My husband’s mother is dying
We’ve been facing it for a few weeks and it grieves us more each day. Bruce is coping. It’s difficult. He loves and misses her, wishes she were close by, knows she is ready. We said goodby to his dad exactly 3 years ago, now it’s mom. Nothing prepares you to say goodby. She still misses Pop, he was her world for 64 years and though she fought like a champ to assuage her grief at his passing, she misses him.
Last week we visited her in Oregon. She is in a rehab facility on hospice care. One of those days we had aunts, uncle and a cousin we’d never met, all together with her. Sunny Oregon day, lovely people, special time, mom enjoying all of it.
It’s a good memory
The next day we FaceTimed her sister in Missouri. Mom can’t speak well, her right side is immobile from a brain tumor, but she knew her sister! There were 6 Johnson sisters, closer than a tight cotton weave. Two have passed. Milly, in MO was so relieved to see her face. Mom was so excited she had to touch the phone from time to time just to reassure herself that it was really her sister.
Of course, tears flowed…
On our last visit with her we sang. Old songs from the past. Mom was a pianist/organist in an Assembly of God church for many years. She accompanied choirs and congregations in the days of John W Peterson cantatas. The Gaithers, mother’s milk to the 70’s, brought us to spiritual hometowns. Her eyes opened wide as we sang, her head nodded, she remembered. Her hand gestured in a way that was familiar to us. One that usually accompanied a spiritual truth she wanted to emphasize, “sermonizing” as Brad said. Often it was directed at me, leaving me to wonder why I needed it most.
We FaceTimed our daughters with her. Both expressed their love for her. Carolyn played piano, she nodded – then nodded off. Janette and George thanked her for her prayers over the course of their lives, Janette attributing her life to grandma’s prayers. Again the screen was touched, as if this wasn’t real.
It wrecked me
I met mom 37 years ago as a 22 year old, IN LOVE young girl. One of the things on my Future Husband List were Christian parents. I wanted my future children to have Christian grandparents. I was bringing my own to the table and wanted them on both sides. Not only did they need to be Christian, they needed to be Spirit Filled. Little did I know how deep those roots were in my future in-laws when I married Bruce.
I would learn
Mom’s family was Swedish, going all the way back to covered wagons in Minnesota. They landed in Cherry Grove Oregon where they attended a Swedish Baptist church. The Johnson family, 6 little girls and their mom and dad, Ruben and Nellie. It’s said that Ruben had long toes and loved to pinch his girls with them while they giggled under the covers. At some point Nellie “Came into Pentecost” in the same Swedish Baptist church.
They were swept out the door
As the sisters married, growing their own families Ruben passed away. Mom was pregnant with Bruce, her longed for first child. Ruben knew mom was expecting but he never met his grandson. Nellie would go on to remarry after her youngest daughter left home and Charles would become Grandpa Cole to everyone.
There wasn’t a day when Mom didn’t know the Lord. Her world revolved around her sisters, husband, children and church. Maybe even in that order! Her entire life was lived in service to others. Motherhood = service. Cooking meals, laundry, keeping house and hosting any and all her extended family as they came in and out of her home from mission fields or other towns. Cousins lived in her basement during the summers so they could pick fruit, play and have a home while itinerating. She cared, in her home, for Mom Shaver as she died of cancer. They watched soaps together and she took her to doctor’s appointments. The idea of “me time” didn’t exist for mom. She carved it out by reading or playing piano, squeezing it into her time spent on family.
At one time they owned a cabin on Mt St Helens. A lake, boats, bikes (the motor kind) family and youth groups spent time there in the summer. Eventually they swapped the cabin for a mobile home in Bend OR where they planned a retirement life. That led to a house in Kaiser OR after a few tours of the country in a motor home, which they kept for winters in Yuma. A few years ago they swapped that house for a beach home on the Oregon coast. That’s where we said goodby to Pop.
It’s mom’s favorite place in the world
As we traveled home my mind wandered to things I’ve learned from her. Sometimes the years weren’t easy between us but I never doubted her love for her son and his family. As time went by, my love for her became as automatic as breathing. When Pop died I stepped into her love for him and mourned her grief more than my own.
So I want to share just a few of the things I’ve learned while knowing Mom, it’s not nearly complete, it couldn’t be. But here are a few I will always cherish, hoping I pass them along to my children…
- There is JOY in serving family. It’s unpopular to serve your family these days. Cooking and cleaning are chores to be hired out. Mothers are considered “less” if they serve their families. But to mom this was JOY. She loved folding everyone’s clothes, it meant they lived under her roof. Gardening was good for the soul, jam making when the raspberries ripened, mowing the lawn with the benefit of a wild fruit salad along the way, and making sure everyone’s physical needs were met. She told me early, “A woman sets the tone for her home”. Homemaking didn’t diminish her in any way.
- Each person’s story is theirs to tell. This was a difficult one for me to learn because in my family each person’s story is anyone’s to tell to anyone, anywhere! As life marched on and all of us had various episodes of stupidity, mom was the guardian of those things. As our girls grew up and as we added sons to our family I stuck by and will continue to stick by that code, (tattoos excluded you ninnies).
- And finally…A life of faithfulness to Jesus is uncompromising, sacrificial and worth the cost. At last count, mom had read her Bible 47 times–in the KJV. She could recite it to you–hand gesture for emphasis–in context, and with clarity. When the NIV debuted she tolerated preaching from it but in her opinion, the Psalms should always be read in the KJV. Many times her faith cost her intimacy in relationships, but she wouldn’t compromise it. And this is important–even for family.
As we said our goodby to her we all knew it would be our last time to see her this side of heaven. She reached out to hug me tight with her good arm. I broke, sobs shaking my body, couldn’t help it. As I kissed her forehead I struggled to breathe. Her only way to express her love for me lay in her ability to use that arm. I thanked her. Then I told her,
“Mom, you have the best sisters in the world”
So as you leave us Hazel Johnson Shaver, know this, you are loved beyond measure by your sisters, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
Your memory will live in our hearts forever