Celebrating Life

by Janeal Yancey, Miss January 2016

This month’s theme on Arkansas Women Bloggers is CELEBRATE. As we are winding down the Holiday season, it’s easy to think about all the beautiful celebrations associated with Christmas and New Year’s. I normally write about meat and livestock, and there are lots of great ways to celebrate with a ham or a nice beef roast. Yet, for this post, I’m stepping away from that and writing about celebrating life.

This was a hard year for our family to celebrate Christmas. My mother passed away suddenly this summer, and this was our first Christmas without her. Anyone who has lost someone close to them knows how hard it is to celebrate those first milestones without the one you love. Buying gifts without her on the list, making the dishes she loved on Christmas day, taking the kids to see Santa without her help to corral them were all more difficult than I can explain. 

As I contemplated what to write about around the theme of celebrate, all I could think about was celebrating her. We had a celebration of her life a few days after she passed, but I feel like the real celebration of her life is in the way we live our lives going forward. 


  • We celebrated her when we put up her Christmas tree at Dad’s house over the Thanksgiving holiday. We hung the ridiculous number of ornaments. We laughed at how old and worn some of them were. We poked fun at each other’s hand-made ornaments from grade school. It was like she was right there with us, laughing and cutting up. 
    AWB tree
  • I celebrated her when I volunteered to shop with kids in need in our community. I made sure my daughters know how important it is to help everyone have a Merry Christmas. 
  • My sister celebrates Mother in her classroom when she gives extra time and attention to kids that struggle with learning. Mom taught us to appreciate ALL kids and what they can contribute to the world.
  • We will celebrate her by helping with Vacation Bible School and the children’s programs at church.
  • I celebrate her by embracing my naturally-positive attitude about life and assuring others that everything will be okay. 
  • We celebrate her when we include everyone and ensure that no one feels left out. This was so important to Mother. (As kids, we had to invite every single kid in our class to our birthday party, no matter what.) 
  • We celebrate her when we speak to children like adults and use ‘big’ words. Thanks to my mother, I had quite the vocabulary and without even realizing I’d done it, I passed that trait on to my girls. 
  • We celebrate her by taking charge. Mother never sat around and waited for someone to ask for her help. If she saw a need, she just took charge to get things done. The older I get, the more I feel this part of Mother’s personality come out in me. Now that she’s gone, I’ve really embraced it.
  • We celebrate her by continuing to laugh. It isn’t always easy to laugh through grief, but somehow she made it seem natural. Our family has gotten through the darkest hours with laughter. 
  • We will celebrate her life when we talk about her. Because they are so young, my youngest daughter and nephew will likely not remember my mother, but they will know her. They will know the things she loved and how she lived her life. They will know about her service and her faith. 

In the days and weeks after her passing, I felt a sadness that I’d never known before. I knew my life would never be the same again. I grieved for what my kids would miss by not having her in their lives.  But as we moved on, I knew that her spirit would live on in us and the effect we have on the world. She (and my Dad) passed on the spirit and love of their beloved grandparents by celebrating their lives with us.

  • She celebrated her grandfather by laughing and joking, even in the hard times.
  • She celebrated her grandmother by working tirelessly to make her grandkids feel special.
  • She celebrated her grandmother by telling us to be ‘Pretty on the inside.’
  • She celebrated her uncle by teaching Special Ed and helping kids who struggle to learn, even those who struggle to talk.
  • They celebrate my dad’s grandfather with the ‘Christmas Eve Gifts’ tradition.
  • We celebrate my grandmother by enjoying her Pozole recipe with homemade tortillas to ring in the New Year.

I could go on and on. My parents celebrating their loved ones is what shaped my childhood and my Christian faith. I plan to pass that tradition on to my girls. Celebrating the life and loves of my mother has really helped me deal with her loss. I now know that she likely did the same when she lost people that she loved. 

As we begin a new year without Mother, it’s still hard to think about continuing without her. But, I know that we still have a lot to celebrate. 

AWB Mother and Kieleigh


  1. Gaynelle Callaway says:

    Loved her so much….she gave so much of herself…..we helped for years with the distributing of gifts to those in need at Christmas…her room was always filled with tags, wrapping paper, tons of wrapped gifts for those in need…I really missed her this year as well…just not the same …..your family is in our prayers…..

  2. Rickie says:

    My son Braxton Loved your mother very much. She was a huge part of his education and who he is as a student. He misses her dearly and still cries sometimes about how much he wishes she was still with him. She meant so much to the students and their parents.

  3. Carolyn says:

    How beautiful. I loved your mother very much. She loved talking about her family, and she believed in her students. I can still hear say sometimes “now Mrs. Morgan it’s going to be ok! We worked together for a long time. Love all of you and sending prayers. Keep on celebrating!!

  4. Sheri says:

    Janeal, this is a beautiful tribute to your mother. Pat was quirky and wonderful. When I worked at the school, and when my kids were students, your mom showed her passion for her work and for the kids she taught, as well as her own kids. I can still hear her say, “Garret!….” Lol, no more words were needed. Her work wasn’t a job–it was her joy. I know this has been a hard season for you and your family, but I am so glad to see her legacy living on through the next generation and then the next. Live well, Janeal.

  5. Roxie says:

    What an excellent tribute to your mother. She was always smiling and always involved wherever she was needed. I know you all miss her .

  6. Pam Harris says:

    So very well said dear daughter of Dear Pat. You have honored her in many ways and in that you can be well pleased . Guess those of us who knew her knew of her giving and loving attitude and so very unselfishly . She will definitely be celebrated in many ways in the future with y’all… her Family ,children , and grandchildren and with us … Those who called her friend .
    Many blessings for y’all as you go forward to continue to celebrate the life and times of your dear sweet mother , our friend Pat Stephens . Thanks for sharing

  7. raynell stone says:

    I remember how she never seemed to get upset with me when I was having a hard time understand something. She kept helping me until I got it. She was an amazing woman I think God that she was a part of my life growing up I just hope my kids fine someone like her my heart is with u and ur family love raynell Jones stone

  8. Pam Hutton says:

    Such a wonderful tribute about an amazing woman. I’m just so sad we often don’t appreciate people as much as we should until it’s too late. We get caught up in our everyday lives and don’t take time to let them know. Your mom was one of those unknown heroes we hear about in songs. She didn’t want to be recognized for what she did, she just did it because she loved and cared for people. Your family has been in my thoughts and prayers. I know how hard it is to continue to go through everyday life without someone you love but you will always see little things that will remind you that she’s always with each of you. Embrace the little things.

  9. Susan Petersen says:

    Your mom was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. She always exuded calmness and acceptance. I don’t ever recall her letting much get to her. Such an easy person to be around. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I lost my mom 3 years ago and it’s a hard thing. Great article! You’re an awesome writer Janeal. I know your Mom would be so proud.

  10. Christy says:

    What an amazing tribute to your mom. She was an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing. God bless your family.

  11. Linda Butts says:

    This is so beautiful and I know your Mom would be so proud of all of you for making her a big part of your lives even when it is hard! Erin worked for us at HSU and I met your mom and heard lots of stories from Erin concerning family. This kind of love and encouragement brings a smile to me and many others. Thanks for sharing your heart!

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