I’m back to a time and place where I can write again. Wednesday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. my Mother went home completely healed of her vascular dementia. Over the past few months I watched a godly woman suffer. In the last 2 weeks I watched her suffering intensify. My prayers, and the prayers of many more, were for her to be released from her suffering. On Tuesday Hospice told us it was only a matter of days. My Dad refused to leave her side at the nursing home, so that night I stayed with him. My wife Debbie came to relieve me Wednesday morning so I could go home a catch a nap. She called me just a couple of hours later saying I needed to come back.
Surrounded by family, telling her it was OK to go home, her breath left her body and her soul was embraced by the One who had embraced her for nearly 90 years. This picture was from 23 years ago at their 50th Wedding Anniversary. They renewed their wedding vows and it was my honor and great joy to preside over that ceremony. I had already been grieving for Mother and grieving more for Dad. We went to his home that evening to make ready for the funeral. I am still amazed at the great strength he has even at 92. But then, I shouldn’t be amazed because he is a man of great faith.
Earlier in that week my daughter, Leslie Faith, called. She and her family were about to leave on a family cruise. They had purchased this family vacation 2 years earlier and did not purchase the “insurance” in case something like this happened. She asked me, and Dad, her Pappaw, if we would be OK with them still going. Of course we both said “Yes” because family time was important to Mother. Leslie called me back and asked if it would be OK if she wrote a letter to be read at Mother’s funeral. Being a writer myself, I was all over that and gave her my blessings.
This morning, I want to share with you what she wrote, and was read at Mother’s funeral yesterday. I am proud of Leslie Faith’s gift of writing and would like to think maybe she got this from me. By the way, we call her Leslie Faith because my Dad and Mother had another child named Marilyn Faith. She would have been the oldest, had she lived. The name “Faith” was special to Mother. Here are words that were formed by the example and teachings of my Mother to us all:
In a way this is one of the easiest letters I’ve ever written and in a way it’s one of the hardest. Finding the words to sum up the life of Helen Irene Gautney Burbank isn’t the easiest of tasks. She was a loving and devoted daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. Her love and loyalty knew no bounds. She led what many today would consider a simplistic life, but she was fulfilled and knew a joy that eludes so many people today.
Mammaw would be the first to say she was far from perfect. She was an avid collector of things (yes that’s the nice way of saying she was somewhat of a hoarder) and she worried about everyone else so they didn’t have to. She kept things that most people wouldn’t – be it a drawing on a bulletin from one of the grandkids or some trinket present one of the kids gave her for Christmas when they were little. They may have been knickknacks or even junk to someone else, but they were treasures to her. And for reasons that pass all understanding, she could not smile in a picture, although she smiled all the time in real life.
Although Randy and Jacque might try to disagree for reasons unknown to the rest of us, she spoiled her children. The grandchildren know we were spoiled. She encouraged our imagination – who knew that old medicine bottles, wooden swords and capes made from old fabrics could create hundreds of countless hours of fun? She taught me how to play Rummy and Dominoes. She tried to teach me how to crochet – if only I had her patience. She made us clothes when we were little. She introduced me to Madame Alexander Dolls and the yearly Christmas bears. There were our Christmas stockings every year. And what did we want in them? The latest toys or money? Nope! We wanted the oldest jar of pickles she had. We wanted the homemade hot sauce. We wanted the butter beans. The chicken stew. We wanted what she and Pawpaw made and had made with love.
She was firm in her faith and she loved the Lord her God. She loved her family. Unconditionally. Without fail. She always looked for the good in people and she refused to see anything but the best in those around her. If one of us made a mistake, she was the first one to say, “Well, that’s alright! I know you’ll do better next time!” And she honestly believed that we were capable of doing better and we would do better. She never let the disappointment she might have felt in any of us overshadow her love for us. Love, loyalty and faith weren’t just words to Helen Irene. They were a way of life. The only way to live life. She didn’t let the loss of her first child define her or break her. Yes she was heartbroken about losing Marilyn, even when she talked about it all these years later. But she continued to make a life for her family. And she made sure we all knew about Marilyn – that Marilyn lived on through the rest of us. And just as I am sure about her love for her family, I am sure that she is now rejoicing to be reunited with Marilyn and Mamma Gautney and so many of her loved ones that have been waiting on her.
The selfish part of me is sad that she’s gone from this earth. The selfish part of me misses her already. I miss the meals we had together (especially her mashed potatoes) because no one could cook like her. It’s something about a homemade meal made with love that you just can’t duplicate no matter how hard you try. I miss her phone calls. I miss her laugh. I miss her calling me “Tinker Bug” or “Mammaw’s Little Angel”. I miss her. But that’s the selfish part of me. The rest of me know she’s so much better off. That she more than earned the reward that awaited on the other side of Heaven’s gate.
I have struggled with the possibility of not being there for her funeral. She was always there for me – made time for me no matter what. She never once told me she was too busy and to come back later. But then I think about what she always told me about family. About how family is there for you no matter what and that you should always take the opportunity to make memories with them. I have 37 years of great memories with my Mammaw Burbank. I pray I am making memories with my family now – memories she would be proud to share with me. I pray I am doing what she would want me to do – what she would do in my shoes. I pray that I am honoring her memory in a way that she would want. I pray that as I grow I become more like her. That I have her faith and her ability to see the good in people. That I give more second chances and forgiveness. That I create loving and happy memories with those closest to me. That I always put God and family first.
Mammaw always said that she led a blessed life, but I think she underestimated how much of a blessing she was to the rest of us. I know that I was deeply loved by Helen Irene Burbank and I know that she knew I deeply loved her. She always saw the best in me, so maybe that’s why I always saw the best in her. I may never be the “collector” she was or the cook that she was (although I do think I’ve got Jacque beaten by a country mile), I do hope and pray that I love my family like she loved hers. That I am the example to my family like she was to me. That I have her ability to forgive, to see goodness in people and to not be hardened by the trials of this world. I hope I can follow the example she set. I hope that my Pawpaw can look at me and see just a little bit of her in me. I hope as we can all look at ourselves and see just a little bit of Helen Irene and realize how better off we all are because of it.
LESLIE FAITH BURBANK SPENCER