Always with You

We gathered at my parents’ condo like we were setting up camp back in the days of our family travels—spending days and nights together. Joanie and I shared the pullout couch in Mom’s office until our emotions grew too large for us both to fit there and I moved to the couch in the living room. We never knew that we would have the chance to care for Mom like she had always cared for us. Her children, nursed in her arms, giving us life and all she had to give. Now she was depending on us to supply her fundamental needs. Does it sound strange to say this was a gift?

The week had started out with Mom’s inspiration—Morning Buns. Her sudden burst of energy provided a morning walk to the store that Sunday with Dad. She had always enjoyed shopping and no less on this day. After breakfast she settled into the chair in the corner of their bedroom. This was where she was most comfortable. “The chair suits my back,” she would say. It was soft and deep but very difficult to get out of. That she could, spoke of her determination to stay strong. The chair was surrounded by the books she loved—the Bible Dad had rebound for her with the two pages from Proverbs missing. She had put the worn thin pages in a safe place—so safe in fact, that they missed the rebinding. She could never bear to part with her beloved book again so they remained loose inside. Behind the chair, was a grocery bag packed full of letters and cards from the many people whose lives she had touched, counseled and loved over the years.

No one knew at the time that the day’s devotion Mom read that morning contained the first scripture she had ever memorized. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14).  It was the scripture Reverend Bernwirth had read to her the Sunday she was baptized—a brave ten-year-old recovered from pneumonia and destined to be used by her Shepherd to love others throughout her life and work.

Samsung 062713a 116It also included verses 27 and 28 from that chapter. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. I’m sure these words along with the devotion’s text (I am with you, I am with you, I am with you. Heaven’s bells continually peal with that promise), must have deeply comforted Mom that morning.

“You go on to church,” she told Dad. “I thought I could go with you today but I’m not feeling quite up to it now. It must have been the walk. You go. I’ll be fine.”  I can imagine her smiling up at him, inhaling a whiff of his Old Spice aftershave as he would give her a kiss.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Go and pray.” She may have added.

“Okay, darling,” that he could do for her. “I love you. I’ll hurry home.”

I think of her reflecting on their past 12 hours together—the chili and football game the night before, the fresh air of their morning walk, the pleasure of a little shopping and the stunning colors of the produce so beautifully displayed around them. I wonder if the unexpected energy she experienced had given her any hope that she might be getting better. Many things we take for granted had been taken from her. Her fingers hurt when she played the Chopin Etudes, Debussey, hymns and improvisations we loved to hear but she didn’t stop. Music had been such a big part of her life—she wasn’t willing to let that go too. Hospice had told her she wouldn’t be able to leave the house alone once she signed the papers confirming their care, not even for a walk. There would be no more driving, her independence was coming to an end. She had flinched at that, I had seen it.

I know she would have preferred to go to church with Dad that morning. Instead, she reflected on how God’s magnificence surrounded her. Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear My voice,* she continued to read from her little orange-covered book. That was the place she was most comfortable now. She had told me that.

In earlier days, Mom and I loved to shop together. She was shopping when she was getting ready to give birth to me. Among the racks of a department store, her knees had buckled and people gathered around her wondering what was wrong. A baby—she was getting ready to have a baby. And so this is where I prepared to make my entrance into the world, amongst the whiff of new fabrics and the sense of excitement a new purchase can bring. I wasn’t born in the store but it wasn’t too long after that. So it was my mom, as well as her mother before her, who are partially responsible that I love to shop.

When Grandma would come to visit, we would help her unload her suitcases and boxes of baked treats containing tins layered carefully with cookies and fudge placed between sheets of wax paper. Then she would head straight to the nearest mall—Mayfair when we lived on the farm and Capital Court when we were in town. I still have dreams about girls’ dress departments and being surrounded by circular rods filled with ruffled satin and lace, or heading up and down escalators that lead to shoe departments. Mom would always stop at the candy counter for caramels and cashews before we began. I was too excited to eat, my eyes darting and head jerking from one thing to the next, dazed by all the new possibilities. My husband says that one of these days I’ll sprain my neck.

In the last months of Mom’s life, I began going overboard buying new clothes for her to wear. She had lost so much weight, nothing fit and this had bothered her. Anyone who knew Mom remembers her impeccable style. I went to the shop we had most recently been to together. It was a fun trip where everything she tried on looked perfect. We left with several bags and it had perked us both up. That’s what it was always about. We cheered ourselves up shopping. It’s a superficial thing, I know that—a false promise of hope for a new beginning by looking differently. It only a short time before you want something else but its an escape. I learned how to hide a new purchase on a shelf out of sight until the right time presented itself. “Is that something new……?” Todd would ask me. “I don’t remember seeing that before…….?”

“Why no—I’ve had this for a while….,” I’d respond.

So during Mom’s last months I bought her more than she needed. I later found the things in her drawers with their price tags still on. It was upsetting to be reminded of so I quickly gave them away. I know the things she did wear lifted her spirits a little and that was something small I could do. I also know I was trying to hold on to her.

“Please don’t get me any more, Debbie,” I didn’t want to hear those words. “I’m not like that now. I’m different. I’ve changed. I don’t care about clothes.”

Mom had let that go. There was no place for anything superficial in her life now. For me, more than the awareness that I should let the empty endeavors go myself, it was the beginning of my acceptance that I would have to let Mom go. God had given us this precious woman as our mother and as Dad’s wife on this earth but this great gift wasn’t ours to keep. Ultimately, she belonged to Him.

20131207_163432I needed to hear the words in my heart, I am with you, I am with you, I am with you, and I read them and reread them from that little book on the page dated October 30. It was time to return the great gift to the One we had received it from and not try to hold on to it. To be able to return a gift of love to the giver is the greatest gift of all.

Mom’s devotion: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young


A Modern Woman

While Dad was building buttresses, Mom was building a home.  One fish, two fish became three and four then five fish.

He may have been captured by Mom’s outward beauty but it was the gentle breath of her soul and strength of her mind that won his heart.

Love the hand on the hip! (Mom center)

Love the hand on the hip! (Mom center)

Her father had told her not to major in music at college because she would never make any money at it. She studied accounting and got a year of it under her belt before she dropped out to work and save money so she and Dad could get married. What she learned in that year served them well years later in the firm — she kept the books and helped Dad build the business.

Five fish became six and when we were teenagers she went back to college and earned two bachelors and one master’s degree.

Mom believed that it was important for women to be a part of business and industry and delivered a speech on the subject she wrote in Speech 101 at the University of Illinois in 1948. I found her notes and bibliography.  –Debbie

“In the past, and even at the present time, many people thought the woman’s place was in the home. During the war (WWII), however, women found their place in business and established themselves as a major part of our industries. The great adjustments women workers made to the demands of wartime production, their rapid occupational shifting, and the sharp variation from the preceding period of duties in the homes seems comparable to the vast changes in the era when machinery for manufacturing was invented and introduced.

A woman should be trained to earn a living as she may have to help provide for the family. She should be intelligent enough to mix housewifely duties and a career so that neither suffers.

This question of the woman working is definitely prevalent among college students, especially those who are married. In many cases, the woman must support the family while her husband is getting his education. Without the money she is earning, a college family certainly could not survive.

Rapid withdrawal of men into the armed forces during the last war required more women in labor. In general, the war should have widened understanding on the part of the public.  Many men are completing educations offered them through government support to again take over in industry where they left off. Margaret Hickey, Chairman of the Women’s Advisory Committee of the War Manpower Commission estimated at least a half million women were unemployed as a result of cutbacks. These are women who have been employed and want to continue to work.

Women played a great part in winning the war. One in five women made speeches in support of war programs. They became members of state councils and national committees dealing with problems resulting from the war. These women should not be cast aside.Throughout the country there is a growing uneasiness about women’s employment after the war. There are a lot of people who are trying to find ways of denying employment to women. They should start swinging on the subject of full employment now.  Full employment is work sufficient for both men and women desiring employment.

Aiming high

Aiming high

Hickey, who has studied the problem of shifting woman from war production to civilian jobs, says that 85% of the women who work do so to support themselves and one or more dependents. Many of these women are the wives, sisters or mothers of veterans and are willing to sacrifice their jobs to see him back at work. However, if the veteran is asked if he is willing to support all the women at home, he laughs. He should certainly not be given privileges over those of the women then.

According to a recent poll, 88% of 33,000 high school girls advocate planning a career other than marriage. A girl generally doesn’t know when she will marry and should plan for the gap between school and marriage. Working in the business world teaches a girl to get along with others and to handle her husband’s money better than she might otherwise. After the marriage a girl may have to assist with the family finances and being prepared will be half the battle. Preparing for a career develops her mind and gives her a sense of responsibility.

A woman must be sure of her future security. Women must not be turned away now after working long hours during the war to become specialized in a certain field just because some people believe men are more capable for the jobs. Women must have a definite part in business and industry if the progress of our nation is to continue.” Dolores Rahn, December 1948

18 year old Dolores

18 year old Dolores

Go Mom!

You could always take a little and do a lot with it–whether it was with an accounting class, a family camper, or a church ministry. You taught me how to do that and I’m grateful. Who knew I would end up running a nonprofit?  Like Dad, you looked to character–not in relation to the world’s standards but in looking to life–to your loved ones, to those you would meet, to your home, your country, your work and ultimately to God’s standards.

I found this note written in the margin of my Bible: “Read to Dad on Father’s Day, June 17, 2012.” Also your anniversary, his first without you.  It’s you Mom:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31: 25-30