For Mom, On What Would Have Been Her 78th Birthday

Helen Roberts BrownMother was born on December 9, 1930.  Today would have been her 78th birthday, had cancer not claimed her on New Year’s Day 1998.  For the past ten years there’s seldom a day that passes without something happening that reminds me of her.  She was a remarkable woman with a large circle of friends and an even larger capacity for love and service.

After I graduated from college and left home, Mother and I maintained a weekly correspondence for many years.  She was a “newsy” letter writer, with information about the family mixed in with items from town, updates on old friends, tidbits about both our careers, and extensive sports news.  (Mother was my loyal co-spectator for games on television.)

Several years after she died, I published a collection of her letters from 1980 – 1997 entitled Rich in Love.  Over the course of those 17 years she wrote about love, death, babies, pets, advice, and family.  Her letters included a four-page typewritten description of our wedding she prepared for family members who couldn’t attend.  She wrote one of the most wonderful tributes I’ve ever read to the men in her life for one Father’s Day.  She suffered (in the 1980s) and exulted (in the 1990s) with her Atlanta Braves.  Rich in Love was my way of ensuring that  my children, who were five when she died,  would have some way of really knowing and understanding their Grandmother.

Mother had a sense of humor.  She could write that my brother called from California and “As soon as he said ‘hello’ there was an earthquake.”  Like me she struggled with spelling in these pre-computer days and would complain that, “Even with clean keys the typewriter can’t spell.”  When bragging on her first grandchild, she noted that, “Tom and I received our first grandparents card from a grandchild.  Ashli really prints her name well to be only two months old.”  After returning from a baby shower, she wrote me that, “I’ll give you a bachelor shower and you can give me a menopause one!!!  My things are wearing out and you’ve never had enough.”  A surprise gift of China - Christmas 1994When writing of her own mother she said, “Mother and I have been working on the Weatherly and Roberts families (genealogy).  I should have started it several years ago.  She has the same person married to three different men in a ten minute interval.”

As the primary care-giver for her mother-in-law for a number of years, Mother worked long hours mixing work with personal responsibilities.  She looked up one midnight to see the dog, her granddaughter, and her mother-in-law and wrote, “Tinker is asleep under the piano, Ashli is asleep in the baby bed and Grandmother is asleep in her bed.  What I’m doing awake I don’t know.”

Mother was a librarian who worked during the week for the city/county system (for many years as the Children’s Librarian in our town) and then on weekends she served as the volunteer director for our rather extensive church library.  She devoured books and passed along her fascination with reading to me and my brothers and sisters.  Mother also had a beautiful soprano voice and shared her love of music with all her children.  In her letters she writes about every genre imaginable – from attending a Lena Horne concert with my father (one of his all-time favorite singers), to singing opera and classical oratorios, to how much her father and father-in-law would have enjoyed the bluegrass I was playing with my brothers.  She loved it all.

Early in 1996, only two months after she retired, Mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  After chemo  and surgery the cancer went into remission but shortly thereafter a new problem developed when she began to have symptoms of inflammatory arthritis.  Even after 17 doctors at Vanderbilt examined her they could not confirm a diagnosis.  They finally said it was “like scleroderma” which was very painful.  And then in October of 1997 the cancer returned.  After talking with us, Mom decided not to undergo additional chemotherapy.  She went into Hospice care in November, lived to see her 67th birthday, and then died peacefully on New Year’s Day 1998.

About a month before she died, the library staff from church brought her a video of Amahl and the Night Visitors as a gift.  Mom and I sang the leads in a production of this opera in 1966, and it has great meaning in our family.  They also left her with a note which captures how so many people saw my mother.

Dear Helen:

Your years of service to our library and our church will long be remembered.  The many hours that you spent in creating, administering, and directing a first-class library program have set a standard of excellence for all church libraries.  Your expertise in your field have been in demand not only in our church, but also in our association, state, and convention.  We are so proud of you and all your accomplishments.  Just think of the countless lives you have touched through your ministry.

To us you are Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, and Wonder Woman.  You’re like Coca-Cola (The Real Thing), GE (You Bring Good Things of Life), and Dr. Pepper (The Friendly Pepper Upper).  You are the very heart of our staff.

On a personal level your life has been exemplified by the very ideals of the Christian faith….The comfort and assurance you have given us as we have faced grief and tragedy in our own lives have given us courage to bear our burdens.  In difficult times you were always there with food, a smile, a hug, and kind words.  You have always given of yourself so freely.

I remember stopping by the Anthony’s after Ed died.  There you were mopping the floor.  This reminded me of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  No job has ever been beneath you.  You do what needs to be done.

I have been a member of this church for fifty-eight years.  I was enrolled in the Cradle Roll when I was born, but I never felt I was a complete member until you were elected our first female deacon.  Thanks for bravely stepping forward and blazing that trail.

We remember many happy times.  What woman except Helen Brown who had spent months in chemotherapy would invite forty people to her home for Christmas dinner?  What a great time we had….

We wish we could honor you with a dinner or banquet, but we cannot.  So please accept our love and admiration for all that you are.  Love, Patsy and Your Library Media Staff.

So many who knew her loved my Mother.   We all still miss her.  But a good friend sent me a note that I often recall when thinking of Mom.

They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind.  In those whom they have blessed they live again.

I wish I could say Happy Birthday to you Mom, but this will have to do.

More to come…

DJB

A Family Photo with Mom 1993

14 Responses

  1. What a wonderful tribute to the greatest Mother ever! I miss her every day and so wish she was here to enjoy her great grandchildren. Wouldn’t she have fun reading to them and having puppet shows with them! I am so thankful for the wonderful memories that she has given to me and my family. The girls still talk about Grandmother taking them to McDonald’s for ice cream after school ( I think every time she picked them up)! We still cannot travel without stopping for “coffee” at every rest area between home and our destination because that’s the way she taught us to travel. I miss her sweet smile and the way she could encourage you by just one of her simple cards! As I put up the Christmas tree in the kids room this year I especially remembered her as I hung each felt ornament that she had made on their tree! She was all about those craft projects! (The detergent bottle angel choir, the decopauge ornaments, the reader’s digest angels to name a few…) I guess that’s where Joe gets his artistic flair! Thanks David for sharing. I think we are the luckiest kids on this earth to have two such wonderful parents who have always been there for us no matter what! Happy Birthday Mom! I know you’re watching over each one of us and singing in that heavenly choir! 🙂

  2. Thanks, David.

  3. I saw Debbie’s reply after I put mine…I was crying too much to write more!

  4. When we moved here in 1993, Helen was one of the first people whom we met. Jason and Alex (the younger of our two boys) looked alot alike and for most of the church became known as “the Pilote boys”, but not Helen. She knew which was which and talked to them “like they were real people”. Helen and I shared a love of books and talked about them constantly. In the days when she could not hold a book to read, I brought the Mitford books on tape to her and we would laugh and talk about the escapades of Father Tim. I hope those sweet, happy books helped her to fill some long hours. I would go out to my car and cry all the way home because cancer was stealing her away. I think of her on Sunday mornings when I am sitting in the choir where Hebrews 12:1 says “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. I still miss her.

  5. (Posted for Joe by DJB)

    Momma’s birthday is very special to me, because Samuel and Isaac share that special day. One of the things I think of often (as my brothers and sisters with the younger children probably do) is the thought of my children not knowing their Grandmother. She was such a special lady and a great example of mercy and grace. She truly knew how to love people.

    When Kerry was pregnant with Samuel and Isaac, thoughts of her would often flood my mind, because they were going to be born after her death. They would never see her face or experience her touch. I count as one of God’s biggest blessing to me, that he allowed them, to share their birthday with her. So today I am twice blessed to celebrate the remembrance of my mother’s birthday and the birthday of my two youngest sons Samuel and Isaac. Ain’t God good !

    Love, Joe

  6. David thank you so much for this tribute. I have forwarded it to my friends, some knew Helen and others just have heard about her. As i wrote them I cried, but mingled in were tears of joy. God has been good to me and my family. My biggest regret is that Helen did not live to see all of them. All you children and grandchildren are a blessing to me. Some time after Helen and I gave our blessings to all of you, and part of that was the blessing given in Numbers 6:24-26, my attention was drawn to v. 27, that if we bless as God says, He will bless them. I claimed this promise in Aug. 1990.
    Thanks for blessing us all today.
    Love, Daddy

  7. David,
    That was beautiful. I am sitting here at school reading your truly moving words. Even though I was only in 8th grade when she passed, there are so many memories that stick out in my mind. I used to get so excited about going to stay with her and granddaddy. She would sleep with me to keep me company! (plus I think it was a reason to get away from Granddaddy’s snoring!) I also remember her frequent McDonald’s trips, Mom was right she had to go and get her coffee. I miss her daily and I wish she were here with us to share in all of the exciting times!!

  8. Uncle David, Thank you for taking the time to help us all remember Grandmama. My sisters and I so often talk about her and live through our memories of her. We know that we were so lucky to have the years that we did with her. I know that it is our memories that will bring her to light for Kate, Kyle, Thomas and all the great grandchildren to follow. She was a special woman who continues to inspire me in my life and walk in Christ. “Happy Birthday Grandmama!”

  9. When we moved here in 1968, Helen was one of the first persons to make contact with me and our family. I also remember, David, that you were the first teenager to visit our 3 sons. You & David (our son) played croquet in the back yard. I had known Helen for 2 to 3 years prior to our moving to M’boro. We worked together in the TBC state libraby organization before our coming to M’boro. Helen ministered to us when Charles (my husband) died in 1985 and was influentianal in my letting First Baptist put my name on the deacon election list and I was elected. Helen and I worked together wonderfully in the church library for many years, she as director and I as promotional director, for which I am still serving. There are times I wish I could ask her about things going on the library.

  10. My Aunt Helen was the most gracious and lovely christian lady inside and out. I’ll never forget her sparkling eyes and genuine smile even during her struggle with cancer. She always had a kind word and a great sense of humor for everyone. Happy Birthday Aunt Helen. Love always, Dick.

  11. I never fail to visit Helen’s grave when I go to see my mother’s, as they are just 2 rows apart. Tom and I share a kinship as my mother and Helen struggled with cancer at the same time and passed on 6 months apart.
    Helen was a warm and gracious women who conveyed so much love and compasssion just in her smile. During her illness, my mother was a recipient of one of Helen’s encouraging cards, and the words she wrote were so important that I had them read at Mother’s graveside service. David, thanks for the sharing about Helen on her birthday – I write these words with a smile and some bittersweet feelings about the loss Tom and I shared at that time. However, we all know “Great Is Thy Faithfulness!”
    Best, Rosemary Cope

  12. Dear David,
    After reading what you wrote, I miss your mother and I didn’t even know her. What a beautiful tribute to a lovely lady.

  13. David, I cannot tell you how deeply this touched me. Helen is a pivotal influence in my life – even today. My parents raised me, but Helen guided me to a life in Christ. You all (Steve, David, Debbie, Joe and Carol) had the benefit of Helen and Tom’s wisdom your whole lives – I entered the picture only after Debbie and I started dating. Yet, Helen took me into her heart and her family from the very beginning – and I knew that I had reached a place where I belonged and where I was loved for who I was, and would be forgiven for mistakes that I made. My perception was NOT wrong. Helen and Tom taught me what a family should really be. I am so thankful for what they taught me about life and how to seek and obey Christ’s teachings. I can only hope that my children realize that Debbie and I based their childhood on the way we think Helen and Tom would have raised them. I was close to my grandmother, and I will be forever grateful that Ashli, Brittany and Rachel spent as much time as they did with Helen. I see her in them SO frequently. There are times when I think that she is still here with us in something Ashli does, or something Rachel says, or something Brittany creates. Her influence will endure for generations – as the influence of a really great woman should. Helen, thanks for sharing your life with us – it certainly made me a better person (and I hope a better son-in-law!).

  14. […] saint, and dying at a relatively young age from cancer only cemented that view in all our minds.  I wrote her birthday greetings on what would have been her 78th birthday a couple of years ago, and that pretty much sums up how […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: