My mom, Mildred Oleta Sawyers James, died Sunday morning at about 10:30, just two days shy of the one year anniversary of my dad's death. They had shared 68 years together in an incredibly strong and wonderful marriage. It's my opinion that she just couldn't go forward very much farther without him. Partly because she loved him so much, partly because he created a world in which she depended so much on him.
The cause of her death was related to her chronic Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or MDS. She battled the disorder for about five years, including enduring countless blood transfusions and chemotherapy. She received great care from Dr. Manish Gupta, a brilliant young doctor with whom she developed a wonderful friendship.
During the last two months of her life, Hospice workers more than befriended her with gentle care, rich compassion and strong friendship.
Mom was a real character in her own right. Both of my parents were largely defined by their marriage and commitment to one another. Both had memorable qualities that set them apart.
My mom never met a stranger. She loved people. Her friends meant the world to her. She could be incredibly opinionated, especially about politics, narrow-minded religion and people who condemned others.
She would often ask me unanswerable questions about theology and the Bible, questions that if I could have answered, I surely would have landed on the cover of Time magazine!
She remained interested in what was going on in the world until the end of her life. A CNN-junkie, she was very pleased and excited to see the nation take another step beyond its racist past to elect the first African American as the president representing of all of us. My dad would have shared her joy, and likely did from the other side.
Unfortunately, I was an only child. The upshot of that cruel reality was her tendency to be a bit over-protective of me. My response basically was to go about my business and just not keep her very fully informed. I remember a million stories related to this! All fond memories.
Growing up, I loved sports and played about everything. I know it drove her nuts, especially football and baseball. I loved cars and, at times, speed! She would never fall asleep until I came home at night. We never really battled over these concerns of hers. I learned to listen, agree and then make my own choices! I deserved a serious whipping on many occasions! Still, grace prevailed.
I remember in about the 9th grade, it was a Sunday afternoon. I rode my bike over to meet a friend who had a new Honda motorcycle, a 150 I believe. He let me take it for a test spin. I got on Central Expressway without a helmet or a license to drive and streaked (well, streaked about as much as a Honda 150 could streak!) all the way to Allen. She never knew about that one! Didn't seem worth upsetting her even years later. Sorry, mom.
My mother loved my father and he loved her. Their lifelong love affair. . .well, it was something to behold. Of course, it helped a lot that my dad worshipped the ground she walked on. She felt the same way and, unfortunately for him, in his later years she transferred her anxiety and worry over in his direction. They really cared for each other, as they did for me and my family.
My mother loved Brenda like the daughter she never had. She loved our girls in a way I didn't fully understand until our own grandchildren came along. So many great stories here. And, the great grandchildren, oh my. She loved the three of them--we'll spend the rest of our time trying to help them understand that legacy of love for them.
She could be an insufferable braggart about all of us! She was just proud of everybody in her family and she loved to share "just the facts," especially with her best friends.
She loved her church and her friends. She displayed fierce loyalty and, as I say, a tendency to defend and protect people who were being judged or criticized by others. Since I had been her minister for fourteen years, she and my dad were huge supporters of the all of the other ministers who served with me and who followed me after I left the church. You'd best not criticize one of her ministers or you'd learn quickly the folly of your mistake!
Both of my parents were extremely generous. Since taking over their finances over the past couple of years, I've been amazed at all of the efforts they supported beyond their church--human and civil rights organizations, environmental efforts, medical research, veterans' organizations, Third World relief and development groups. This was certainly true of my mom. She found all sorts of ways to help me, usually without doing much damage to my sense of the importance of hard work, diligence and effort. She loved to give and her an my dad made a good team of it.
She enjoyed a great sense of humor and loved telling us stories from her childhood during the Great Depression and from the earlier days of her married life.
She loved to take road trips across the country. We never could get her on an airplane. She always told us that she didn't fly because she "wanted to see the countryside." I remember with great fondness one Christmas road trip to Colorado. She and my dad were packed in the backseat of our Jeep Laredo like E. T. in the closet! What a time of laughter and joy.
She was a perfectionist about her house, her looks and just about anything she did. The ultimate "neat freak," mom took tidy to a whole new level! She actually loved to clean house. She loved to cook. She loved flowers and plants. She loved being a homemaker. She turned a little bungalow at the southeast corner of Spring Valley Road and Greenville Avenue into a wonderful, warm and delightful home. She was so proud of the new home that she and my dad built in 1976, but she always loved that first little house in old Richardson. So did I.
She also loved to get dressed up, "cleaned up," as she would say, and dolled up! I told Brenda a few days ago that on the day of her death, if she were able, I wouldn't be surprised if she got up and put makeup on and "fixed her face." I know she did that every day toward the end as her way of trying her hardest to get well. She displayed so much courage and will to stay with us.
So many memories.
So much to tell.
Feelings overwhelm at times like this.
Now that both of my parents are gone, things seem really different. I feel the same loss as when my dad died last year, but more now. My mom is gone after a tough physical struggle, but so is my father.
Life will be both the same going forward and never the same again for me.
I'm so grateful for her, as I am for him. What blessings they both were to me.
When I was just a little boy, I can remember praying again and again that nothing would happen to my parents, that they wouldn't become ill or die and leave me all alone. Today I realize that my prayers were answered, answered for a long time.
Words can't convey how much I will miss them.
How very blessed I have been for so long.
Later, for sure.
[Family reception for Mildred James will be tonight, December 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Restland Funeral Home in Richardson. Her memorial service will be on Wednesday, December 17 at 10 a.m. in Memorial Chapel at Restland.]