My Memorial Tribute to My Mom

Service: Aug 20, 2016

It’s common to notice all the ways you don’t want to be like your mom when you’re a teenager. I have to admit, I even made a list, one time, of all the ways I was going to be different when I was a mom. And, now I stand here, just praying I can be half the woman my mom was.

I knew Peggy Ann Leslie helped and loved a lot of people. But, I didn’t understand the extent of her impact until this week. I am humbled and blown away by the number of people who felt truly known and loved by her.

She was the kind of person who, when you’re with her, makes you feel like the most important person in the world. It turns out, she made hundreds of people feel like they were the most important person in the world! And, she wouldn’t just give you momentary attention. She would check up on you too, right?! Sometimes more than you wanted.

My mom was a woman of contrasts. Just when you thought you had her figured out, she would surprise you.

Of course, she was a southern belle, proudly claiming North Carolina as her birthplace. But, the problem (as I saw it) was she raised me in San Diego, where southern belles are not highly prized.

We were taught to have proper manners and respectful language. I remember one time when I had a friend over, mom called upstairs to me, “Katie!” I yelled back, “ma’am?” And my California-born friend said, “What did you say?!” I told her I said ma’am. “What does that mean?!” We were both confused.

Mom was proper, but then she would do crazy things other moms wouldn’t do. Like one time we were out on a boat with friends. The driver was getting really close to the sea lions. He teased us saying we should lean out and pet them. So, mom took the dare. She leaned way out of that boat and pet a sea lion (armed with sharp pointed teeth, they are a formidable beast). The other woman was in shock. And my 10-year-old brain finally registered that my mom was different.

“Would you want a mom who’s normal?” mom often asked me. Then? Yes. Now? No.

My mom loved life. She really did. She had this amazing way of doing things she wanted to do AND serving, loving, and helping those around her too. She had that twinkle in her eyes. Always ready for life! Always up for an adventure. I don’t think I ever asked her to do something she said “no” to. Really. If she COULD, she would! But, she didn’t live her entire life for her kids either. She always had interests she was pursuing outside of us: writing, sign language, painting, reading, working out at the gym (she just canceled her gym membership 2 weeks ago).

I can tell you that even in her most difficult moments, she was thinking of others. All the nurses in the hospital knew and loved her. She was the easiest patient of all time. She made people want to serve her. She kept smiling until the end. In fact, she left this earth with a smile on her face. Really.

I had the honor of spending the last night of her life with her. Helping her. Telling her I loved her. Every time she would wake up a bit and really see me, she would smile as big as she was able, and either mouth “I love you” or purse her lips together in a kiss.

Perhaps one of the sweetest comments I’ve read this week about my mom (if I could possibly choose one) said, “I wish I could have had her as my mom.” I don’t know why I got to have her. Not because I deserved such a gift. But, isn’t that like God? To give us things and people we don’t deserve.

My mom’s greatest love, above all others, was her love for Jesus’ underserved gift. She truly believed she was known and loved by God. She believed the Bible was true. She chose, every day, to live her life out of love for Jesus. And that spilled over to all of us.

When I was a teenager, I could never have told you that I would find it an incredible honor to help usher my mom into Heaven. I didn’t know what a heroine she was. I didn’t understand the incredible strength, dignity, love, and energy that she uniquely had. Now I do. Now I can only pray God allows me to live as fully and beautifully as her.

Writing about parenting, body image, faith, and grief.