Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Goodbye Mom - I'll Miss Calling You

Mom at the 2014 Indy 500 - she loved going in early
If you follow my blog posts, you know I mostly write about racing and my travels from racetrack to racetrack while working as a motorsports photographer. This post only peripherally relates to racing as my Mom, Reene Ann (Shue) Alley was a huge race fan and was able to attend the 2014 Indy 500 with us despite a lengthy bout with cancer. We wondered then if that would be her last 500 as we knew her time was limited with us, so we tried to make the most of it. Mom's father, Jacob Jay Shue, my namesake, was a racer at heart and helped get a little dirt track built at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana. We spent a lot of each summer in Warsaw when I was a kid. I am headed out on the road again tomorrow, to Iowa Speedway, to shoot the ARCA event, and sadly I will not be able to call Mom on the road this trip, or on any future trip, as she died 10 days ago on July 5th in hospice in Fairlawn, Ohio. We had a wonderful celebration of life service in her adopted hometown of Tallmadge, Ohio this past Saturday July 11th and we laid her to rest two days later in her hometown of Warsaw. It is still hard to believe that she is gone so I am sharing the words I spoke at her Tallmadge service to help with healing, as we were very close, along with a song and her obituary:

Thanks so much to everyone for being here today. It's wonderful to see so many of Mom's Ohio friends and colleagues join our family to honor her and celebrate her life. And what a life she lived.

I have come to believe through my own spiritual journey the last few years that there are no coincidences - that God has a plan for us that is greater than anything we can imagine. Yet who could have ever imagined the plan that He had in store for Reene Ann (Shue) Alley? That this small town girl from Winona Lake, Indiana would have lived a life so full and rich, who traveled so far, and touched so many lives? It's a long way from Kosciusko County to London, Paris, Venice and Sicily, but she did it and she did it her way.

Mom's sister Mary told a story at Mom's bedside in hospice last Sunday about Mom mailing her father, Jacob Jay Shue, a copy of her doctoral dissertation and he wasn't quite sure what to make of it. After some ribbing from Grandpa Jay's cronies at Breedings Cigar Store in downtown Warsaw, he called Mom and said "Reenie, you done good." That was high praise from Grandpa who was an entrepreneur and adventurer, but only had an 8th grade education. Grandpa has been gone for nearly 30 years now, but I'm certain he is sitting with Mom now telling her how proud he is of all that she accomplished in her life.

Mom's life revolved around family, words, travel, puzzles and numbers. And books. And more books. She lived 80 years and 95 days, but as Abraham Lincoln said, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." Mom made those years count and even though her last few weeks were effected by changes in her ability to speak and to be understood, her message to us was clear: Tallmadge was her home and here she would stay until the end. Losing much of her communication ability was extremely frustrating for her and she had trouble finding words just like I had trouble finding words to share with you today. But you all know her. No one would be surprised to use words about her like educator; citizen of the world; historian; a fighter and trailblazer; militantly independent; passionate about learning, gardening and wildlife; opinionated. She lived her life without limits and showed us all how to persevere.

Over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that God's hand has been upon Mom, and His plan for her was indeed far greater than anything we could have imagined. Otherwise how does one explain the deer I saw at her bird feeders the first night I arrived back in Tallmadge a week ago Tuesday? Or the doe and two fawns I saw the next morning? Or the fact that Mom ended up in a position to get help when her first stroke hit a little more than three weeks ago? For those of you who aren't aware, she was at the Tallmadge Shipping Center sending gifts for her Great-Grandchildren when that happened. We are thankful that Jackie got her the help she needed that day. That act of kindness enabled us to share Mom's final days with her which is a blessing beyond words.

Then there were the Blue Jay feathers I found last week, one at her house by the feeders the last night she was in Akron General Hospital, and the other the next day outside her room at the Rogers Hospice Center in Fairlawn. These are not coincidental events. Finally, there was the fact that Steve, Cari and I, Mom's sister Mary, my fiance Julie and my son Max, were all able to be with Mom in her final hours, despite great distance and disparate schedules. Who could have known that God's plan would favor us so?

Mom used to say quite often, "Not bad for a little old lady," when she would talk about her travels, or something she managed to accomplish, especially after her retirement from Youngstown State University as a professor. We would joke with her the least few years that she had "99 Lives" as she overcame one physical malady, hospitalization or chemo treatment after another. She was our biggest fan, and if you were her friend, then she was your fan too. She made a new life here in Tallmadge and found great neighbors on Starr Line Drive, wonderful friends through the Tallmadge Library, the Tallmadge Historical Society, the Northern Ohio Bibliographic Society and her many other community activities, and her colleagues at the University of Akron and YSU. For all of that, we in the Alley and Shue families will be eternally grateful.

Undaunted and unbowed by her cancer, Mom was not defeated by it. She never lost hope. She didn't want us to lose hope or worry about her. She didn't quit. She just ran out of time.

When I heard that Mom had found a spiritual home here I was relieved and happy for her. I knew she was tying up lose ends in her life, and would find comfort in knowing that God's plan for her had been fulfilled. Psalms 91-4 tells us that "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler." Mom's spirit is free now and the only other thing I can say is: "You done good."

God bless you all.

One other thing I wanted to share is a song and video that my best friend of over 40 years linked me to on the day Mom died. That Sunday was a beautiful day in north central Ohio and my brother Steve, my sister Cari and I were all with Mom in her final hours. I had posted the following on Twitter at 3:35 in the afternoon in the midst of feeling great sorrow and then played the song and video in Mom's room at her bedside a short while later. At 4:15 that afternoon, she left us and was no longer in pain.

I have included her obituary at the end of this post from the July 9th Indianapolis Star so you can get to know her a little better. Please watch the video I played for her - I hope it speaks to you as it did to me that afternoon. I think Mom liked it too. Godspeed to you. Until we see each other again...

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