My Mom was a faithful Christian woman. She loved her God, she loved her husband, she loved her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She loved her job, she loved her church, she loved her friends, and she kept her promises. She was a teacher, a high school counselor, a pastor’s wife, a musician, and a loving mother. She was one of those rare people that left everyone she met better off for knowing her.
I was the last of four siblings; my brother and sisters have a lot of stories about Mom that I don’t remember because they happened before my time. But I have so many memories of her that I will always cherish, and those are what I want to share with you all today.
When I was little, Mom was this sweet, soft-voiced presence with loving arms and very big hair (it was the age of the beehive hairdo, and Mom’s would compete with anyone’s!). I remember her singing in church, and I remember falling asleep during Dad’s sermons when I was very young with my head in her lap. I remember going on family vacations with her and Dad and her mother, my grandmother Laurie Gill. We went to Big Bend where she had to endure skunks getting into our tent; we went to Mesa Verde where Dad hauled me up one of those big wooden ladders to some cliff dwellings, with me holding on for dear life and Mom following behind, promising me that Dad wouldn’t let me drop (for the record, he didn’t). When I put my knee through an ten gallon aquarium in fifth grade and sliced it open to the bone, it was Mom who came home and found me with my leg wrapped in a bloody towel. She picked me up and carried me to the car to rush me to the ER!
I remember that Mom ALWAYS made sure I went to church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, unless I was sick, she brought me there, usually sitting right beside her so she could keep me in line. I remember how unfair I thought it was that WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY came on Sunday nights, right at church time, every single week, and I NEVER got to see it! One time, “Dr. Doolittle” was going to be the Sunday night movie. In those pre-VCR, pre-cable days, if a movie came on television, you’d better be there during its runtime or you just missed it! I begged Mom to stay home, “just this once!”, on Sunday night, so I could actually see the entire movie.
Mom looked me in the eye and said: “Well, son, if Doctor Doolittle is more important than Jesus. . .”
Really, Mom? You just had to go there!
Because I was so much younger than my other siblings, by the time I got into junior high they had all moved out of the house; my sisters were both married and my brother was off working in the Sinai – which meant I had Mom and Dad all to myself! That was pretty much fine with me. I got a lot of things during my teen years that Dwain, Clinta, and Jo rarely got to see. Fresh fruit around the house, for one thing. Mom said they didn’t even try to keep apples, oranges, and peaches in the house with four kids at home, because the fruit would disappear as quick as it came in the door. But with just me there, she and Dad actually got to enjoy a peach (every now and then!).
Then there were the pets. Mom was NOT an animal person, and she was deathly afraid of snakes. How she produced a child like me is still a matter of some debate in our family; I’ve been fascinated by my little legless friends as long as I can remember. But I was NOT allowed to have a pet snake until I was an adult with a place of my own, no matter how much I begged! However, as if to compensate for that, I was allowed to have almost any other pet I wanted. Over the course of my childhood, I had tarantulas, lizards, a baby alligator (well, technically a caiman), a raccoon, and more dogs and cats than I can remember. Mom endured them all; and then she even got into the spirit of things and brought a dog home when I was in 8th grade. Dad and I hated that dog; it was the dumbest thing on four legs – and to make matters worse, Mom named it “Genius!” (That wasn’t what we called him.) Eventually Dad and I took “Genius” arrowhead hunting and kind of forgot to bring him back; Mom made us go back and get him!
After I graduated and moved out, Mom and Dad really enjoyed the whole “empty nest” thing, especially after Dad retired from the ministry. They traveled all over the country; they did bus tours; they bought an RV; Dad fished and hunted, Mom read books and crocheted and they both enjoyed playing dominoes with friends and attending gospel music concerts.
When they were at home, we had the best family gatherings. Dad would fry fish and Mom would make dessert and set the table, and we’d eat and play croquet on the lawn and break out Yahtzee or dominoes, you name it. Mom and Dad’s house was family central! Dad loved pulling the grandkids around on a little trailer behind his riding mower, while Mom walked behind just in case someone fell overboard.
When my Dad fell and broke his hip in 2012, he never did get his mobility back and wound up going into a nursing home. What was supposed to be a short visit for rehab turned into a five-year residence, and Mom came out there to sit with Dad every single day – except for the one day every two weeks, when she went to get her hair done (Mom hated having frizzy hair!). Even as dementia stole my Dad’s mind a little bit at a time, Mom was there, by his side, day in and day out, right until the very end. After we buried my Dad, Mom turned to me and said: “I made my vows, and I kept them.” Few women have honored their vows as completely and unselfishly as she did, and my Dad loved her and cherished her for it until the end of his long life.
But after Dad was gone, Mom was determined not to waste the time she had left. She told me: “I’ve had to turn down one invitation after another for five years, from here on out, if someone asks me to go somewhere, the answer is yes!”
And go she did! She went to Rangers games with my brother and his family, she went to visit her great-grandkids, she went out to eat with family and friends, she even came out to hear me announce an Eagles football game, sitting with my wife on our rickety old wooden bleachers.
In January Mom’s doctor asked her to go to the ER because her blood counts were low. After a week of testing, we got a diagnosis no one ever wants to hear -terminal cancer. At Mom’s age, there wasn’t a lot that they could do. She moved in with my brother and went on hospice care. But even during the last months of her life, she remained cheerful and upbeat. She crocheted blankets for her fellow cancer patients, she watched the Rangers in every game they played right up to the day before she died. We had a wonderful family gathering for her 87th birthday just one month ago; we all went out to eat Mexican food together and had a birthday cake and took a couple hundred pictures of Mom with all our wonderful extended family. Mom told me she never really had any pain from the cancer, even as it reached its final stages.
She told me right after she got her diagnosis: “If this is my road to heaven, I’m taking it. And you, son, are NOT allowed to question God!”
When Mom used that tone of voice, there was only one correct response: “Yes, maam!”?
Two weeks ago, Mom’s condition began to decline drastically. We all came and spent as much time with her as we could over the last week or so, knowing her journey was nearing its end. That last morning, Mom held out her arms and said out loud: “I see you! I see you!”
Denise asked if she was seeing Dad, and Mom told her “Yes!”
Then she said: “Are you ready to go with him?”
Mom said “Oh, yes!”
And then she did.
My Mom was a faithful Christian woman to the very end.