This post was written by my husband, Dennis.
People love to name celebrities and public figures when they talk about their role models. I can understand the appeal. Who doesn’t admire a Teddy Roosevelt or a William Wallace, a Sully Sullenberger or a Mother Theresa?
I myself love the quote from the very well-known Winston Churchill: “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.”
My kids will tell you these words are my motto, and it’s true. They are words I live by. But I embrace them not because of Winston Churchill. I embrace them because of my mom.
Unlike Churchill, my mom is not a big talker. This tiny woman is all about action. And she has lived that famous quote.
When JoAnn was just 12 years old, her mother went into the hospital for a year. A full year! My mom was left to take care of her two sisters, ages 7 and 4, while her stepdad went off to work each morning. At that young age, my mom got them up, got them dressed, and made them breakfast. Then, she dropped off one sister at daycare and the other at elementary school before walking on to middle school.
When school was over, she picked them both up, took them home, cooked them dinner and put them to bed. During that long year, the girls started calling her, ‘Honey.’ My mom doesn’t know why — It was never a nickname. It was just a spontaneous description of the amazing soul inside the body of a 12-year-old girl.
My mom never got to be a tween. She never got to slam her door and deal with raging hormones. She was thrown into adulthood and she managed it. Not only did she manage it, she did it in a way that when her little sisters looked at her, they thought of honey.
Later, my mom took care of my dad’s cousin, Flossie, and brought her meals, until Flossie died in her 90s. Taking someone a meal isn’t all that unusual– Most of us have done it for those who are sick or have suffered a loss. It’s a great tradition.
But my mom didn’t just take Cousin Flossie a meal– No. She prepared and delivered breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week for ten years, and she did it for someone she wasn’t even related to. My cousin Flossie called JoAnn her guardian angel every time she walked through the door.
Despite all her problems, she managed to care for my dad around the clock as he deteriorated from dementia. When things were at their worst, we talked about moving him to a nursing home after the rehab hospital discharged him, telling us he was too difficult for the staff. My mom insisted that he come home. “He wants to die at home,” she said. “I’m going to let him.” Those aren’t extravagant, quotable words. But they were an extravagant commitment. Because of JoAnn, my dad died at home. The last words he ever wrote, not long before he died, were as simple and as straightforward as what you might find engraved on a tree: PK loves Baba.
More nicknames, born of love.
Today, my mom turns 80 years old and she’s still soldiering on. And I’m still struggling to find new ways to tell her how much I love her, and to convince her that if I have any goodness in me– if I succeed in being a good father, a good husband, a good son– it is all because of her influence.
She’s my guardian angel, too. A woman made of grit… and honey.
Happy Birthday, Mom.
I love you,