Three weeks ago today on August 1, my mom passed away quite unexpectedly after having broken her leg 9 days earlier and having surgery. She was in a rehab center undergoing therapy when she got sick and apparently died from a pulmonary embolism (blood clot). We were there in Missouri at the time and I got to spend her last evening with her. This has been the most difficult summer I've had since I lost my dad in 1978. Having just lost Tim's mom on June 19, we feel like we are living in the "twilight zone". With God's help and time I know we will recover, but our lives will never be the same. I'd like to spend a bit of time writing a few things about Mom that made her special:
Mom was probably the hardest working woman I've ever known. Her life was never easy. She grew up near the small town of Doniphan, Missouri in the 30's and 40's when life was hard for everyone. Her dad had been disabled fighting in World War I and when she was a young newlywed, her mother had a massive stroke which left her totally paralyzed on her right side making her an invalid for the last 18 years of her life. Mom didn't have her mother around to help her with young kids and to answer her questions on a daily basis. We didn't even have a phone in our house until I was in the 4th grade and long distance was too expensive for us to use very often. So Mom didn't have a lot of help with us kids--three of us born in less than 3 years.
We lived on a farm for most of my growing up years. My dad worked very hard to put food on the table all those years. Mom was right there working hard, too. Together, they raised a huge garden every summer and Mom canned and froze everything they raised so we could eat in the winter. Somehow she still made time to plant flowers and make the yard look beautiful. She had a green thumb like no one I've ever known.
She made clothes for all three of us (two brothers and me). I don't remember having a dress from the store until I was in 6th grade. She patched my dad's and the boys' jeans until they were absolutely worn out. In the summer, the long sleeves were cut off the shirts, the jeans were made into shorts and we made do with whatever she could sew or with hand-me-downs. We were always clean and dressed in our Sunday best when they took us to church 3 times a week.
She taught me how to sew. Before long, I was making my own clothes. I remember all those tiny little doll clothes she made for me and then when I was very young she taught me how to make them myself. She tried to teach me to crochet, but she was left handed and I had a hard time catching on. Eventually, I did though. She did the most beautiful lace edging around handkerchiefs and pillowcases after she had spent hours on the embroidery. Every Christmas, all our teachers got handkerchiefs that she had made.
She was a good cook. I'm sure it wasn't easy feeding all of us. My dad was a vegetarian--he simply didn't like meat. So she had to come up with ways to keep him filled up and to keep the three of us happy, too. There was at least one of us who was especially picky (no names mentioned). There was almost always some kind of homemade bread on the table and I'm not talking about just at supper time. She cooked three meals a day. I didn't really know how hard that was until I was 16 and she got a little surprise. At 39 after her three kids were nearly grown, she was going to have another baby. That was a hard summer. She was really sick, her legs were swollen and painful all the time and she still had all the work to do. There were times that I got up and made the breakfast (I felt that was totally unfair at the time) and it seems like the canning lasted all summer that year. Remember this was before we had air-conditioning and the house was already like an oven before we fired up all those pressure cookers. My older brother had gone off to join the army and I was getting ready for my senior year in high school.
Greta was born the night my grandma died. My mom didn't get to attend her mother's funeral or have any part in planning it. Life went on and I never heard her complain. She and my dad were like kids with the new baby. In the middle of all of this, she managed to be involved in our high school games (volleyball and basketball) and to take me to piano lessons faithfully each Saturday. She also sang in a gospel quartet at church and taught Sunday School. Almost every summer she and I would go spend a week with my grandma while she was still living, to give my grandpa a break from the 24 hour care he gave her.
When Greta was 5 my dad died of a pulmonary embolism on the 9th day after an accident (sound familiar?). My mom was a widow at the age of 45. God sure knew what he was doing when he gave her Greta. She simply HAD to get up and keep going. In less that 6 weeks after Daddy was gone, Mom had to start Greta in kindergarten, find a place to live (my dad managed the farm they lived on and the owners kicked her out), and figure out how she was going to survive. She had not worked outside of the home since before she had kids (more than 23 years). She had a very small insurance policy on Daddy and managed to buy a small mobile homeand a car and settled in to doing alterations for a small department store in town so she could stay at home with Greta. She learned to live on hers and Greta's Social Security and VA benefits for a few years and still saved a little bit of money. She eventually took correspondence courses and earned a certificate in dietary food management and got a job at a local nursing home cooking. After working there for several years, she was still making barely above minimum wage so she took a job at a medium security prison in food management. She worked around hardened criminals, including those there for murder. I remember hearing her talk about some of the prisoners, but she never said anything bad about them. She was like that.
Almost 25 years ago she bought a new mobile home and moved it onto acreage that she shared with my brother. There she was able to get back to planting vegetables, raising chickens and making the place beautiful with every kind of flower she could raise all the while, raising Greta (who I think kept Mom young and going strong--she knew she had to keep going for Greta's sake).
Because we lived away from our folks for most of this time, Mom was able to travel to places she would never have gone. It became a common thing for her to hop on a plane to come visit us in New Orleans, Houston and at last in Tulsa. Sometimes Greta was with her, but as Greta grew up she would sometimes come by herself. I'll never forget how excited they were to go to the World's Fair in New Orleans in 1984 with us. Hundreds of people were crowded around the gate to get in at opening time. Mom turned around and there stood someone from Caledonia, Missouri where she was from. Mind you this town has 150 people. Another great memory was taking them to Galveston and then later to the International Quilt Show in Houston. I think I forgot to mention that she was the one who taught me to quilt. Every winter when I was a kid, there was a quilt in a frame in our living room. She was really good at it. At the time, I wasn't overly excited about it, but those memories are ones that I'll always cherish.
About the time she retired from the prison, Mom started developing painful rheumatoid arthritis. It crippled her hands and her feet and eventually also settled in her spine. She couldn't do the beautiful crochet and embroidery that she once did without pain. But that didn't stop her. When she passed away she was in the middle of embroidered quilt blocks for her great granddaughters.
For everything that she went through, there was not much complaining. Her life was simple. She loved her family, she loved the Lord. She never interfered in our lives after we were out of the home. She was a wonderfulwife, mother, mother-in-law and grandma. She told me two days before she died that she hoped the Lord would give her a few more years. He chose not to for some reason.
That same night I had a dream about my mom. I dreamed that someone was wearing my wedding dress (Mom designed and sewed my dress 34 years ago). The wedding was huge and whoever was wearing the dress was so beautiful. It was in a huge stadium and there were thousands of people there. As the girl was walking down the aisles, people were asking, "who made the dress, what a beautiful dress!" Then someone started shouting, "Marvie Ward made that dress!" Soon the whole crowd was chanting and cheering, "Marvie Ward made that dress!"It was a funny dream, but it was also so beautiful. I wish I had told her about it when I saw her that last night.
I'm confident that there were people shouting "Marvie Ward is here!" when she entered heaven. She's with Daddy and all is well with them. It's those of us left behind that hurt so badly.