bad, but it was a huge step toward healing.  Even during all that, I confided to Mom Sheets that I was so conflicted.  Who cries when a baby is born?  Who can’t be glad for other people?  All she did was love me and let me be broken.

It was in the Sheets’ home that I learned “normal” and “anonymous” and “safe” and “warm” and “secure” and “sane.”  Again, if you know me, you know the extremes and those have a place.  It was with the Sheets, however, that I learned moderation and situational appropriateness.  Mom Sheets was the queen of that kingdom and ruled it with a determined heart.  She taught me about loving people in a big and loud way.  She taught me about backbone and justice and smiling and singing and knowing the power that the future has over the past.

While I was finishing high school, Mom Sheets was finishing college.  She served on the Wyoming Friends of the Library group for years, and was eventually elected as councilperson and Mayor of Wyoming, Michigan.  She was active in civic groups and a fixture in the area church community.

For me, she was my shield and my cheerleader.  She didn’t have to love me like a daughter.  She didn’t have to find a spot for me at that table.  She didn’t have to sacrifice her time, her money, or her heart for someone like me, but she did and she saved my life.  And she wasn’t more than any of us can be.  She wasn’t perfect, but she didn’t have to be.  She lived with abandon.  When I die, I hope the same can be said for me.

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