My mother was blessed in many ways. All of her fourteen children survived till the day she died. She lived in a great college town on the Upper Mississippi River. She loved the outdoors, hiking, and bird-watching, and lived in a town loaded with parks, trails, and access to the woods.
She insisted on owning — or being owned by — a large two-hundred pound Newfoundland who coated the floors with a mixture of drool and heavy black fir, but Mom would have it no other way. And she loved the classical world and traveling in Europe. She was blessed to have my sister Ruthanne and her family in England and then France, where she enjoyed frequent and lengthy vacations. At home she had my sisters Judy, Barb, and Barb’s husband Steve nearby to help with the tasks that otherwise overwhelm an elderly widow.
Light and Shadow
And yet she was troubled; a veritable study in light and shadow. For years, I could sense that strange mixture of effervescence, joy, and ingratiating manners on the one hand, with great sorrow, loneliness, and anger on the other. Hers had been a hard road, marked with the devastating loss of her husband Clyde, my father, and years of hard work and financial struggle.
Betsy Jean and Clyde were sharply different from each other. He was outgoing and she was painfully shy. They saw the world very differently. But their love for each other was visceral, steadfast, and enduring.
The loss of Clyde was as much a spiritual disaster as it was financial and material, and it was up to Betsy Jean to wade through the aftermath with her brood of fourteen children in search of a steady road. I think it was a combination of her own innate joy and vigor, the presence of her children, and then a favorable living situation in those last twenty years that really helped her transcend the pain.
As we said our goodbyes at the cemetery on Oak Ridge, I was seized with a powerful premonition that most of us would pass from this life with far less of the grace, love, and dignity that gently ushered her into the next world, and that quite possibly, it is she that weeps for us.
Cyril Ignatius Kendrick grew up in the Upper-Midwest, earned a doctorate in sociology from Virginia Tech and is a college professor, a Catholic, and a devotee of great music.