Category Archives: Family Notes

A Mother’s Loss

The following Letter to the Editor was published today, April 27, 2018 in the Kansas City Star.  I wrote it after reading the tribute to Barbara Bush on April 21.  The essay/editorial struck a cord that is worthy of noting.  Please read.  Thank you to the KC Star for including it in today’s edition.

Mary Sanchez’s sympathetic and empathetic column concerning Barbara Bush is a testimony to the strength of character not only of Mrs. Bush, but her mom and all of us who experience the loss a child. (April 21, 11A, “Remembering Barbara Bush, grieving mother”)

My experience was a miscarriage of twins. But that was half a century after Robin Bush’s death and Sanchez’s mother’s first late-term loss. I was fortunate to have a community that understood it was a loss and allowed me to grieve.

Another generation later, our daughter-in-law lost a daughter, Faith, at 17 weeks. Fortunately, she was supported by a medical team that understood the need to allow her and her husband time with the daughter.

Loss is painful, but grieving is a process that one must experience, and a medical team that understands that need is exceptional.

Sanchez’s words and her insight concerning Mrs. Bush are evidence that our culture is learning to honor painful life experiences appropriately. Thank you for sharing such a personal and perceptive tribute to Mrs. Bush, but also to your own mom and all mothers who know the loss of a child all too soon.

Susan Annette Smith Warrensburg

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Back home

IMG_2003Over the weekend, we traveled through six states.  We followed what had been a rare southern winter storm, seeing as much as 10 inches of snow outside of Padukah, Kentucky and finding that Florida really can be cold, too.  What a treat it can be to step away from a daily routine, but coming back home is also a treat.

The hours and hours in the car can be exhausting, but also productive.  Getting home, the routine quickly kicks in and yet there is new energy to do those daily chores that seem so tedious.

The traffic can be overwhelming and leaves one a sense of claustrophobia, yet the traffic teaches us the power of patience and forgiveness, too.  And then, coming home the traffic seems to be no problem at all.

The speed of the trip did not allow for sightseeing, but seeing the many miles of road shows many interesting things.  For instance, we were very impressed by the fences that line the highways of Florida.  Very little roadkill was visible and the idea seems so logical, especially when crossing back into Missouri we can hardly travel a mile without roadkill.

The miles that we traveled were also tree-lined.  So much of the highway system along these states were literally lined with trees, especially pine trees.  I also was surprised how many miles of the interstate also had a barrier of trees between the two separate lanes–whether east and west or north and south.  The tree-lined highway makes the insanity of traffic less stressful–at least for me as a passenger this time.  Back home, the interstate system really is not tree-lined.  Of course that is environmentally natural, but I certainly appreciate the miles that are cedar-lined or Ozark oak-lined.

The hospitality of the South is also evident.  The clerks and the servers that greeted us as we made refueling and food stops is refreshing.  Only once did we run into a questionable situation and that was in our home state as we departed.  The host seated us, but we never were served.  We literally had to get up and leave.  Fortunately, we did not ever have to do that again.  In fact, the service we had at the stops after that were delightful.

The food.  Maybe there really is nothing more to say, other than one goal we make on our trips is to avoid the typical chain restaurants that exist around our home, and to really get a taste of the region.  We had two meal stops, on the way home, that were outstanding.  One in Tallahassee at Wahoo Seafood and a second in Marion, Illinois at 17th Street Barbecue.  There is no way to explain the exceptional taste of those stops except I would plan a trip back just to enjoy those flavors again.  Back home, for instance, I tied to make homemade mac and cheese to match the one in Tallahassee.  Close, but not quite.

The point of the trip was a graduation ceremony.  In today’s world of on-line education, all too often the students do not opt to join in a graduation ceremony.  But we made the decision to invest in the ceremony and I am glad we did–despite the long hours in the car.

Celebrating life events has a value that cannot be explained logically, but psychologically it is wise.  I was so impressed by the Walden University’s skill at putting on a ceremony that pulled together hundreds (I have no idea of the final count) of graduates–bachelors, masters, specialists and doctorates–to celebrate with family and friends.

The graduation speaker was Soledad O’Brien.  What a treat for me.  Soledad has been a journalist I enjoyed and had lost track of her.  Seeing her name as the speaker, I looked forward to listening to her.  She was real, honest, personable, and professional.  No boredom at all and great words to mull over in the days, weeks, months ahead.

Thank you, Walden.  You made the experience personal and impressive from the check-in to the following reception.  You have let us return home with memories.

But today, I am back home and have finished catching up the laundry.  Today the goal is to return to the ‘work’ routine that I need to re-establish.  The trip provided new experiences and a winter-time break, but now back to daily life–mac & cheese, puppy love, laundry and all.  What a treat the weekend road trip was, but back home looks pretty good, too.



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A New Year’s Surrender

I surrender!

Here it is New Year’s Eve, 2014, and I did not finish all my Christmas cards.  The intentions were good, but completion unsuccessful.

Now, granted, the year really had no major transitions, no major calamities, or no major successes; but that does not mean it was so nondescript that I should ignore it.

This creates a dilemma:  Do I go ahead and write an annual letter or do I simply skip it?

My head tells me I should write at least a year-end wrap up and send it out, but time is speeding past me and I just do not seem to have the drive to do it.

Therefore, I surrender.

Instead of the usual written, signed, sealed, addressed letter, here is my year-end report:

  • Winter began the year and ended the year.  Cold.  Who knows about the snow, why I can’t really remember how it went but we did have snow days that extended the school year a little too much.
  • Spring came in with Lent so hope revived with the first jonquils and the tiny little buds on the trees.  In fact, spring renews our lives mentally and physically.  Whew!  We survived winter.
  • The calendar says Summer comes in during June, but all teachers, students and their families know that it really begins as soon as the last class lets out in Spring.  The snow days lead us through the very end of May this year and with only one full day to close it out and then jump into the UMC Annual Conference mindset.
  • Summer, to be honest, was delightful.  The temperatures were mild, very little watering was needed for the flower beds, and some flowers bloomed that I had not anticipated after the last couple of dry years.  Why my brand new oak-leaf hydrangeas bloomed in their first year.  The blooms were almost as big as the plant!
  • Summer is such a respite.  I thrive with sunshine and warmer temperatures, the flower gardens, and even the pets outside with me while sitting in my swing.  Of course, structure is good for me and I am thankful we maintain a fairly solid routine with Bruce going to work and I continue with the weekly preparation for Sunday’s worship.
  • Summer brought about a bi-annual event–the Winter Cousin Reunion.  This year it was in Albuquerque, NM, and we made it!  Granted we did it in an extended weekend, but we added a few extra stops–Harley Davidson dealerships.  I think we only missed Amarillo because it was not open as we pulled out that morning.  And we did add in Santa Fe as we were making excellent time so took a northerly jaunt to Santa Fe.  We had a great meal in Old Town before we found the Harley dealer.
  • Now lets reflect on the reunion.  What a delight!  We are trying to maintain a 2-year pattern alternating between Missouri and new Mexico. I am so proud of my brother and sister(-in-law) for spearheading this, and Fred’s family commandeering it this year.  I loved it!  It meant so much to me and I thank God for the blessings of my family.
  • Vacationing is often wiped out by family responsibilities or financial challenges or work conflicts.  Yet, vacationing is educational, refreshing, exciting, and all too often ignored.  Our society has not done a very good job of encouraging workers to use their vacations and we succumb to a range of reasons why not to go on a vacation.  I suppose if I really did have a bucket list, I would have to add in one vacation of at least 4-nights a year.  (Really I would love two, but I do need to be real.)

Well, I had better get back to the year. It is so easy to begin reflecting on social issues.  Maybe a section of mine should be comments.

  • July is summer.  On the 3rd, we marked our 15 year anniversary.  On the 4th, Bruce’s grandma reached the grand age of 100, even with a recently broken hip.  There were other major birthdays and events, too, and the reunion.  Finally, though, the month ended with a decision:  we traded all the bikes and the trailer in for a HD Trike.  Wow!  What a difference that has made.  Vacations may not always be 4-nights, but the Trike may make a huge change in our mindset.  It is delightful!  Fresh air everywhere.
  • August ends educators’ summer.  This year the opening day of school moved up even more.  Students reported on August 16!  For me, returning to the school schedule and routine is healthy.  I cannot explain why, but I simply do much better when I know what time I have to get up, when to report to school (7:15 am), and when I get home (after 2:45 pm).  If I do better with the schedule, doesn’t it make sense that even kids do, too?
  • Autumn begins with school opening, not Sept. 20-21.  It brings about the Chilhowee Fair, which is a major event, and usually great weekend rides.  The weather this autumn made riding a bit more challenging but we did not have the multiple days of 100s in the summer and the fall rides were mild.  We did try a new restaurant off Hwy 13 S and took a ride through the Truman Lake back roads which was a highlight.  The last ride we took was in November with just jackets.  Pretty great.
  • Then Winter cycles back.  November was mild, but the insanity that begins during that month was heightened by the very short Advent season.  My head just spins as we go from Thanksgiving through Christmas, well really New Years.  I just learn that I must go day by day with just a peek at the calendar.  When it comes to a sudden stop, I real.  This time with a tummy ache and I did not even have any egg nog.

There are a couple of special notes to add in.  I trust our kids understand how proud we are of them and this is our way to tell the world.

  • Bruce’s son Jeremy has joined the civilian world moving from Oklahoma City just two weeks ago.  They are now living in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Of course, we must also announce that Haven and Jeremy had a third child in May–Hope was born May 27 and Bruce did get to be there (I was in school).  Their lives have been a whirlwind in the past six months, but all is good.
  • My son Jordan started 2014 off in fine family form.  He and Brandi had Andrew Cole on January 3.  I was fortunate that she had him right here in the Burg so got to go see him shortly after he was born.  So cute!  Red hair on that head.  To top all this off, Jordan bought a house in Trimble, MO and they have all moved in during the summer months and Aidan Mae started school in Plattsburg.  What a fun time!
  • Vada continues teaching kindergarten and running the before and after school program so her day begins about 7 am and ends anywhere from 4 to 6 pm–long hours and tough days (Teachers:  you know the rule of 7).  Chris also resumed a role he knows–school board member–in Chilhowee.  Add to their lives the grandkids–Aiden and Tegen (a third is on the way).  When they spend time with Papa and Vada, we get to be “great-grandparents.”

My one frustration is the lack of seeing family.  The face of our family changes so quickly with deaths and births.  I am thankful for the internet as we get to check in, but I fear sitting around a dinner table or on a porch is a lost art.  Please keep posting, keep journals, keep the calendars filled-in with firsts because it is important.  History will be thankful that you do, not to mention your own family’s generations.

You all know me, I can get wordy.  Unfortunately I am forced to SURRENDER.  I am posting this as a blog and publishing it so the family knows how much I love them, how proud I am of them, and I am sorry I did not get this out as a Christmas card.

For family and friends, I am going to try printing this out, too, and try to get a few in the mail.  If I fail, it is because I was forced into a full surrender. The calendar beat me.


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Identity in a Name

This is the third essay written this summer.  I have additional topics to write, but the lack of time to complete them.  Somewhere along the line, I will get it done. 

Every individual has a name.  This title becomes a beckoning call, a sound registering discipline, a connection to unknowns, yet it is your very own name that will identify you in an infinite number of ways.

Naming a child is a responsibility that parents take seriously—or should.  The name develops an identity that follows its holder for a lifetime.  It is sometimes positive and other times negative.

When the second pregnancy became viable, and the child began developing its own personality (and they do in utero) the process begins to identify just who this little person is going to be.  The criterion is established and for me it was clear:  it had to be family-based and it had to have meaning.

Murray Jordan McCrary was the result of a dictated initial structure and a compromise in order to avoid adding another Jim or John to the family tree.  The pattern was M. J. McCrary that was to be preserved.

During the 1980’s no definite predictions or decisions were made to the sex of the coming baby, so locating a name usually meant finding two names.  Oddly enough, I do not remember ever trying to decide on a girl’s name.

The MJ initials had not been maintained in the family and since Grandpa Murray had died in 1978, there had not been a male child born to take on that name.  Therefore, the struggle began to find a name for this child, who most certainly was going to be a boy.

The weeks were slipping past, and one day I got home from school first.  I picked up the baby name book and began yet another search of “j” names.  In a short time, because your dad was home shortly, I read Jordan.  I read the meaning of the word, and then read the meaning of Murray.  I knew then, I had found the name and I could hardly wait for your dad to get home.

Let me explain:  Murray means sailor, Jordan represents the river.  Therefore, Jordan was to be a sailor on the river.  Additionally, Jordan means descended which placed a clear relationship to the genealogical connection to his grandfather whom he would never know.

I was in the kitchen getting supper together when your dad got home.  I had laid the book down in the living room.  When your dad got home, he went right into the front room, and in a short time, he yelled it out, “What about Jordan?”

Dropping supper preparation, I went into the front room and realized there was nothing left to decide.  Murray Jordan McCrary was a name that provided an identity, connected the generations, and had just a great sound to it.  I could not have been happier.

And family connections are important.  The name is one’s personal label; it becomes part of one’s identity.  The meaning of the name pulls on all of mankind’s history.  The name shouts out inventions, historical decisions, eras, and—unfortunately—tragedies, horrific behaviors and more.  M. Jordan McCrary would not be forgotten but only the future would determine the reason.

Neither would a sister who came along two years later.  Having lost the twins in the first pregnancy and knowing that the possibility of twins was very real due to the use of Clomed, choosing a name meant choosing two names.  And choosing two names in 1985 meant choosing four names because identifying the sex of the baby was not an option yet.

Therefore, selecting the names this pregnancy was a much more detailed process, and sadly the names are slipping from my memory.  I know one was Simon Christian and a second was Isaac Samuel, I believe.  The girls names were Suzanna Mae and Vada Elizabeth.  Or at least those are the four names that I remember 28 years later.

Keeping the criteria was still important—family and meaning.  But with only one little girl born, the names choices boiled down to Vada Elizabeth.  Your dad wanted a first name that would be easy for Jordan to say, remember he was only two at this time, and I wanted to use Elizabeth for my mom.

Looking for the first name was the challenge.  There was too many names which are reused too often, and none seemed to meet the criteria.  Then your dad shared the story of his great aunt, Vada.

Aunt Vada was known for her style, for her cooking, and for her upbeat way of doing things.  Living as a farmer’s wife in northwest Missouri, the stories of her included some special descriptions:

  • she was a great cook,
  • wherever she went, she would run rather than walk,
  • she was a stylish dresser (shopping in St. Joe as the top of the line stores),
  • and she always had a smile on her face.

Even though I never met Aunt Vada, I felt that the stories gave me a great picture of who she was.  Her identity was probably not going to be duplicated, but if it could influence this little girl in a positive way—it was the perfect choice.

Add the meanings to the name, the combination of the two were full of promise:

Vada means the truth while Elizabeth “consecrated to God.”  The decision was made, Jordan could easily say Vada, and the due date approached.

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Birth Place

This is a second essay written this summer.

North Kansas City Hospital:  the birthplace of both kids.  Did you know that each person’s social security number identifies where each person is born?  I didn’t, but having two kids and discovering how similar their numbers are lead me to ask that question.

I was not born in a hospital.  I was born in a two-story frame house that was the Wellsville Clinic.  Mom told me the story of my birth and I realize that it could easily be lost in relation to births today.

When she went into labor, she was not sure what was going on when the water broke.  She woke Dad up and explained what had just happened and he, in his typical matter of fact manner, said, “Well, if you were a cow, you are going into labor.”

Timing was never part of the story, but they made it to Dr. Walls in Wellsville, and I was born.  Wellsville was only about 10 miles from the farm that was located about two miles from Buell.

I was not born in Montgomery City, which was the closer town, but Mom had grown up in Wellsville before moving to the farm outside of Bellflower.  I suppose that was part of the reason I was born in Wellsville.

Two years later, Gary was born in Mexico and in the hospital, Audrain County Hospital.  Each of us has a different birth story.  For Gary, the trip to the hospital included a trip to the implement dealer—Dad figured he had time before the baby came.

The stories of my generation differ from those of my children’s births.  The differences are worth noting:

  1. I no longer live in Montgomery County, rather we lived across the state in Lafayette County.  The doctor I trusted had moved to Kearney, and he had directed me to a specialist in Liberty—Dr. Triplett.
  2. Working in Richmond, my visits to Dr. Triplett were numerous, and my first pregnancy failed.  The follow up included a D&C that revealed two fetuses—one died at three months and the second during the fifth month.  The experience was a loss and the outpouring of sympathy and support was unbelievable.
  3. The trips to Liberty only increased.  I went alone as I was teaching in Richmond and Liberty was closer from their than from Lexington.
  4. Jordan’s pregnancy went much better and when I woke up that morning in June, my labor was beginning—back labor.  Off to North Kansas City Hospital, where the nurses and attending doctor decided it was a false alarm.  I got out of bed and the nurse said to wait a minute, she thought my water had broken.  It had.
  5. Labor was difficult and lengthy.  After 24 hours and not dilating beyond a five, Jordan’s heartbeat began to falter.  He was at risk so I was wheeled into an operating room, knocked out, and underwent a caesarean section.  Only about 10 minutes after landing in the operating room, Jordan was born.
  6. When I woke up, I awoke with a little 70-year-old nurse pushing down on my abdomen with all her might.  I had no idea what was going on.  It was 1 pm or even a little later.  Worn out and not too alert, I met my son.

North Kansas City is the birthplace of Murray Jordan McCrary.  There was no homey setting, no outdated hospital, rather one of the first hospitals in the entire metro area that had a birthing center:  a room where you were to go through labor, delivery and parenting. unless, of course, a C-section becomes necessary.

Two years later, my second birth approached, but Dr. Triplett was not going to miss this one.  As we reached the 38th week, he ordered an amniocentesis because he was scheduled to go on vacation and I was getting close to delivery.

We drove up to the hospital and they completed the amniocentesis and we had to kill a few hours while we waited to learn whether Dr. Triplett felt it was okay to deliver my daughter.  We called back—no cell phones then—and were told to check in at the hospital so he could perform the planned C-section the next morning.

  1. Planning a C-section is different than facing an emergency one, especially when the baby is going into distress and time is critical.  The planned C-section is much less complicated.  But, checking in the night before, one problem developed—how to spell our daughter’s name.
  2. Names are so important.  We had established a few criteria—family name, short first name, and meaningful.  Jordan’s name was to preserve the family’s heritage—Murray J. McCrary, who was his grandfather.  No one had ever used the MJ combination but there were so many Jims and Johns, getting another J name was a challenge.  Now we had a girl’s name to select and we had—Vada Elizabeth McCrary, but here it was the night before and phone calls from Oklahoma to northern Missouri were made to identify the correct spelling.  Was it LaVada, LaVeda, Veda, or Vada?  Finally, the grandson of the great-great aunt provided the legal way his grandmother spelled the name—Vada.
  3. The name issue resolved, a night’s sleep and at 8 am a trip to the operating room led to a quick birth—only eight or nine minutes of our daughter.  What a difference the birth was this time, and I was awake by 10 am this time.  I had not become exhausted after 24 hours of labor and they knew not to overdo the anesthesia so I could wake up.
  4. North Kansas City was the first home for each of the kids.  The environment was delightful, the visiting hours flexible, the care tender—except for that little 70-year-old nurse.  Jordan was there as much as he could be, but he also had Grandma and Grandpa there, too.
  5. Dr. Triplett was proud.  At my first doctor’s visit in January, he walked in and asked if I was going to have his first set of triplets.  I was shocked because he was a fertility specialist and surely he had aided in the birth of triplets before now.  Fortunately, I did not have them, but his first set of triplets did occur in the same time frame as my pregnancy.  Whew, that was a close call!
  6. The pregnancy was not easy like Jordan’s was.  I could not confirm the pregnancy due to snowstorms in December and January.  My first pregnancy test was negative in November, and we had started the process to use Clomed again, but it did not work.  By the time I did make that first doctor’s appointment, I was clearly showing and fighting Braxton-Hicks contractions.  The entire nine months were full of those contractions.

But again, North Kansas City Hospital is the same birthplace of Jordan.  It is a common thread between the two kids and is proven by their individual social security numbers.

Everybody has a birthplace, but some seem to provide a stronger sense of identity than others.  I am grateful that North Kansas City Hospital was available for my children’s birth even though their permanent home was Lexington, well over an hour away from the hospital.

Entering into the human world is not an easy process.  I am amazed that Mom was able to be in a clinic that was like a house.  She certainly did not have a fetal monitor, or backup operating room, or extensive staff of doctors and nurses; she had Dr. Wall.  When Gary was born, a new era had arrived and having a baby became a medical event in a hospital.

I wonder if there is any significance to the surrounding at birth.  Surely there have been studies to answer that question.  Personally, I am relieved to have North Kansas City Hospital.  But, I am also happy to know that when I was born, life was simpler maybe even more personal.  While Dr. Wall worked with the delivery, Dad worked with the names.  They had planned on a boy, so when I was born, he had a name:  Susan Nannette, but Mom said she heard it as Susan Annette, and the decision was made.

The generations continue.  Birthdays occur.  Birthplaces provide the setting.  The names are given, and the children begin the journey.  Identity begins.

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Birth Day

Written early this summer when I began thinking about some of the family stories and how we can preserve them.  I hope you find this a bit interesting.

Mom was born on April 25, 1931.  She was not the first child born of her parents; she was the second.  The first was a son, but he died before she was born.  I know this because every Memorial Day we drove to the Millersburg Cemetery and lay flowers on the graves.  Her brother’s was one of them, and this cemetery records her birth mother’s family.

Maybe thinking about Mom’s birthday and the cemetery is not logical, but when talking about family the trips to the cemetery kept me connected to the generations before me.  These were Mom’s people and very few of them did I meet except at their headstones.  There I learned when they were born, when they died, sometimes who and when they married, and most importantly their stories.

Mom was born at the beginning of the depression.  Her earliest memories of her mother are almost non-existent as she died when Mom was only two and a half.  Yet there was a memory that Mom repeated to me many times.

On the Christmas before Mom turned three, so that must have been 1933, her mother called her into the kitchen where all her sisters were gathered.  She asked mom who she would like to have be a mommy if she could not.

Only two years old and your mother asks which aunt you wanted for a mommy.  I always marveled at that story, but the story does not end during that Christmas celebration.  The story ends a few weeks later when Annie died of double-quick pneumonia—at least that is the diagnosis that was handed down through the years.

Mom was suddenly living with a young widower who had now lost not only his first-born son, but his wife, too.  Grandpa Worsham, during the depression, had a toddler daughter to raise and a home to maintain.  Mom did not share very much about that time, but she did have a day-care provider who lived across the street.

Mom’s story, which began on April 25, 1931, was not filled with lots of joyful, childhood memories.  She spent her days with Fannie and Papa.  She could not pick and choose the life she wanted.  She did not have the wealth so many kids have today.  At two years of age, she already lived in a broken family unit.

All conventions of American culture during the 1930s were not as dramatic as those portrayed in Hemingway novels or historical reports, but the convention of raising a family during that era did call for two parents—one to make a living and one to take care of the family and home.

Shortly after Annie’s death, Grandpa asked Fannie and Papa’s daughter Grace to marry him.  She was a couple years older and had been living and working in Florida.  Now Mom was a stepchild.  She now had a step-mom.  The conventional American family was re-created.

Mom’s birthday began the life journey of a little girl who faced loss and family changes that today are red flags to social workers and educators who see how important family dynamics are in the development process.

April 25, 1931:  a very special day in my history and in the history of my family.  Mom defied the odds of living in a non-traditional family.  She did have a brother who was born five years after she was.  She did graduate from high school and even entered college—for a short time.

This birthday is one of the holidays I celebrate because it is the birth of a remarkable mother who provided a model of Christian living.  She was a model of the parent who valued education, who encouraged being independent, who taught lessons about nature, who cried, who broke but healed, who loved.

This birthday is a holiday because she knew that loving one another was the simplest way to live.  She knew that loving even your enemies was better than hating.  She knew that all young people needed love and teaching.  And she lived her love.

Mom’s birthday was April 25, but mine is April 24.  I was born the day before she turned 23.  And my brother was born April 30 just two years later.  We certainly interrupted her birthday celebration, but she made us know that we were the best birthday gifts she ever had.

Mom’s legacy is one for the generations to know, even if they did not get to know her personally.  Her life is a model worthy of note for any young person, but maybe even better for those who feel threatened by loss in their own life.

The stories Mom shared with me may not match others, but for me they hold lessons to preserve.  Probably the most important one is to learn who you are and then stay true to who you are.

Mom did not have everything given to her; she was a stepchild.  She did not get to finish college, instead she went to work as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on an emergency teaching certificate—there were not enough teachers during the Korean Conflict.

Teaching was a joy for her, but meeting Dad ended her teaching career.  When she married him on June 7, 1953, she changed roles to that of a farmer’s wife.  She wanted lots of kids, but she had just two.

And even though she gave up her classroom, she never quit teaching.  My brother and I were the students, but when we were in college, she worked with young people through the church’s youth group and through 4-H.  The community knew her and trusted their kids to her in all different ways.

Mom’s birthday serves as an annual reminder that loving one another develops character than is unforgettable.  Loving one another is a lifestyle, but it shines through family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers who feel touched by that agape love.

For most of us, our birthday is just a quiet day for us to mark off another year along our life journey.  For me, April 25 is a day to celebrate Mom’s life even though she died July 19, 1991, because she is what I hope to be when I celebrate my birthday.

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Lessons from the Greatest Generation: faith, family and friends

Mom and Dad were part of the Greatest Generation.  My brother and I are Baby Boomers.  My son and daughter are Generation X.  Today signals the final passing of the Greatest Generation in our family, but the lessons continue.  Who we are is dependent on who our parents were and from them we learned the keys to surviving in this 21st century and those keys come in the form of faith, family, and friends.


Faith, not family came first.  The testimony of Mom’s life can be found in the multitude of faces she touched.  They witnessed how faith coupled with her innate teaching ability could change a world.  When asked why she had to face breast cancer, her answer was “Why not me?”


Faith answers the mysteries of life.  Faith means letting go of control and trusting in what we do not fully understand.  Even in the communion liturgy, the mystery of faith is explained in one simple line:  Christ lived.  Christ died.  Christ will come again.


The mystery of life’s glories versus life’s tribulations is managed by one rule, the Golden Rule:  Love one another as you want to be loved.  Mom lived that rule outwardly, yet privately she was happiest at home with nature.


Dad’s faith was quieter in comparison to Mom’s, but the results were the same.  Dad’s passion for farming paled in comparison to his passion for people.  Dad loved people, and he exhibited a servant’s heart.  If someone asked, he did his best to help.  The trials farming handed him were extremely heart-wrenching, but few knew his troubles as compared to how he reached out to love others.


The Greatest Generation recognized the role faith plays in one’s daily life.  Faith provided the ground work for family.  Family for the greatest generation was defined as a lifetime responsibility, a lifetime commitment.  Certainly there were situations in which families were broken, but overall the Greatest Generation is characterized by God, family, and country.  This defined their lives through war, depression, and even social strife.


As the years passed since Mom’s death and Dad’s illness, the model of family they established has sustained our generation.  Parents’ grace given to their children is modeled after God’s grace–love undergirds all whether it is good or bad.  Unconditional love regardless of birth order, regardless of intelligence, regardless of behaviors, even regardless of choices.


Mom had intuitive skills that superseded her own education, and she knew, really knew what was running through our minds.  She knew when we were naughty or nice.  Dad simply expected you to be good.  If you weren’t, you never wanted to do it again–another life mystery.


Our parents taught us lessons that can never be written into formal curriculum units and delivered in daily lesson plans.  There is no textbook that could possibly translate all the rules, the rituals, the history, and the communication skills that provide young people the foundation for building a solid, indestructible life.


Family is not a unique concept, and much our understanding of the family unit is developed from the Judeo-Christian cultural standards.  Not one family is perfect;  perfection is strictly for God.  Yet family is the initial social structure to which each of us is born.  From there, our world expands as we step away from family and into society around us introducing us to friends.


Friends begin with a common bond, but for faith-based individuals, no person is beyond the possibility of friendship.  Mom had her strengths as a Christian that helped her reach out to others, to listen, to teach, to love one another.  Dad’s Christian strength was his love for his neighbor, his fellow man, woman, and child.  They modeled the Golden Rule especially in the manner in which they were community members.


This bond of friendship has provided life lines throughout Mom’s cancer battle and death, and it has been demonstrated over 20 years as Dad was trapped in a state of limbo, caught between life and death.  Friends have prayed, visited, checked on, and prayed some more for Dad.


Being a friend is work.  Being a friend is following God’s Golden Rule.  Friendship is a reward in our lifetime that sustains us through the life’s challenges, joins us in celebrations, and carries us through this lifetime.


Mom and Dad may both be beyond our physical reach, but they are with us.  We are responsible for living the lessons they taught and modeled.  There is no reason that their death should damage the foundations of faith, family and friends.  There is no reason to ask why they died, why they suffered, or why life lasted 20 years in limbo.


The gift of the ensuing generations to Mom and Dad is to live out their passions.  For baby boomers like my brother and myself and for generation X which includes my son and daughter, the true gifts that keeps on giving is to maintain family ties, to be stewards of this earth, and to teach our families their lessons of faith, family and friends.  This is living the Golden Rule and answering all the mysteries of life.

This reflection was written Sunday, December 8, 2013, after Dad’s death on December 3.  The 20 year saga of Dad’s encephalitis ended with his death at the Warrensburg Missouri Veterans Home.  Their care and love for Dad made the last 13 years manageable, maybe I should say bearable.  Thank you to them, thank you to God, my family, and my friends for all their love and support during this experience.  –Susan Annette Winter (McCrary) Smith

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