Monday, August 1, 2011

The woman I call "Mama"

I’m not sure how to express just how much my grandmother means to me. Not that I haven’t been inspired—I just haven’t had the emotional fortitude to put into words what I’ve been feeling lately. You see, my Mama died a couple days ago. She was the last of my grandparents and lived almost 91 years. She led an ordinary life, but to those who loved her, she was extraordinary!

Call me selfish: I wish she were still alive.

As I was reminiscing and pulling up old memories, I naturally started thinking about her house – her humble home in Laie, Hawaii on Lanihuli street that sits a top Iosepa street. The home all her grandchildren grew up in and the only house I had known her to live in during my lifetime. In my mind, I started revisiting each of those rooms. And it occurred to me that each one held memories that seemed to characterize some part of her personality.

So, let me just share with you a few of the memories that Mama’s house evokes for me.

The living room. One of the first things a visitor would see were all the pictures in that room, mostly of the grandchildren, and later the great grandchildren. Mama was so proud of all of us. As each of her grandchildren grew, pictures updated as we graduated or got married and had children of our own. Mama loved being a grandmother and a great grandmother and her living room was a testament to that.

Mama’s kitchen. Her way of nurturing you was to feed you. And when she wasn’t feeding you, she wanted to make sure you were eating. Even up to the last time I visited her this past mother’s day, she asked if I was eating okay -– I am 30 years old, living in Utah with a husband and a daughter of my own. Somehow, I’ve managed to take care of myself all this time. But she still wanted to make sure I was eating. It was her way of telling me that she cared and still worried about me no matter how old or capable I might be.

The last room I’ll mention is Mama’s bedroom. When I was a little kid, that room seemed so special and almost magical to me. But, that room must also have been a sanctuary for her -– a place for quiet reflection and prayer. There's a distinct spirit you feel in there. It was peppered throughout with symbols of her faith. Mama was a woman of unwavering faith and I imagine she sought grace and peace in that room. Her bedroom also reminds me of her protection and love for her children, especially her boys. Everytime we would go with dad to visit her, I would hear her call for him. My dad would walk back to her bedroom and prop himself on the bed next to her. I watched from the hallway as she dug through her purse to sneak cash into his hand as if he were her little 5 year old boy again. That will be one of the sweetest memories I will always hold dear to my heart.

I have so many other recollections of her –- there are some familiar to many of my family, like the way in which she would mangle the English language, except for when she sang her famous "I have a testimony", or the way in which she kept the television up to ear-splitting volumes, especially when she was watching the Rock on Monday night Raw. And there are recollections more personal like when she visited us in Utah in her 80's. My choices didn't always reflect what I had been taught but, I overheard her counseling my parents that the most important thing is to LOVE, regardless of the heartache we put them through. A grandparents love is so unconditional and that's one of the things I'll miss most. These memories represent but a tiny fraction of the woman I call Mama. She was a woman who knew hardships: at times struggled to keep her family afloat, took care of my ill-stricken grandfather for more than 10 years before he passed, and buried two of her own children. But she knew great joy too. She married, got to watch her children grow up, and see her grandchildren come into this world. She was lucky enough to witness the birth of many of her great grandchildren! She cherished her close relationships with her siblings and she had lifelong friends. Mama was devoted to her church and had a constant testimony of the law of tithing.

To me, my grandmother, Vaelua Tapusoa-Purcell, represented the epitome of love, strength, and loyalty. She was strong in character, and had a tender, loving, and generous heart. Mama was the backbone of our family. She lived, loved and spoke with the awareness of Christ pulsating through every part of her being-and did so up to the very end. But the greatest gift my grandmother gave me was to witness her display of commitment and love for my grandfather. I will remember my grandmother for her strength and loyalty towards my grandfather and the many years she took care of him with such love and devotion. Even after his stroke which left him dependent upon her, she never left his side. Mama cooked his every meal and took care of his every need. She hated being away from him even when she would visit her children and grandchildren here in the mainland and it became more evident in her deteriorating health after my Papa passed on.

Thank you Mama, for showing me what True Love looks like. I don't want to forget it, ever.

In the hurriedness of life, pain causes a person to stop and reflect. My Mama has enriched my life tremendously. She left behind a legacy of children, grandchildren, love for her faith, and an eternal impression on the many people she helped during her life. I hope with all my heart she left knowing how much of an influence she had in my life and just how much she means to me.

She leaves a big void in my heart but I know she would want me to fill it with all the love and happiness I can muster up. I begin with the happiness and joy of her reunion with my grandfather. I love you Mama!




  2. Leti I said this on your FB but it's very true. Everytime I've left Hawaii and returned one of the original Laie pioneers was always there. In the past 10 years I've watched them leave us one by one, starting with Molia than my grandpa. I loved seeing your grandma cause it reminded me of a time on lanihuli st when they were all there and well enough to crack us on the head if we were caught doing something we weren't supposed left such a great legacy and I know that we as the posterity will pass on and share what we've been fortunate enough to have received from them. Thank you for sharing your memories and what your grandma means to you..

  3. was sadden to hear of ur gma's passing. i knew she was very well loved and admired by u and all. and knew u all have a very close bond with ur gma which is simply beautiful. this is a wonderful tribute to her. love and condolences for the whole purcell-tapusoa family.

  4. Soooo BEAUTIFUL!!!! I loved reading every single word...she is definitely amazing!! I'm glad I get to know her through YOU!!

    Love you long time!!!

  5. I cried reading this Leti, Grandparents are so special. I LOVE this! Love you sis!

  6. All the Laie pioneers are slowly leaving but I know they left a great legacy for us all to follow. Thank you for that Uila. Love you!

  7. There is no one like grandparents! Love you Maila :)

  8. Thank you so much Leah!