My mother died on Monday, April 30th. She was 94 years old. She had a stroke on the 29th, but clung to life long enough for me to get to her bedside from NC. When she died my husband, son, daughter, and daughter-in-law were by her bed. She was fiercely independent, intelligent , loved her family and friends and was deeply religious, in other words we were very much alike, except for the deeply religious part. Right up to Sunday the 29th of April she could see, hear, think and lived in her own home by herself, the way she liked it.Losing your mother has to be one of the most dreaded and yet most expected things in the life of any child. My mother’s death was a blow, but her life and how long we had her helped temper our grief.
Mom was married twice, to my father in 1936, to my step-father in 1971, ( my father died in 1966) and had a boyfriend several years older than her until his death about 8 years ago. Mom was a generally healthy and active person until the past few years when arthritis began to take its toll on her mobility. She had her illnesses, but had them earlier in life, including a brain tumor in 1959. She had brain surgery, which was successful and she made a complete recovery.
She was a resourceful woman, having been widowed suddenly in 1966 when my father died of a heart attack at work. She was not working at the time, there was virtually no insurance and my father owned his own business, and did not have a retirement plan. She went to work at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and worked there until she retired in the mid-70s to watch my two small children. She was a devoted grandmother. She was also hilarious at times.
She had strong opinions about certain things. Going to church was a requirement and being “moral” was not up for debate. Once when her 90 year old boyfriend, Hercules Horatio Hensley ( yes that really was his name) came up to watch television and eat dinner with her as they did most evenings ( he asked her to marry him repeatedly, but she said she was not going to bury another husband, my step-father having died in 1983) it started to snow. By the time Herc was ready to leave and they looked out the snow was quite deep. Now Mom’s house has four bedrooms in it and a couch in the family room that pulls out into a bed. Herc was driving a big conversion van he had purchased after Mom had admired one owned by one of her church members. He was hesitant to drive that big van home in the deep snow and asked if he could use one of the spare bedrooms. My mother drew herself up and informed him that she did not care how much snow was out there, there was no way his van was going to be seen in front of her house all night.
Poor Herc had to slip slide home, fortunately he made it unscathed. When my mother told me the story I told her at their age the neighbors would have applauded them rather than censured them, but she assured me she was not thinking about letting anyone believe he was spending nights with her for any reason.
My mother and I had a number of differences, she loved babies, I do not like children under 5, they are just noise and body functions until you can carry on a conversation with them. She was very, very thrifty. She liked good clothes as I do, but she did not spend money on anything as freely as I do. The result being that she had enough money just in her checking account to pay for her funeral at least five times over, and we did not skimp on the funeral. When I die my kids may have to sell something to cremate me and buy the urn! As I mentioned before she was very religious, she loved going to church and was a member of Zion Baptist for almost 70 years. They are putting a plaque on her pew this week. Her favorite hymn was ” How Great Thou Art“, which we sang at her funeral, along with a couple of my favorites ( I went through a bit of a religious fanatic period from age 12-22 myself) , ” We’ll Understand it Better By and By” and Soon and Very Soon”, the recessional was to the old black spiritual ” I’ll Fly Away.”
Her funeral was quite an affair, with everyone from the Mayor to my former students attending either the funeral or the wake or both. Friends, classmates, church members, all filled the middle section of the large church and in great racial, ethnic, economic , age and status diversity. The line of cars going to Massie Creek Cemetery stretched for a long, long way and there was a good crowd at the delicious dinner prepared by the ladies of Zion, which included fried chicken, au gratin potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls, ambrosia salad, watermelon slices , pound cake, chocolate cake and pecan pie, all home made. I got tickled when my daughter Nicole said to one of the ladies, ” This chicken is delicious where did you buy it?” The elderly church sister looked at her with astonishment and said ” We did not buy it, we made it!”
There is nothing like a supper in a church basement following a funeral to bring back memories of Sunday School and pageants past. I believe I could identify the smell of the basement of Zion Church blindfolded.
The funeral was kind of an upbeat affair, which is what I was going for. My mother lived a long, rich, happy life with a certain amount of privilege and she died the way she wanted to with dignity and surrounded by people who loved her. She was sick for less than 24 hours before she died, and she dodged her bogey man, the nursing home completely. It was appropriate that we have a home going service that had as much laughter in it as tears. Two different people, one of my sisters in law and another friend, asked if I would plan their funerals when the time comes. I told them this is my last funeral. Everyone from here on out gets cremated and a memorial service. The only reason Mom didn’t was because I wanted her to have the kind of funeral she would have enjoyed attending.
Rest in peace Nana, as most of us called you, you did a good job and deserve your reward.Love you and will miss you, I wish people did not have to die and leave us, but we’ll understand it better by and by.
By and by, when the morning comes, when all the saints of God are gathered home, we'll tell the story of how we've overcome, and we'll understand it better by and by.