A Tribute for My Mother

As 2011’s Mother’s Day comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on my own mother and her influence on my life. While I am blessed to have my mother still living, this is the second consecutive Mother’s Day that I have not been able to spend it with her. Last year, she was in Tunisia on vacation with my then 11-year old daughter Helen. This year, I just could not make the trip to Florida for the weekend.

In honor of my mother, however, I want to share an article I wrote about her for Mother’s Day 2006.

It Was All in God’s Hands

It’s the day before Mother’s Day, and there are two things I must do: pick up an orchid corsage and drive to the airport. I’ll explain the corsage later.

At the airport, I will pick up my mother and daughter, who have just spent 15 days in Egypt – touring Cairo, sailing in a hot-air balloon over Luxor and cruising down the Nile. My mother has long been a woman of great faith and fortitude. My dad would be proud of the way she has adapted since his death from cancer a little more than three years ago.

Mother was always Dad’s helper, but she assumed the role of decision-maker seamlessly. Getting her business affairs in order became a priority as Dad died in the midst of an IRS audit. If she ever worried, she never showed it. (Come to find out, the government actually owed her money.)

She had always been Dad’s partner, but she learned to create her own social life. Joining a hospice bereavement group, she made friends and forged new relationships. She took on additional church responsibilities that filled her days with ministry.

My mother had always been Dad’s caregiver. She saw him through diabetes, heart problems and cancers too numerous to mention. She hardly mentioned it when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She quietly went through her own treatments and is now cancer-free.

My mother had always loved to travel. She and Dad traversed several continents. Their last trip together had been Dad’s “trip of a lifetime,” a cruise and land excursion across Alaska. Shortly after Dad’s death, she began planning her own dream vacation.

Since high school, Mom had wanted to visit Peru and fly over the Nazca Lines. With granddaughter Esther McCartney, then 14, in tow, she did just that. In addition to Peru, she has visited Russia, Thailand and now Egypt – always taking one of her six grandchildren as a companion.

My brother Dale believes that is the greatest testimony to her faith – that she refuses to sit around and bemoan the past.

It is a past she remembers fondly.

Janet Harley met Bill Ford more than 50 years ago. Her eyes, at 72, still twinkle as she recalls their courtship when they were pharmacy majors at Purdue University in Indiana.

“On our first date, he picked me up at the sorority house, and I headed off towards the bus stop. He stopped me and asked me where I was going. He had a car. I never dated a boy who had his own car.”

Dad would have to propose numerous times.

“He just kept asking, but I knew if I had accepted right off, he would have run off.”

Luckily for my brothers and me, she eventually agreed to marry him.

Grandma Bea’s Influence

Mom easily adjusted to life as the epitome of a June Cleaver homemaker, shelving her pharmacy degree temporarily when we were young. We once laughed together as we leafed through her 1950s home economics textbook, but I could see her all over its pages.

A great wife and mother, she was not always a woman of faith – surprising only because she was raised attending the church her grandfather pastored in North Manchester, Ind., a rural, overwhelmingly Protestant community.

But, according to Mom, the church was more about social activities than preaching. As a result, she knew about God without ever knowing God.

That changed when she met Dad’s mother. Bessie Ford was a humble woman, devoted to her family and her faith, and Mom immediately bonded with “Grandma Bea.” In fact, most who would meet the two women initially assumed Mom was Grandma’s own daughter.

Grandma Bea was also a stalwart prayer warrior, and Mom’s faith life was at the top of her list.

It was not a prayer that was quickly answered.

But years into her marriage and after the birth of three children, Mom became a Christian. It ended one request and began a string of many more as her faith would be tested over years of child rearing, Grandma Bea’s dementia and Dad’s numerous health crises.

The most difficult would begin in January 2003, when Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer.

During his last few months, they both knew the end was near. Dad, however, refused hospice care. He was not ready to give up his fight. After all, doctors had given him only two years to live more than eight years earlier.

Mom honored his wishes, even as she struggled to attend to his increasingly demanding daily medical and physical needs. She also struggled with her own fears. It was hard for her to accept that the man who had been her companion, confidante and comic relief for so long would soon no longer be there for her.

One day she came to peace about it.

“I heard the Lord say to me: ‘Janet, if you trust me with everything else in your life, why don’t you trust me with Bill?’ I knew then that it was all in God’s hands, and it was going to be all right.”

Faith Brings Comfort

When Dad died, it was Mom’s faith that would allow her to comfort others when she should have been the one being comforted.

Her sister Jane, on vacation in Italy, offered to come home for the funeral. Mom insisted she finish her trip.

When Mom was coping with her own cancer, she told me simply, “If anything happens to me or your dad, I don’t want you kids to feel bad for us. We have no regrets. God has given us a wonderful life together, and whenever He is ready to call us home, we are ready to go.”

Dad’s call came on March 17, 2003. Their last day together started quietly.

Dad woke but was too weak to get up. Mom brought him his morning newspaper. They talked about the air-conditioner repairman who was coming that day. Mom bathed him in bed. As she lifted his torso to remove his T-shirt, he gasped and fell backward. Dad died in Mom’s arms.

At the end of the day, she recorded in her journal all that was important to her.

“Bill went home today.”

Until it’s her time to go meet him there, I’ll honor her as my Dad always did: with an orchid corsage on Mother’s Day.

First published in The Tampa Tribune on May 16, 2006.