Mom asked me to write her obituary. Yes, she’s still living, and yes, it seems like a strange request. But as a writer, this isn’t new. In addition to the many obits I wrote as a journalism student, I’ve written two for loved ones. This ensures three things: 1) My loved one will not be immortalized by some random funeral home director’s assistant, who has never met them and will ‘honor’ them in a string of poorly written, cringe-worthy sentences full of wrong spellings and painful punctuation; 2) It leaves the family with a personal, heart-felt story of their loved one’s life story; and 3) It gives me space to think about them and what they meant to me and the world. It’s a gift for the family, but also for me.

Granted, no one still living has asked me to write their obituary. And writing one for your mom is harder than most. Like many mother-daughter relationships, ours is long and complicated. But not without love. By writing her story, I start to heal. From arguments, from tension, from the hurt present in one of the most important, selfless and loving relationships in my life. It also gives me the chance to honor all of her goodness, all that she gave of herself and all that she is.

My mother has a deep and abiding faith and is in a church pew every Sunday. I live my faith in a much different way, but as a child I found great comfort in being loved by God. It’s in that spirit I write these words.

In honor of Carolyn Dian Payne …

She had a love of long words. How they sounded in her mouth and rolled off her tongue. The only words she hated to hear and would never utter were of the four-letter variety. Once expressed, they were usually followed by another four-letter word exasperatedly verbalized as, “JOHN!”

Growing up, her kids thought she knew every person in town, maybe even the county. Or three. A trip “to town” meant frequent “visits” in grocery store isles and around garage sale tables. A familiar face at local hospitals and nursing homes, she was known, despite later illness and injury of her own, to drop off a meal to a friend in need, raise money for veterans, donate to various bake sales, give blood, volunteer on voting day or at the food pantry, bake a pie for co-workers’ birthdays, lend her voice to a group of church carolers, perform in a local play, and show up at family reunions, baby showers, weddings and more baseball games and band concerts than most.

She gave all that she had to anyone who needed it.

Mom, me and Ava at the Historic Carousel & Museum in Albany, Oregon. It’s handcrafted by community members — and sublimely beautiful.

She grew up the only daughter of Carl Walker and Mary Johnson Walker Whisenand, granddaughter of an English immigrant whom his great-granddaughter would discover, more than a century later, online.

Long-suffering (how she would describe it) and only sister to Richard, David, Jim and Carl, she grew up in a cozy two-story house in Bucklin, Missouri, near train tracks that reminded her of her father, who spent many days and nights on the railroad working to support his family. She loved to talk about how excited they were to get their first radio, or to travel in the train’s sleeper car as a family, and to tell stories of late-night trips to the outhouse, the location of many of her older brothers’ torments.

She was born in an even smaller house, within sight of her childhood home that lied just across the tracks, which was home to her beloved grandmother, Bobbie. She never thought she would travel much beyond those tracks, even though they, and the clouds over her head, provided a ticket to everywhere.

Married more than 50 years to husband John Payne, she leaves to her children — Kathryn Stroppel (David Stroppel) and Jason Payne (Angie) — and her grandchildren — Aidan and Ava Stroppel — a life of love, an example of selflessness and commitment, the gift of imagination and, at least for one of her children, a love of language and words of all sizes.

She also leaves behind a large family of Walkers and Paynes and a church family that’s been part of her life for more than 50 years.

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