Her name was Gloria, and she was like no other. As a youth, she was a red-haired, freckled firecracker, those who knew her would say—gorgeous, a total knockout and full of life. Not long after marriage and having her first baby, her whole life was turned tragically upside down because of a missed stoplight. As she drove to pick up some milk from the store, a semi-truck flattened her car, and it is said, that since she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, she flew into the backseat as a result of the impact. She sustained terrible head and upper body injuries, and her legs were pinned under the driver’s seat. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Unbelievably so, she was revived and rushed to a nearby emergency room in the St. Louis area. After seeing the damage to her brain and internal organs, many predictions were made of her situation---she would not make it through the trauma, and if she did, she would be in a vegetative state, or at the very least severely handicapped with very little use of her legs or arms. So much for predictions.
After being in a coma for three months and in the ICU for months after that--with excruciating determination, intense physical therapy and tremendous prayer and support from family and friends—she re-learned how to crawl and talk, cope and walk. After a few years, she even had a second child—“A Miracle Baby,” the newspaper would call her.
If the story ended there for Gloria, one could read it with a cheerful and inspirational feeling in the heart, but it did not---not by far. Every day was a struggle for her. She fought to the very core of her being to do the things that most of us take for granted. Her voice box had extensive damage, which gave her a low, loud raspy voice that sometimes scared little children and made strangers stare her way. One of her arms was permanently bent, as well as her spine. This crippled her as she walked, and the damage to her legs would make her unsteady on her feet for the rest of her life. She had brain damage, which affected her mental state and her emotional maturity.
Her husband struggled to know and love her in this new way, and alcohol became the crutch that he used for his own handicaps. Drinking exaggerated the demons that already existed inside of him, and he began to abuse Gloria physically and emotionally, as if she wasn’t damaged enough already. After years of living in this oppression, along with some new realizations of the same abuses toward her daughters, she filed for divorce. Now the financial support was gone, too, and she would have to learn to function as a single mother.
As Gloria tried to raise two young children on disability and public aid, her mom, her sisters and her local church helped her to do what was physically needed to get her daughters through school and life in as normal fashion as possible. Even with the extra support, she was plagued with severe headaches, physical pain and emotional insecurity each and every day. She coped as best she could, though, and the same tenaciousness and ornery spirit from her youth remained alive in her to keep her going in spite of it all. Hating to ask for help or charity motivated her to be as independent and “normal” as possible. She would drive her kids to school and extra curricular activities most days (yes, she passed her driving test) and made pot roasts and sheet cakes for her kids and others when they came for a visit. Many times, she would exercise on a stationery bike just to keep in shape and to keep her muscles as strong as possible.
In the small town that she lived, many people enjoyed her sense of humor and her dramatic perspective on life. What made her so interesting was that she lived in the middle of being an adult and being a kid. She could communicate like a grown-up (learned behavior), but she thought and looked at situations more like a nine- or ten-year old would. While this made her fascinating to some, it made her life that much more of a challenge personally. After her car wreck, she lost the ability to cry. She could sob emotionally, but she could not produce actual tears. Imagine being a ten-year-old female, or any aged female for that matter, and not being able to cry. Her mental stability didn’t have a chance!
She spent the rest of her adult years being in and out of the hospital with various illnesses, surviving a series of car accidents, weaving in and out of delusional and paranoid behavior and coping with an empty house when her daughters went off to college. Numerous medications were part of her daily swallowing regimen, each one fixing a different symptom or problem diagnosed by one of her several doctors. Her choice was to live alone and “take care of herself,” and the consequences were incredible loneliness and fear wrapped up with the satisfaction of making it on her own. Her sister Carolyn, her Pastor Steve, and her other sisters and church friends helped make her strong preferences a reality by sacrificially taking care of her needs, while allowing her to maintain her dignity as much as possible. Though her daughters tried to persuade her to live with either of them, she felt comfortable with her life the way it was—no one ever totally understood this about her, but most suspected it was that same strong will and determination that got her through her hardships combined with the security from living life in the routine she had always known.
On September 11th, 2006, Gloria finally lost her fight to keep living after a month of struggling to recover from a colostomy in the ICU. The list of lessons one could learn from her life is long. It is for me.
She was my mother, and I was her miracle baby.
I know the story between the lines of circumstances, and that is what I hold on to in the pockets of my memory. As a child, I saw her as abnormal and somewhat embarrassing. As a young adult, I saw her as an obligation and a nuisance sometimes. Now as her daughter looking back on her life after it is gone----well, I have a whole other perspective.
Somehow the memories of her crinkled up forehead while whining about her pain and discomfort are replaced with the memory of seeing her on her knees praying by her bed at night. The distasteful impression in my senses of her smoking cigarette after cigarette is butted out by the incredible admiration I have for her deciding to quit one day and never smoking again. The recollection of all the embarrassing comments she made along with the neediness that would drain me dry at times are secondary to the example of her sitting at the table reading the wrinkled, coffee-stained pages of her Bible. When I’m tempted to focus on the picture of her fits of paranoia, the Lord is faithful to remind me of the verses of Scripture she quoted during the last days of her life in the ICU. These are just some of the contrasts that have helped me to alter my thoughts and behaviors when my own life story is not so picturesque, and I am changed for the better because of it.
I’ve often wished I could ask God face to face why He allowed my mom to suffer so long, so hard and so deeply, but I know that my futile mind wouldn’t understand even if He told me. I’m thankful for this nugget from 1st Corinthians 1: 27-29 to remind me of what made her life valuable to all who knew her:
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the things of this world that are common and looked down on. He chose what is not considered to be important to do away with what is considered to be important. So no one can brag to God.”
Here are some of the important lessons I learned from reflecting from 36 years of life with her:
I learned that each day is a gift, and I should not take it for granted.
I learned that a childlike sense of humor is useful as a grown-up.
I learned that laughter truly is good medicine.
I learned that I really shouldn’t EVER judge a book by its cover.
I learned that opening & reading my Bible is as necessary as breathing in and out.
I learned that true strength comes from God, and it is magnified when I’m weak.
I learned that having a close friendship with my sister is a priceless treasure.
I learned that I am blessed to have a Godly husband who leads and provides for his family.
I learned that the church and the people in it are the hands and feet of Jesus.
I learned that the “wrecks” in life are inevitable, & I should not give up when they come.
I learned that my aches and pains are never as bad as they could be.
I learned that good discussions can happen over a good cup of coffee.
I learned that the best way to tell others about Jesus is just to do it.
I learned that I can overcome my strongholds if I fight them with Christ’s strength.
Some people say that everything they ever needed to know in life they learned in Kindergarten; however, I know a good number of people who would say that everything important they ever needed to know in life, they learned from the life of Gloria,
now dancing before the Lord in Glory with her new legs on…
Mom (far right) had lots of support from her family after her wreck. Her mom (not pictured) and five sisters (two pictured here, Carolyn & Kathy) who spent a great deal of their time helping Mom in various ways. My big sister and I are the two toeheads front row left.
Despite how rough things could be, mom, sis and I would have fun now and then and put on a good show for the rest of the family. Mom had a VERY hilarious side to her and could make even the most stiff person laugh.
My mother never looked more beautiful than she did on my wedding day, and my sister and I chose to bury her in this dress in remembrance.
Mom was so happy when I came home to IL for my 5-year class reunion. Her greatest deterioration in health began after my sister and I left home.
I can't remember what year this was taken, but she had begun to fall a lot more consistently, and the fall here had led her to a wheelchair for a time. And boy, did she HATE it! We had her in Texas and took her to a rodeo and state fair with us, and it was a VERY bumpy ride for her. (She liked the fresh-squeezed lemonade and the funnel cakes, I remember well, however.)
This picture was taken in May of 2002. It is obvious how much she enjoyed my kids...at least when she felt well.
I'll never forget my mom's first visit to see me AFTER she had quit smoking cold turkey. I used to only have visions of her on my patio smoking. After that, she liked to sit out on the patio and watch the kids play in the backyard. I'm so glad I have a picture to remind me of her victory in quitting smoking.
And once again, I'm so very thankful for this picture my sister and I took with mom. It was our last trip together to see her in Illinois before our next visit there to her in the hospital. I can attest to the fact that sis and I are so glad we have that memory with her, and in our childhood home as well.
In the Key of HE,