by Gary D. Robinson
I have a photo of my mother taken back in the ’60s. It shows a beautiful woman. I can see how, looking at her, the heart of a young man would’ve beaten a little faster. I have other pictures of my mother. They were taken in the nursing home where she spent the last few years of her life. Of course, after many years and many struggles, she looked very different in those pictures. Time and trials had left their mark. Yet she looked content, happy even.
The former Eunice Conley was Kentucky born and bred. She lived up Bear Holler, not far from where Loretta Lynn grew up. Like the singer, Eunice too was a coal miner’s daughter. Her daddy, whom she adored, taught her to work hard. As she was fond of remembering, he used to say, “I like to see my kids a’workin’ when I leave and a’workin’ when I git home.” I can only imagine what a trauma it was when, one day, he didn’t come home. He’d been killed in a cave-in. Eunice was 14.
Somewhere along the way, she met a young fellow named Homer. At first, she scorned “them little ears.” Evidently, though, what he lacked in ears, he made up for in other ways. They were married two days before Christmas, 1950. Their first child, a son, died the day after he was born. My soldier father got a two-day leave to come home for the funeral. Less than two years later, I was born. My sister Patty followed a couple of years after that.
The one memento of her youth I have, a Paintsville High School yearbook, mentions no extra-curricular activities. I’m not sure what she did for fun as she grew into a pretty young woman. I think, though, what she liked to do more than anything else was work. She dropped out of high school and took a job at a dime store in town. She had a dozen jobs while I was growing up. She worked at everything from glass-making to stitching casket linings.
My mother was as solid and rooted to the earth as the coal her daddy dug out of it. She wasn’t much for TV or movies, but she did enjoy the soap opera General Hospital. She wasn’t a reader nor was she particularly imaginative or whimsical. Whimsy was Dad’s department. When I crashed through the kitchen window imitating Superman, Dad drove us to the doctor for stitches (he was flying low himself). Mom, who was trying to feed her traumatized five-year-old a hamburger on the way, told him she wasn’t going to let him watch that old show anymore!
Yet she had a great capacity for fun. Watching her as a child, I saw a woman who liked to dance and roller skate. Raising her children, working at my father’s side, her fun was put on hold. Yet, even after Dad died, even with all her illnesses, she remembered how to enjoy herself. She had a boyfriend or two. She went to Sea World. She always had a good appetite and enjoyed going out to eat, even just to McDonald’s. She loved Johnny Cash, especially his song about the Second Coming. She’d tap her foot; she’d get into it!
I don’t want to commit the sin of Ham and reveal a parent’s nakedness. While I may reveal, I couldn’t revel in the telling. My mother had serious problems. It took a while for the ugly face of schizophrenia to show itself. By that time, she’d been hospitalized and undergone shock treatments. She required the same a couple more times during the ‘70s and many more thereafter.
Dad died in 1981. When Mom lost him, it wasn’t long before she lost everything else. I, however, gained custody of a troubled woman. You can call it “schizoaffective disorder.” You can call it anything you want. I like to describe it as a trip through Wonderland.
As she grew older, the delusions came thicker and faster. It was a struggle for both of us. And yet, even that had its funny side. In the closing years of her life, Mom began losing the ability to speak. As she talked less, I talked more—about the Bible, politics, anything that was on my mind. To tell you the truth, I was a little afraid of her growing silence.
One day, I was going on about Bill Clinton. Mom was an inveterate Democrat who never voted in any election. Mom loved Mr. Clinton. I forget what I was saying, but none of it was very complimentary to our former president. Then Mom spoke. “Gary, I know how you feel, but he was a good man.” That was the last full, lucid sentence I remember Mom speaking. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that.
Mom had always been an energetic woman, always on the go, always doing something. She was not one to sit around. In the last few years of her life, she remembered at least that much about herself. Early in her stay at Rolling Fields, she used to walk constantly, round and round the gazebo. When she couldn’t walk outside, she walked around the unit. Because she burned so many calories, she kept the staff busy supplementing her diet.
When she lost the ability to walk, it was a hard pill for me to swallow. Mom, however, was past caring. It was as though, one by one, someone was yanking power cords from her brain. Yet, whether sitting in a chair or lying in bed, Mom was still doing something. She’d long lost the ability to cook or crochet, but she could still make memories. She lost the imaginary fears, the contrived hatreds. Her smile became as sweet as a child’s.
For years, when we parted company, I’d say to her, “Be good!” She’d reply, “If I can’t be good, I’ll be careful!” I thought, “When she can’t say that anymore, I’ll know she doesn’t have much longer.”
One morning, I got a call from the nursing home. They’d taken Mom to the hospital with a seizure. For three days, I sat by her side, hoping and praying. Her heart raced hour after hour after hour. Then, suddenly, the race was over.
And now she’s gone from my sight. But now not only does she have “much longer,” she has eternity. And she doesn’t have to worry anymore about being either good or careful. Jesus has seen to that. “Behold,” he says, “I am making all things new.”
My sister and I are thankful that Mom and Dad took us to church. My mother, whose motto apparently was, “If you can’t get there early, you might as well not show up,” invariably had us sitting in the car on Second Street waiting for somebody to come unlock the church house door.
I’m thankful for parents who believed the Scriptures and taught them to their children. I remember receiving a white Bible from Mom with my name in it. She encouraged me to memorize the twenty-third Psalm. And I did. She encouraged me to become a preacher. I not only did that, I earned a Master of Divinity degree—what Mom called my “Masters of Divinities.” She used to show me off: “This is my son. He has his Masters of Divinities.” I’d turn red and mutter, “Yeah, I can make candy now.”
Mom, what are you saying now as you behold the Master of Divinity himself? Like the song says, I can only imagine.
I believe that after a long struggle, my mother has finally found rest. Jesus told the dying thief, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Paul wrote that to be with the Lord is far better. I believe that Mom is at peace, in a state of bliss, safe with the Lord.
But that isn’t all I believe. I not only believe in life after death, I believe in life after life after death. I believe in resurrection. Jesus died and rose again. Even so, all those who trust in him will rise. I believe in the vindication of the body.
I believe that my mother’s faith will be vindicated in a new body which God himself will give her on the last day—as he will give to all who believe in the Son of God. We’ve been bought and paid for by the blood of his Son. Jesus died that we might live. He rose again and so will we.
So now I look at that photo of my mother, the one I told you about in the beginning: Eunice, young and beautiful. And I smile and think, “He will make all things new, Mom—you and me and Patty and our families and all creation. All things, Mom. All things.”
Thanks, Mom, for passing that faith on to me.
Gary Robinson is a freelance writer in Xenia, Ohio.
Your Own Tribute
The author shared a touching tribute to his mom. If you were to summarize your mom in an article, what traits would you highlight? What stories from her life would give someone a glimpse into all that she means to you, and to the world?
Give your mom a tribute:
1. If your mom is alive, tell her thank you. Call her, write her, whatever you can do. Specifically name the characteristics you admire in her.
2. If your mom is not alive, share her memory with someone this week.