The Best Mom A Son Could Ever Ask For

It’s really hard to miss someone while they are still alive. My mom has Alzheimer’s. Her words have left her. There are times I’m not sure she recognizes me. But there are moments, on good days, when she sees me and her face lights up.  When that happens, so many memories come flooding back.

Remember when you were applying for college, and there was an essay asking you to write about your hero? I wrote mine about my mom.  

My mom then edited it. 

I was annoyed. But she made it better. 

You’d have to know her to realize how funny that is. She was so dedicated to the success of her children, she would not allow even the briefest moment to enjoy a compliment. Instead, she would make sure that compliment didn’t have any dangling participles or end any sentences in prepositions. She was more concerned about making it better for me, to give me a better shot at getting into college. 

Mary Holderness has been trying to make things better for others her entire life.  She spent several years at what she described as “a pretty unsafe” inner city school in Mobile, Alabama, because she believes everyone deserves the right to learn how to properly communicate. She told us she loved that job, but she quit it to be a full time parent (when your husband works 100 hours a week as a church pastor, you are almost literally a full-time parent).  

I’m sure the next 16 years were the most selfless of her life. Between driving Dail (my brother) and I all over creation for sports and music lessons, serving as a private tutor for both of us, and running a house, she had very little free time. However, the free time that she did have, she spent volunteering at the Museum of Life and Science, the Junior League, and, of course, at her church. She did all of this willingly, and with a tremendous amount of joy, because more than anyone I’ve ever met, she got real joy from making things better for others.

Harmony Makes Everything Better 

On a personal level, she could tell I loved music, and I loved performing it. She wanted to make me better at it. She spent countless hours supplementing my lessons with one-on-one time on our piano. But her favorite thing to teach me was how to harmonize, and she did this constantly.  Sitting next to me at church she had me do each verse with a different voice part – verse one was the main tune, verse two was alto, then tenor, then bass (by the way – I still do this – for an ADHD brain it is a GREAT way to get through a boring hymn!). When we heard songs in the car she never sang the main tune, she came up with her own harmony. In her words, and she used to say this all the time, “Harmony makes everything better.” BTW, if you watch our videos, I am nowhere near subtle about how much I love harmonizing with myself. Now you know where it came from.

Oh and no biggie, but she also started the state’s first ever Alcohol-Free High School Graduation Party that drastically lowered arrests and injuries on that night. It’s now been copied by dozens of other counties, and now includes scholarships for some of those who attend. She started it in 1988, and kept doing it, not an exaggeration, until the year  we had to move her into a skilled nursing unit. 

That’s where she is now. 

She can’t really talk anymore. She needs help to eat her food. She can still get around okay with a walker, but more and more she needs a wheelchair. When I see her, it takes a second for her to realize who I am.  

I have learned a little trick though: If I start singing (sometimes I bring my guitar), a light goes off somewhere in her brain and she starts humming along. She still finds the note; one major third above wherever I am singing.  

Every other part of her body and brain is currently failing her, but that appears to be the last thing to go. The saints who work at her nursing unit often look astonished that she can still do this, one of them told me it was like a little miracle.  

Maybe it is, or maybe it’s really simple: As she’s always said, harmony makes things better.  And she will always figure out some way to make things better.  

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! Since you can’t edit this, I will end this with a preposition, because you’re the best Mom a son could ever ask for.  

(She would legit change that to “the best Mom for whom a son could ever ask.”)