On my way home from another futile attempt at finding out what I had done that had brought about being asked to resign, I walked by a store window and saw a belt that matched our daughter, Carla’s, cowboy boots. When I called Sally Jo to get Carla’s waist measurement, she told me the news: “Chuck, your mom has had a heart attack. Come home quickly. I have booked a flight for you.” I went in, bought the belt, and headed home.
Within a few hours I was in the plane, my mind spinning. My mom, who was deeply involved in a variety of ministries herself, rejoiced in how the Lord was using me in His work in wonderful ways. She was very aware of the powerful impact recent events were having on our family – mom and I had talked on the telephone many times. It was a shared, painful bewilderment. I had a long flight home.
When told about mom’s heart attack, it was not a total surprise. Twelve years earlier, when mom was 60, my sister was with our parents when she had her first and second heart attacks. As quickly as possible mom was scheduled for triple by-pass heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Six weeks after the surgery our mom, very weak and frail, sat proudly at her daughter’s wedding.
For the next twelve years mom, though very active, was not physically strong. Dad, a physician, and mom had agreed that if she had another heart attack, or a stroke – no heroics. When I arrived home (Wheaton, IL) Dad told my sister, who had flown in from California, and me how he and mom were playing with grand children in their swimming pool when mom collapsed. Though he remembered their promise, he could not help himself – he could not just watch his wife die. Quickly the ambulance arrived and, on the trip to the hospital, it was necessary to re-start her heart three times.
Mom went into a coma and, after several days, my sister reluctantly returned to her husband and three children. Eight days after the first heart attack the neurologist told us there was no way our mom could return to anything like a normal life. Her brain was dead. I remember standing in the kitchen with dad and my two physician brothers, who lived in Wheaton, and making the decision: “stop the IV medicine”. Eight hours later she died. The next day Sally Jo and our three children arrived from Texas. My sister, her husband Lee, and their children arrived from California.
The memorial service was an incredible experience. The church sanctuary, which seated 400, was full, with people standing along the sides and in the back. The children’s choir filled the choir loft.
Billy Graham and his crusade soloist, Bev Shea, close friends of my parents, came to participate in the service. We sang the great hymns of the faith with tears streaming down our cheeks. Bev sang the verses of “How Great Thou Art” and we all joined in on the chorus. Billy told how my mom had made more ministers and missionary husbands happy than perhaps any other woman in Christendom – by giving their wives sexy night gowns. You can imagine the laughter. He then told he had come from being with his wife, Ruth, who just had a hip replacement. As Ruth was taking her first steps down the hospital hallway, wearing a beautiful night gown and robe my mom had given her, a man whistled at her. With laughter Billy said: “I do not think it hurt her a bit!” The church’s pastor then told about mom’s relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I am confident the non-Christians present had never been to such a celebration: A life truly lived In Partnership With God.
After the service our family went to a large room where we were asked to stand in a receiving line. The people coming by remain a blur…except for the many girls from foreign countries who were studying at Wheaton College. In tears, some sobbing, they said “what will we ever do without our American mother?”
No job. No understanding of why. A struggling family. And now, no mom.
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him” — Job 13:15