Wednesday, March 29, 2006

In Memoriam #2


BARBARA NELSON BENNETT HART
June 26, 1916 - March 29, 1997


Photo by Bachrach in 1926 at age 10.

Three of my family members died within a two-year period of time. In month/day chronology, Bennett, my brother, was first, as I've already shared. Dad died the year before Bennett; a year after Bennett it was my mom. That was 9 years ago, 30 minutes before Easter Sunday. Since then I follow when Easter is and how many days/weeks it can be apart from year to year. In other words, Easter Sunday, resurrection day, would be tomorrow if it were 1997 when Mom was released from her Alzheimer's.

Notice Mom's name above: Nelson was her middle name and her mother's maiden name. Bennett was her maiden name. Two of my brothers were named after her: Nelson was the oldest of the 8 kids and Bennett was the 5th child, the second of 4 boys. Yes, Mom had 8 kids, 4 boys and 4 girls! She was an only child but said she wanted 12 kids. She did if you count the wards of the state who lived with us while we were growing up. We often joked that we would have made a good Roman Catholic family instead of the Baptist preacher's family we were.

Mom happened to be one of those women far ahead of her time. She graduated from high school at age 16 and entered Smith College in Northampton, MA, graduating with a degree in History. She then went to Columbia Teacher's College (Columbia University) in New York and got her MA in Music Ed in the late 30's. That was almost unheard of back then. (I don't have an MA!) Besides being quite the academician (we kids called her our "walking encyclopedia)", she was also an athlete, excelling in tennis and diving.


What I most remember about Mom is her music and her teaching. She had been a concert pianist and a teacher before she married a preacher (my dad!). All her musical training was then funneled into the church where she was the choir director, pianist and sometimes organist throughout my growing-up years. She also wrote hymns, spiritual songs and musical cantatas, many of which were published by Singspiration (formerly of Zondervan). My fondest memory is being awakened for school by her piano playing. What a nice alarm clock!

Mom was also a teacher, period! Dad was the preacher; Mom was the teacher. And either of them could do both (ha), even though at that time it was unheard of for a white Baptist woman to preach. She didn't preach from the pulpit but as far as I'm concerned, she preached. A woman before her time. But she was definitely utilized as a Bible teacher in every church Dad pastored. She also was a substitute teacher at my high school, where I actually sat under her (talk about weird). I really was proud of her.

Another fond memory of her was coming home from school and seeing her in the middle of a solitaire Scrabble game, trying to beat a score of 1000. That was always her personal goal, which she often met. She also worked crossword puzzles and read several books at a time (ha, it makes me sick thinking about it!). And then she'd get on a binge and make a diary (with inspirational quotes and Bible verses to match), all 365 days, for each of the 8 kids and their spouses. Or she'd knit fisherman sweaters for each of us...just to say she did it! Though she wasn't a Gemini, she was close enough (the 26th) to have a lot of those "wanting to try everything" desires.

Just before Dad died in 1995, we found out Mom had Alzheimer's (a type 3 diabetes?). As soon as we kids took things into our own hands, to relieve Dad, he soon after died of cancer (but that's his story for April's memoriam). One of my sisters took care of Mom for a few months before we put her into an Alzheimer's facility in the Lansing area where she passed away quietly in her sleep a year later, 30 minutes before Easter Sunday. Dad and Bennett were already preparing a place for her, we're convinced, and just beckoned her to come join them. Before she went to bed that night, one of my nephews had visited her on his birthday and said he didn't understand what all the fuss was about G'ma. She was perky, got up off her chair, put her hands emphatically on her hips (like pre-Alzheimer's days) and said, "I'm going to bed!" Two weeks earlier I had visited her and she couldn't even walk, let alone get out of her chair by herself. Nor did she speak more than 10 words the entire 5 hours I was with her.

They say we know when it's time to go. Dad had been buried the day before Easter two years before and even though Mom had Alzheimer's even then, perhaps subconsciously she knew. It was time. Interestingly, when we looked at her during her wake, we all commented that her Alzheimer's "look" was totally gone. IT WAS!



The shell of Mom lies at rest beside Dad in Grand Ledge, MI. On the back of their tombstone is a reference to Mom's widely-published hymn, "A Christian Home," in many a hymnbook. She had been commissioned to write words for a hymn that could be sung on Mother's Day. It still is sung in many churches today and stands as a tribute to her life and heritage. Above all, she wanted to serve God to the best of her ability with what she knew at that time. And she did!

Today I can't begin to imagine what she's accomplishing out there in the Universe but I can guarantee that Dad and Bennett are trying to keep up with her. And I'm guessing God gives her all the leeway she needs!

27 comments:

  1. Wow - it is just amazing how much Easter changes. I'm a bit perplexed at that myself. Your mother was super woman for sure. And I guess she did know when her time was to go. At least she didn't suffer long. And I'm sure she's happy with her decision... Great reading..

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  2. Great post, Mom. I'm sure it's safe to say that G'Ma is and was quite proud of you as well. Love you!

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  3. As the tears flow, and memories return, I want to thank you for this wonderful tribute to Mom. What an amazing woman she was, and is, I believe.

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  4. ET: I think all us kids definitely believe now that she was a superwoman! Thanks for your kind remarks.

    Amy: Awwww. Thank you. That means a lot!

    Ruth: Yes, Yes, and Yes!!!

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  5. Your mother seems to have been very active. It must have been strange for you to learn that she had Alzheimer (such an academic!) Quite an exceptional woman,just like you.

    Funny though. My mum wanted half the amount of kids they were (eight), so 4 kids, and stopped after two (I was the last). Guess she thought:"Ok. That's it! One more of her and I'll go crazy". I was so hyperactive as a kid/teen. I'm ok now (that's what I say) but believe me: I didn't want to have one of me!! :-) Sitll wonder how my parents did it.

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  6. What an amazing woman she must have been. Thank you so much for sharing her with us.

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  7. CS: Ha. We used to really worry about Amy because she was so "wild" in her growing-up days. But a friend once told me not to worry--she was worse than Amy and turned out just fine. She was right. Amy is such a charm to me and is in some ways more strict with her son than I was with her (or so it seems). So it all turns out OK in the end. I'm sure my mom would have said the same :)

    Dixie: Yes, she was amazing. I realize that more now than then!

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  8. Ginnie, thanks for telling us about your Mom. It's an inspiring story. Her life lives on.

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  9. Oh my, Ginnie. So much loss in such a short time.

    I'm sure your mother was (and still is!) an inspiration to many, many people and we can clearly see that she passed on her love of knowledge and learning on to you.

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  10. I love that picture of G'ma! As a musician, one of the most amazing things to me is her original manuscripts in pen. It's as if she heard the music in her head and just had to transcribe it!

    Her biggest impression on me, by far, was when I walked down the back stairs of the house, upon waking, while visiting her and G'pa. Without fail, (since I was such an early riser!) there she would be, on the little couch in her study, praying or reading the Bible. For me as a mother and grandmother someday, that is her legacy.

    Thanks, Aunt Boots!

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  11. Tim: I like what you said about her life living on. You are so right!

    Christina: Yes, the loss was immense and as so often happens, it "came in threes!" I have often seen how much I'm like my mom. When I was younger, I'm not sure I appreciated it as much as I do now!

    Mrs. M/Shari: Oh yes! How could I forget her Quiet Time! In the midst of all the hubbub, she knew how to draw aside for those moments alone in meditation. Yes, that too is her legacy!

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  12. Your post about your mother make me think about mine. She is still alive but after years of being very creative (she won prizes in macramé, needle painting, she was doing pastel and oil painting) she got a brainstroke and lost everything of her creativity. Life is so fragile.

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  13. Yes, Mei. After working 2 years in assisted living, I realized the brightest and the best were often hit the hardest with memory loss or brain debilitation. So very sad. Sorry it has also happened to your mom.

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  14. I have my own story about G'ma's death. I woke up from a dream the morning of her death (before she was dead) at 5am. I had drempt that she was going to die. So at 5am I called her nursing home right away to ask how she was. The person who answered said, "She is doing wonderfully! In fact, she has made an incredible improvement!"

    Do you know what I thought of? I thought of the last time I ever saw Grandpa. That night, Grandpa was in his bed in the dining room. He had the little card I had made for him on his nightstand. I had drawn a little picture of a fluttering butterfly or something like that and said, "No matter where you go, you will always be with me." I recall seeing his spirit hovering half-way out of his body, rising to meet the incredible force hovering over him, waiting to receive him.

    But, one of my favorite memories about that night was of grandma!!! I went to the second floor to be alone and take it all in- my Grandparents' home, the place I had spent so much time in, because I knew it was coming to an end. I wanted to study the books on the shelves and fondly remember the time grandpa almost ripped my ear off because I had carelessly pushed some of them in- he liked the bindings to be straight! And as I was thinking, grandma came "floating" up the back stairway, down the hall toward me. She was glowing, and just floating around the house like a child-like ghost. She was smiling and so happy. She whispered exuberantly, "He's going to be with God!"

    So, when at 5am, the man told me she had made an incredible improvement, I knew there could only be one reason why- SHE KNEW SHE WAS GOING TO BE WITH GOD! So, as soon as I got out of work that day- I went to see my grandma one last time. I knew it would my last. She sat in a chair, and I sat on the floor next to her, while she just played with my hair. I sat there for as long as I could, because I knew that was going to be it. And she was glowing, just like the night when I last saw Grandpa.

    The next day, somone called me- I can't remember who- Aunt Ruthy? Aunt Nancy? And as soon as I heard their voice, I just asked, "Did she die?" The answer was yes, but really, the answer is no- she went to be with God, too:)

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  15. Rachel, this brought tears to my eyes because I know you and G'ma had/have a very special connection. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story!

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  16. I don't know if you'll get a chance to come back and read this, but if you do...

    Sometimes Swede will play piano while I sit next to him, and I just start crying, because he is a kindred spirit of Grandma's. When I am sitting next to him, I feel just like I did when I used to sit next to Grandma. He thinks it's so cute that I cry. Today we were at "Roots" a bohemian cafe 2 blocks from our house that serves vegan food, too, and I was looking through their anthology of poetry. I closed the book and told Swede to pick a page randomly. The poem on the page he turned to was "Piano" by D.H. Lawrence... I just had to share it with you!

    Piano

    SOFTLY, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
    Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
    A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
    And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

    In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
    Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
    To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
    And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

    So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
    With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
    Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
    Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

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  17. The nice thing about Blogger comments, Rachel, is that we get all comments in our e-mail, letting us know when and where they come. And this is so very wonderful again. I can hardly wait to meet Swede and hope you plan to bring him sometime soon to the cottage--over July 4th? Is that a possibility? You two sound like you were made for each other. Thank you again for your comment. I can see G'ma smiling :)

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  18. Yes, we are planning to go to 4th of July weekend and bring the kids, too. And I am even inviting the Father-in-law- he is wonderful and I think you would all enjoy his company! I am not sure if he is coming- his name is Woody. I am so excited to see everyone and to share my family with Swede!

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  19. How great, Rachel! Yaaay--we'll get to see you again and meet Swede. Can hardly wait!!

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  20. What a wonderful essay on an amazing woman.

    I have to add that she was truly a great athlete, and her favorite sport was field hockey. She told me that she was elected team captain for four straight years and was the only player in the league who could play forward from either the left or right side, which made her doubly dangerous. She was the leading scorer for her team all four years.

    A musical memory I have of her was her ability to "on the fly" lower Handel's Messiah to a lower key so the Oneida Gospel Choir could hit the notes. She would replay the music and ask, "How's this?" They would clap and the music could be performed. Yeah, the girl could play!

    Don

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  21. Don, I totally forgot about field hockey? You probabaly heard about that sometime when I wasn't around but now that I think of it, the ambidextrous side of her rings a bell. Wow!

    And yes, her ability to transpose anything was totally a mark of her incredible musical ability. Too bad your comment didn't come a couple days ago when others would have seen what you've written here. But at least WE know!

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  22. Ginnie, thanks for sharing your beautifully written memoriam of your mom. I enjoyed reading it very much, and I especially enjoyed that old picture of her in her youth. As you know, my dad passed last August. My mom is a cancer survivor, and we are very fortunate to still have her with us today.

    --Warren

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  23. Warren, I just found your comment in my Junk Mail and, needless to say, have totally rectified THAT situation! Thanks so much for taking the time to read about and comment on this post about my mom. We always remember! As you will find out re your dad!

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  24. Ginnie, this memoriam is really wonderfull and very touching! I'm about to make one for Jacques, my late hubby, and you are an inspiration.

    It is really important to do memoriam like this because when we talk about those who are dead, they still are living inside our heart! This post is a good exemple and we can see that your mother is still living in the heart of the members of your family. And now, she, like your brother, is a little bit living in mine. Life is good...

    And now, I will wait to meet your father...

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  25. Clo, YOU are an inspiration to me! You have such a beautiful way of expressing yourself that always touches me at my core. Thank you.

    I can hardly wait to read about your Jacques!

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  26. A very touching momento of your mother and I feel honored to be able to read about it.
    My mom also died in March, on St. Patrick's day, 1998. My dad died in April, 1992, the day after Easter.
    I've barely been able to memorialize them on paper in my journals, the first time with mom this year and the first and last time with my dad in 2003. I need to do more.

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  27. Wow, Mad. Very similar experiences, I see. We can grieve and rejoice together. I found these 3 Memoriams to have been quite cathartic for me. In a short space I had to choose what to include and what to leave out and still represent the spirit of each one. That was the hardest thing for me but I'm glad I did it. Thanks for your kind words!

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