My mother's name was Nettie Lou. She passed away in March of 2005. It is hard to believe that it has been three and a half years now. I wish everyone could have a mother like her. She was the best. No one, other than Jesus, has made such an impact on my life. Anything good and loving and strong in me is because of her. My family consisted of Daddy, Mother and FIVE daughters. Daddy was a minister and travelled a lot. (He passed away a short 14 months after Mother.) My dad was a strong, charismatic man and I loved him dearly. I like to think that, growing up, I was the boy he never had! I would never diminish the role he played in my life. But, my sisters and I agree-we are Nettie's Girls. Mother did an amazing job taking care of us whether Daddy was home or not. She was my first best friend and we were friends until the day she left us. My sisters and I have often said that the best thing our parents gave us was each other. That is why we feel it is so important to keep that bond a priority.
My sisters and I get together every April for an annual "retreat". The one coming up in April 2009 will be NG6. (Yes, you figured it out "Nettie's Girls -Our 6th retreat"!) The idea for the first one (NG1) came about because our youngest sister, Vicki, (above: Nora, Rhonda, Debe and Vicki; I took the picture) had been semi-estranged from the family for years. It was a self-imposed exile due to her unfortunate fragile emotional health aggravated by her chemical dependency. We wanted to draw her back into our family circle and express to her how much we loved her and wanted her in our lives. So, we planned a weekend for her in Oklahoma City at Brick Town. We picked her up and took her to a hotel and spent three days laughing, crying, shopping, eating and just being sisters. It was our treat and we loved every minute of it. We left that weekend thinking that maybe we had made some progress in reuniting her with our close family. Sadly, that was not to be the case. Although we attempted many times to stay connected, she just couldn't seem to commit to the relationship. That was in April 2004. By the next April our beautiful Mother had passed away and our lives were drastically altered. Vicki chose not to attend our Mother's funeral and we only saw her briefly during that time. We got together for NG2 on Mother's Day that year to be with our Dad and each other, knowing how difficult it would be for all of us. Daddy was ready for us to go through Mother's things and we were saddened again that Vicki chose not to join us for that weekend.
NG3 took place in April 2006. Vicki didn't make the trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas with us. And, we were disappointed. Just a short few weeks after we assembled for that weekend, Daddy had a stroke and died. We saw Vicki during the days surrounding his funeral and then, nothing from her, despite many attempts by our sister Rhonda. They lived within thirty minutes of one another and Rhonda made every effort to be a part of Vicki's life. NG4 (Tyler, TX) came and went-no Vicki. We invited her to NG5 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She was a no show. Then, in late April/early May she was hospitalized. This was not an unusual thing for her. I would dare say that Vicki spent more of her life in the past five years in the hospital than out of it. A lifestyle of prescription drug abuse had taken its' toll on her body. But, this time, she was not to come home. In late May she left Nettie's Girls for the last time. My sisters Nora and Rhonda were with her at the end. They had been there for a few days and saw that she finally was at peace in those last days. We never imagined that we would say good bye to the baby of our family first. And, the baby she was. We have talked often about what an adorable baby, toddler and child she was. She was happy and loved and everyone delighted in her from the day she was born. Somehow, whatever demons she faced as an adult convinced her that she wasn't good enough to be accepted and loved. This is a picture of her with me when we lived in California. She is the little one on the left.
Sometimes I think about our childhood and cannot believe that my little sister is gone. But, mostly, I think about all the opportunity she missed by not being a part of NG every year. My sisters are my lifeline, my best friends and my greatest supporters and encouragers. We wanted to be that for Vicki. I am sorry that she didn't have that or couldn't accept that she had that. We so wanted her to be a part of us, a part of Nettie's Girls.
Sister and Mothers are gifts from God. Treasure them. Cherish them. And, if you are estranged from yours or time and distance have kept you from them, don't hesitate to fix that. It is true-we don't know what we have sometimes until it is gone. Don't let that happen to you.