As I drove up to my childhood home after hearing of her death, I thought of Mom’s life and of her influence on me.
By Dennis Rainey
The call came at 4:30 a.m. on March 2, 2003. My brother, Gary, was on the phone from Ozark, Mo., to tell me that our mother, Dalcie Rainey, had just joined our father in heaven.
I felt conflicting emotions of relief and sorrow. I was grateful that she had been released from her prison of a decaying body and from a mind suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. But I knew I would miss her deeply. Our lifetime talk was over.
I’ll always remember the drive that I made that day up to Ozark. I had traveled the same route for more than 26 years. As I wound through the forested, rolling hills of Northern Arkansas and Southwest Missouri, I had a lot of time to think. I didn’t turn on the radio. Didn’t pop in any CDs. I just drove and thought of Mom’s life and of her influence on me.
Mom was 35 years old when I was born breech—a dangerous way to hit the streets for both mom and baby. She used to tell me that my feet hit the floor running and that I’d been running ever since. Affectionately, she called me “The Roadrunner.”
As a child she nursed me through chickenpox, mumps, and the measles—plus dozens of colds, sore throats, and bouts of the flu. Whenever I had high fever, she would offer a chilled washcloth. Her steamy, hot potato soup was best to eat when I was propped up against a pillow in bed. (Isn’t it interesting how clearly we remember how our mothers took care of us when we were sick?)
A warm kitchen was Mom’s trademark and it seemed to always attract a crowd. It was the place where food and friends were made. She was a good listener and always seemed to have time to hear whatever I had to say.
And how Mom could cook! There were green beans seasoned with hickory-smoked bacon grease, sugar cookies, pecan pie, and best of all, her chocolate bonbons made only at Christmas—at least 2,000 calories in every bite. And her picnics at Swan Creek … well, what can I say? She would spread out a well-worn Indian blanket and open up an old basket that was packed with more than enough food.
Mom taught me to laugh, and she helped others laugh, too. She and I fixed joke packages together at Christmas. (They were really only funny to Mom and me.) On Christmas Eve, she and I would have more fun unwrapping gifts. She would put sacks inside of sacks that went inside of boxes that were inside of more sacks. Tears would literally stream down our faces from laughing so hard.
What Mom taught me
But on this journey home, tears of another kind filled my eyes.
Driving on, I reflected about how I about learned forgiveness from Mom. She forgave me time and time again for not making my bed and for not picking up my clothes. She also forgave me when I got so angry as a teenager that I actually took a swing at her—and fortunately missed! (My dad should have hauled me over the coals, even though I was 17, but he didn’t … I’m not sure she ever told him.)
But I guess the most profound thing Mom modeled was a love for God and for people. Compassion was her constant companion.
She taught me about giving to others even when she didn’t feel like it. She taught me about accountability, truthfulness, honesty, and transparency. She modeled a deep loyalty to Dad and to the Lord. When I was six, she led me to Christ during her Bible study class one Sunday evening.
We loved to fish together and to grab a bite of Chinese food. And she and I were known for wolfing down a cheeseburger or two—along with a dozen bonbons—laughing all the time.
I guess it’s obvious: Mom was an incredible woman! She was an organizer, a hard worker, and a great person in terms of family values. She and Dad taught me that family is not just an address—it’s all about relationships and caring for people to the very end.
Expressing our affection
Dad was just 66 when he died in 1976 from a heart attack. In contrast, Mom was 90 years old when she finally joined him. It was fascinating to go through the process of losing Dad in what seemed like a split second, and then watching Mom wither away and suffer for two years with Alzheimer’s disease.
I had told Dad on numerous occasions that I loved him, appreciated him, and was proud of him as a man. But when he passed away with no goodbyes, I resolved to be sure that Mom always knew that I loved her.
In fact, long before Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she and I had a special way of expressing our affection. As I would prepare to leave her Missouri home and drive back to Arkansas, she would come out to her porch and wave to me. I’d honk the horn three times to symbolize “I-love-you.” Then I would wave to her—wondering if that would be the last time I would see her alive.
I told Mom in as many ways as I could that I loved her. (But can anyone ever really say, “I love you” enough to their parents?) In February 1985 I wrote her a tribute and put my feelings and expression of