Friday, June 28, 2013

And I Remember Mama

I always liked that movie, “I Remember Mama,” which starred Irene Dunne.  The lead character was such a strong woman, one who bore up, and one who loved, especially in difficult times.  And I think of my mother that way.

Shortly after her marriage Pearl Harbor happened, and dad went off to war, and mom went home to live with her parents and younger siblings.  My sister was born, and she was about 4 years old before she ever saw dad; I was told she looked at him and cried.  Working like most women during the war days, they were days of trial for mom.  When dad finally returned, as with many of the soldiers, he had many traumas haunting him from the war, and that mom described that first year as one of fear for him, but then things got better.  I was born, dad got a good job and was quickly promoted to management, and a new house was built.  But tragedy struck again when her beloved mother died suddenly.  And mom was devastated.  Her pregnancy, then a blessing, became a trial.  And she didn’t know it then, but the trial was to continue, as they later discovered my brother was “different” than other children.  By age 7 it was confirmed he could never go to school again with the neighbor children, and so he stayed at home with mom, where she loved him and cared for him --- for the next 40 years.
Meanwhile her two oldest children went to Catholic schools, and a year after graduating high school her daughter married, and bought a house nearby.   And then her elder son made her proud, being the first in the family to go to college.  But between school and work, he wasn’t home much.  I remember one day she told me she missed me, even though I lived in her house.  And then I graduated and moved far away.
Still, mom was consoled by sis’ growing family, and she became a second mom to sis’ three girls, her granddaughters.  They too went to the nearby St. Isidore elementary school, walking to her home for lunch, and after school to stay with her until sis got home from work.  Mom never got past the sixth grade herself (children had to “help out” during the Depression), but she helped her granddaughters with their homework each day.  One of her favorite pictures was of the three of them, little smiling angels, standing with their schoolbooks at the front door of her house in Illinois.   And then the picture hung on mom and dad’s retirement home in Wisconsin, and it now hangs in the house where I cared for her.
Mom was a stay-at-home mom, only occasionally working outside the home.  Women today publically scorn such women, who just wanted to love their families, and teach them how to love.  Mothers then thought that was important; though less educated, I think they knew more than mothers today.  Now many children are raised without that hugely important lesson:  learning how to give love.  There are no classes in school that teach that, and so I think many children today don’t know how to give love, and they think love is something you get.  We appreciated and craved mom’s love, but she also taught us how to give love.  And it was a lesson we never forgot.

The retirement years for mom were wonderful in their quiet home on the river in the country.  Her beloved sister (mom was one of 8 children) moved with her husband to a nearby house and they spent many good years together, but then everyone grows old.  Mom and dad were blessed with good health, never seeing a doctor for many years, but then my brother died one night.  And not too many years later, she began to show signs of dementia.  And so mother began to be mothered, by my dad.  Then her beloved sister’s husband died, and her sister was moved to be cared for by her children.  And mom and dad were alone.  There weren’t many neighbors around, but then a wonderful couple built a nice home down the road, with their three children.  And for a few more years, mom became a mom again.  She had a happy life there.

Mom and dad were in retirement for 28 years, and I have many wonderful memories of the visits I made to their home, and the times of family gatherings, with all of us there.  But then sis died from cancer, and dad, her husband of 65 years, died less than a month later of the same thing.  And suddenly it was me and mom.

Moving her to Michigan with me turned out to be a seven year adventure.  I had lots of time to catch up for all the years we had been separated, and I often ran slide shows of old pictures on the television screen.  I never had planned to take care of my parents in their old age; that was sis’ plan.  But then, God had other plans.  Mom steadily deteriorated in the time she was in my care, first not walking, then not hearing, all the while as her dementia slowly got worse, with some days were worse than others.  But she never forgot, nor forgot to say: “You know that I love you” to me.  She deeply appreciated my care, and I learned to appreciate the time I had to care for her.  You see, I did learn how to love.

I don’t write here of the many joys and laughter of mom’s life; like any life there were many.  It certainly wasn’t a sad life.  But I write here because anyone who reads these words, you too, will have difficult times.  There will be trials; there will be sadness.  These things pass, but love continues forever --- the love YOU give.  And along your life, you will have difficult choices to make; make them in love, giving of yourself.  And your life will be well-lived, and it will matter that you have lived.  You will make a difference in this world.  And fulfilling God’s plans, you will make a difference with Him in the next.
Do not be anxious.
And in those days and times of trial, never forget to say:  My Jesus, I trust in You.   
May you have a long and blessed life, my friend, and may we all be family together some day.  And on that never-ending day I’ll tell you many more stories of: How I remember mama.

Mom’s funeral will be next Monday, and she will be buried next to dad and my brother in Wisconsin next Friday.     


  1. Dear Tom,

    I am so, so sorry about your mother's passing from this life. Please know of my prayers. Thank you for all of the beautiful stories you have shared about her and how tenderly you have cared for her. I almost feel as if I had known her in a small way. May God grant her eternal rest and let perpetual light shine upon her, and may His angel bring you comfort and peace.

  2. Thank you, Anne, especially for your prayers. They always matter. Mom will be flown to Appleton Monday afternoon, for the Friday burial in the small cemetery in Fremont.

    My three nieces will drive with me to Wisconsin on Tuesday, and help me clean out mom's house there and put it up for sale. As we drive past Milwaukee on the 41-bypass, I'll wave in your direction. :-)

  3. Tom,

    I will continue to pray for you and for the peaceful repose of your mother's soul. I am sure she is resting with God now. May God be with you.


  4. Thank you so much for your prayers, John. These past few days of final preparations have been hectic and long --- and alone. Two of my nieces flew in yesterday, and we began the task of looking through lots of old pictures, selecting a few for the church viewing by my friends, people who never knew her. Her death is a good thing, I know. The years of my caring for her, now ended, will leave a huge hole in my life, but I know God has further plans, as He has for us all.

    I will not be anxious. :-)

  5. Tom, I was deeply touched by reading your memories of your Mom. It must have been difficult to write, but you did well, covering many years in a snapshot. I believe your greatest blessing now will be those 3 beloved nieces. They will help you in every way they possibly can. From your other posts, I have come to know the value you place on their kinship. They are probably the last links you have to your family. Am I correct that you are the lone survivor in the family? That will probably magnify your loss. Clinton and I will keep you in our prayers. May God comfort you in all the ways you need. Thank you for sharing all the bits and pieces of your Mom's long life.

    I don't envy the tasks that lay ahead of you, with all the details they require. Later, when the dust settles, you might want to write more about her life with your Dad, and their children. (that was three, right? - your sis, you and your brother) I hope you realize that it will take quite some time before the empty feeling dissipates. You can take satisfaction in a job well-done. Seven years was a long, long journey. Who is ever prepared for the heavy role of care-taking, or the toll it takes? No one would really choose it, but when God calls, he also enables.

    I'm looking forward to that eternal day when we will all be family, and our love will be complete.

  6. Yes, Maryellen, except for my nieces (and lots of friends like you), I have no close blood relatives --- although there are lots of cousins somewhere around this country. I may stop to visit my Godfather near Chicago on the drive home; I heard he had a stroke recently.

    I'll write more later in the week on how things have gone. Today is my niece Florence's birthday --- named after my mom. She and Rose (mom's middle name) are here until tomorrow night, then they fly back to Phoenix. Then I'll remain for a few days.

    Thank you for your prayers; they matter much to me.