Reflections on the Passing of My Mother
Yesterday was January 15th. On that date, in 1944, my mother was born in Pennsylvania. In 1967, she married my Dad and became Jeanne Stocks. I was born five years later, the third of four boys. My Mom would have been 70 years old yesterday. God had other plans though, and my mother died on September 8, 1978 at the young age of 34 less than six months after my younger brother was born and two weeks after I turned six years old. I know now that she had been sick for several months leading up to her death, but at the time that never registered in my young mind.
It was, as far as I knew at the time, just like any other regular Friday. I woke up and rode the bus to my first grade class at Bass Hoover Elementary School in Stephens City, Virginia. That afternoon, I rode the bus home totally unaware of how my life was about to be forever altered. When my older brothers and I arrived home, the door was locked. That was unusual, but at six it seemed more like an adventure than a problem. We walked across the street of our quiet little neighborhood to the Miller’s house. They were an older couple who treated us like grandkids. Mr. Miller was a volunteer fireman with a model train set in his basement. He was one of my favorite people. I fondly recall all the hours I spent at the Miller’s house.
When we explained the situation, the Miller’s called my Dad at work to let him know what was going on. Years later I would find out that he knew exactly what he was going to find when he got home. My mother had relayed a story to him years earlier about someone in her family who had passed away when she was younger (it may have been her mother, but I do not recall), and she (and her sisters I believe) found the body when they got home. She had told my Dad that she had always wished that they would have, at least, locked the door so the kids couldn’t get in and find the body. When he heard from the neighbors that the door was locked, combined with knowledge of all the health issues from the preceding months, he knew what he would find when he came home. He asked that the neighbors keep us at their house for a while. As a husband myself now, and father to four kids, I can only imagine what he must have been going through.
The Miller’s were wonderful hosts, but the time seemed to drag on and on for me. It’s scary as a kid not knowing what is going on. After what seemed like an eternity, my father came and collected us and took us back over to the house. I vividly remember walking into the master bedroom and sitting on the edge of the bed with my father and my brothers. Even at six years old, the air felt very heavy. My father, no doubt reeling from the day’s events himself, calmly explained to us that our Mom was gone in the best words he could find to use. He asked if any of us had any questions. I remember asking something, but I couldn’t tell you to this day what it was.
The days and months after that are a little fuzzier in my mind. I remember being at my mother’s funeral. I remember the Miller’s taking us for ice cream so that we didn’t have to stay for the whole thing. I remember making a Valentine’s Day box (it was actually a house) with my Dad for Valentine’s Day the next year. I remember taking it to school that morning and, for some reason, being acutely aware of the absence of my mother.
The thing is, though, that at six years old you adapt – even to the really bad things. That is not to say that they don’t affect you, but you have a way of adapting to them. I missed my mother horribly, but life went on, and my little six year old mind found a way to move on with it. I never forgot. I “talked” to my Mother frequently and pictured her watching over and protecting me and my brothers and dad.
After her passing, I grew up in a house of five men – well one man and four boys. I had two older brothers and one younger brother, and there was a whole lot of testosterone running through that house. That was my normal. That was my world. Other kids had a mother and a father. I did not. It wasn’t something to really dwell on at the time, it just was. My father was, and is, a great man. He wasn’t about to let his family, the family he and my Mother had created, be destroyed by her death. He would do, and did do, whatever it took to provide for us and be there for us. There is no one that I have ever met that I respect more than him for what he did in those years. My grandmother also helped out. Though she lived several states away, she came a stayed for weeks at a time. When her husband, my grandfather, died the next year, the visits increased. For a few weeks a year there was a female presence in the house, but even that was different than having a mother.
My father remarried about six years later when I was twelve. That met with different reactions from me and my brothers. Some had trouble adjusting in general, some had trouble adjusting to “sharing” our dad, and some were happy that he seemed to have found happiness. By then, I was 12 and, although a 12 year old still has a lot of growing up to do, I had spent half of my formative years with no mother.
I don’t know if it was my natural disposition or a defense mechanism or growing up in a house with all males, but I don’t recall expressing my emotions much regarding the death of my mother. I think that I convinced myself that, while I missed her daily, this was “just the way things were.” If you had asked me when I was a teenager, I would have told you that the death of my mother definitely impacted me, but that I had eventually “gotten over it.” By “gotten over it” I meant, of course, that I felt like I had grieved her death and come out relatively unscathed though I wouldn’t have put it quite that way back then.
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized how deeply and profoundly the death of my mother had really impacted me and shaped me into the person I became. When I was 25 years old, I met Tricia. Two years later she would become my wife. When we met, Tricia was the mother to a feisty four year old boy named Joshua. As quickly as I fell in love with her, I fell in love with him as well. I will never forget the day, sitting in my car outside of a McDonalds waiting for his mother to be done with an appointment when Josh asked me if I would be his Dad. That day ranks right up there with the day I accepted Christ, my wedding day and the birth of my other three kids as one of the most special and important days of my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now 19 years later I know that part of what brought me to that situation and made me so eager to be a father to Joshua was living without one of my own parents for so many years. As someone who grew up with that void, I realize that I was more than willing to try to fill that void for someone else. Joshua was one of my best men at our wedding (along with my best friend) not in name only but because he was the most important “man” in my life.
After Tricia and I married, and we became a family along with Josh, I really started to feel the effects of having lost my Mom. Seeing the bond between them, and later Tricia and our other kids, I saw for the first time what I had really missed out on. What seemed so normal to me at the time (just having a Dad) wasn’t diminished, but I saw what could have been. At the same time, days like Mother’s Day which used to bring me so much pain finally brought warm feelings of joy as I got to celebrate them with the mother of my kids.
One other thing happened a few years later that opened my eyes to much of what I had suppressed in dealing with the death of my mother. At thirty years of age, and following the birth of my third child and first daughter, some friends invited us to church. To be fair, they had invited us several times before, and we had actually gone once or twice, but this time was different. I decided I owed it to my kids to look into this whole “God thing.” From there, it didn’t take long for God to work on my heart, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior shortly thereafter.
Only after being adopted into the family of God did I really begin to recognize and understand the spiritual impact that the death of my mother had on me. For most of my life I believed in some sort of God, I just wasn’t entirely sure who he was. As I came to know the One True Living God, I also started to realize that it was questions about why my mother had to die that had kept me at an arm’s length from God for so many years. And, it wasn’t until I became a parent myself that God worked through that to draw me near to him.
So, why I am writing about these deeply personal experiences now? And, why here on Hope4HurtingKids.com? I’ve written previously about God’s call on my life in ministering to children of divorce and other hurting kids. It was reading about how the impact of divorce on children is oftentimes more severe and longer lasting than the impact of the death of a parent, combined with the fact that over 1,000,000 kids per year experience the divorce of their parents, that really drew me in. I know what it’s like to lose a parent. I have dealt with that grief and lived through that experience. I know the lasting impacts it can have on your life, and the idea that the divorce of one’s parents has an even greater impact on kids than what I went through made me want to spend the rest of my life ministering to these kids. I felt drawn by God to serve these kids and equip others to do the same.
When God first called me into this ministry, I wondered why. At first, I resisted. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but I was left wondering, “why me?” I am not divorced. My parents were never divorced. It didn’t make sense. There must be better people out there to minister to these kids – people who could relate. It wasn’t until months later that God finally turned on the light bulb for me. There are some stark similarities between my own loss and that of children of divorce. Having been through a similar, albeit different, experience as a kid, I wanted to help other children deal with that loss in their own lives. In many ways, when God led me down this road, it was almost as if He was saying, “this is what I have been preparing you for all your life. This is why I made you…for such a time as this.”
I would not change the course my life has taken. It has gotten me where I am today. I hope that my mother would be proud.