Mom grew up on a hard scrabble farm in Marathon County, Wisconsin. She was born in 1930 and so her early years were influenced by the Great Depression made worse because the family was poor to begin with. I remember well her telling me (a rather picky eater) that often all they had to eat were potatoes.
Mom’s mom died in 1940 when she was only ten. Her father remarried and mom and her six siblings became part of a rather large blended family thus contributing to the poverty. And mom never had much nice to say about her “new mom” or her bio father.
Perhaps it was because mom and some of her siblings were sent to live with relatives during the war years, again because of the poverty but also because of the strained relationships within the blended family.
Mom’s child and teen years were not pleasant and were marked by instability which I believe contributed to mom’s insecurity and depression of later years.
In the early 1950s mom migrated to Milwaukee where she met my dad, a World War 2 veteran. They married in 1952 and I came along in 1953 followed by a sister in 1957.
My memories of mom when I was a child are entirely pleasant. I remember mom on more that one occasion storming the Catholic School I attended to confront the mentally sadistic nun I had in the fourth grade. (Most of the nuns and lay teachers btw were quite good and not at all like the sadist.)
I did have trouble with my parents but by and large it was me that was the problem. I was lazy and lacked motivation and frankly I don’t think my Depression Era parents quite knew how to deal with it in a biblical way.
I never for a moment doubted that mom and dad loved me. Both were incredibly hard workers and sought to give to their children a life they never had.
It began to unravel when I was in High School. My dad lost a good paying job in the Aero-Space Industry that he had held for 18 years. It had something to do with the end of the space program. Mom suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown.
I remember clearly a near catatonic state. She stayed in her pajamas all day and gave up on all her household responsibilities. It was odd to put it mildly since she was a meticulous housekeeper and great cook, something I didn’t appreciate because I was so picky.
Eventually, my dad and one of mom’s sister’s talked her into treatment. She received shock treatments and talk therapy.
After she recovered to some extent I remember her telling me that the psychiatrist turned her around by making her angry-telling her she was a lousy mom and worse crummy housekeeper. She said she wanted to hit him but between that and the shock treatments she turned around for a time.
By 1974 I was married and out of the house so I could not observe mom to the degree I once did. I know that the depression and insecurity slowly came back and perhaps part of the reason was that my younger sister got what I’ll call a wasting disease that over the years required a great deal of personal care-personal care that fell on mom. It was made more complicated because mom and daughter often fought.
Mom was a faithful Catholic but in retrospect her faith nor her church seemed to be of much help or comfort. I became keenly aware of this after my wife and I were born again and our faith began to have a bearing on how we dealt with adversity.
I know now that the difference has everything to do with the gospel and how the gospel is relevant to how a person lives in the here and now.
The difference led me to talk to both my parents regarding salvation and it was not always pleasant especially because early on I was a jerk.
In time, especially after I entered the ministry our conversations changed for the better. I remember quite clearly mom telling me she knew she was not good enough to get to heaven and of her need for Jesus. She added that “Luther” was right about a great many things! That was quite the remarkable statement coming from a traditional Polish-German Catholic background!
Never-the-less, her bouts of depression worsened and she became a slave to prescription medications, some of them, as it turned out, quite dangerous.
Mom never quite slipped back into that near catatonic state but she definitely had her mood swings and periods when she would retreat deep inside herself. My attempts to help her spiritually were appreciated but not really taken seriously because she simply didn’t know how and half the time could not think straight because of the meds.
Apart from a prayer group my parents belonged to her church did not provide any help. I don’t say that with anger and simply understand all they would have done is tell her to see a psychiatrist and take her meds. That’s the way it was done and still is.
In late April, 2004 mom suffered a brain stroke. The doctors said she would not recover and was unconscious.
The first few days she was in a hospital at times she could regain consciousness to the extent she could communicate by squeezing your hand. One squeeze for yes, two for no.
I knew mom was not going to make it and I bent down and spoke into her ear if she was ready to meet Jesus. One squeeze for yes.
I asked her if she was relying on him alone for that meeting. One squeeze for yes!
I told her I loved her. One squeeze for yes.
And she slipped back into unconsciousness.
Mom lingered for about 11 days in a hospice after that and never regained any ability to communicate. It didn’t stop me or others from talking to her but she was unresponsive.
I believe that in the end mom believed in Christ alone, apart from works for her salvation. That certainly is the main thing and I thank God for that last time I had with mom.
But I also believe that mom was the product of poor teaching and often wrong teaching. To be sure, she was partially responsible, but on the other hand her church saw little through the exclusive lens of Scripture. I do not dislike Catholics but have major issues with what the Catholic Church teaches. I want to be very clear on that. I have no desire to offend my Catholic friends and relatives so understand it is not about you. It is about what your church teaches.
So today I remember mom with my fondest memory-the day she squeezed my hand three times and told me she loved me one last time. Thanks mom for always loving me. I miss you.