By Todd Tyler, Waleska Resident
I never considered having to face, feel, and certainly not share what you’re about to read. It’s like setting a broken bone. Yes, it hurts—but the bone is realigned, and after healing, it’s stronger than before.
My sweet mama, Dorothy Anne Tyler, was only seventy-eight when she passed away on Thursday, July 2, 2015, in Marietta. The same place where Mother brought me into this world, Kennestone Hospital, was also where she was pronounced as having left it. It’s hard to say goodbye. We wish we had more time and that we had spent more of it together. We wish that so much of her life had not been lost to illness, that things could have been different for her and for us. While we know that she is at peace and that her struggles are at an end, there is pain and sadness. But even though she is gone, she has left the legacy of her love and perseverance.
Among other words that come to mind describing her character, her uncompromising integrity and honesty have proven to be among the most important guides for me in my professional and personal lives. Whenever I face a situation where I am unsure about which direction to take, I have always had a tool to guide me in the form of a simple question: “Would I be willing to tell my mother what I have done if I choose this path?”
Life forces us all into positions of compromise and presents challenges to our honesty and integrity. I observed my mother rise and meet those challenges one after the other throughout my life with courage and a toughness and a sense of right and wrong that was awe-inspiring. Her values and commitment to Jesus, her family, and friends aptly modeled for me a behavior pattern I cannot forget.
Many people don’t believe in God, much less in the name of Jesus. Many, if not most, of these people are good, loving, and hard-working folks who care about their families and communities and are generous with their time and resources. They just don’t buy into the God thing. I wish those people could all have known my mama. More importantly, I wish they could know my mom and dad’s story, especially as I have come to understand it through prayer and revelation. I think their story tilts the argument in the direction of a loving God who is nudging a very broken universe toward redemption for his glory. It is my sincere hope that by the end of what I have to say, this fact can be readily understood, and that it brings honor and glory to God in doing so.
I’m about to say some things that I’m sure Mama would argue with if she were here. I take some levity to heart in knowing that if she’s listening, and if she wants to argue, Jesus may say, “Now, Dorothy, you just hear him out.”
You see, our mom used to say two things about herself that bothered me as a kid: “I’m not very tough” and “I’m not very smart. Mama, you’re wrong.
For much of my life it was easy to see Mom as the soft and tender one and Dad as the strong and determined one. By the time my sister, Gina, and I had made it into elementary school, the threat of a spanking from Mom would just make us chuckle. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to understand the incredible strength it took to manage all the elements of our family.
By the time I was old enough to really remember things, my older siblings, Debbie, Ted, and Tammy, were teenagers. Some might say they were rather spirited teenagers, and—this may shock some of you—there was a time when my dad had rather strong opinions about the best way to live life.
We had conflict in our home just like many of you have had conflict in your homes, but one reason we loved each at the end of most days was because of our mom and her faith in Jesus. The tension could be troubling to her, but she was still able to be the gentle anointing oil that made our family run smoothly.
Tougher than Chuck Norris
Maybe she wasn’t tough in the Chuck Norris sense of things, but she survived diabetes, cancer, many deteriorating years of Alzheimer’s, and the loss of her daughter Debbie. She managed to intervene in more than a few sibling conflicts. She would tell us that everything would be all right and that she loved us, no matter what. She was tougher than Chuck Norris.
Mom was emotionally tough. Maybe she didn’t always seem so, when she second-guessed herself, got anxious about some mistake she thought she’d made, or thought she’d let us down in some way. Her true toughness was revealed in how she hung in there and loved us completely, regardless of how stirred up things could be. I know Mom wasn’t perfect, but I can’t think of a time when I needed Mom to show up that she didn’t show up and help me see that everything would be all right.
Smarter than Einstein
Maybe Mom wasn’t incredibly smart in the Einstein sort of way, although even there, she could baffle us. Mom could be funny and witty and at other times answer our questions in ways from her heart that were awe-inspiring. Mama would tell us right from wrong and hold us accountable. Mama knew Jesus; she lived her love for him through the way she treated others. Mama was smarter than Einstein.
Perhaps we rarely asked her to help us with math homework, but our mom could be emotionally brilliant. She found ways to love and support each one of us in accordance with our unique needs and personalities. She did the same for sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, multiple grandchildren, and children she kept for others. Mama didn’t get as much love and support as she would have liked when she was growing up, so she always found a way to give more of it to us.
Mama took the call of Jesus to live a life characterized by sacrificial love. Our family was touched by her determination to live out this spiritual path, even when she got lost coming home from church as her disease progressed. It’s interesting to note that even though she once was lost, now she was found.
Much of what I learned about what it meant to be a Christian came by watching how Mama loved others and how she loved Dad. Mom would not allow us to speak or act disparagingly regarding Dad, no matter the circumstance. She loved him deeply and tenderly in a way we couldn’t understand, perhaps not until each of us were married to our own true loves. She made sure we all knew her love for Dad in her way.
I am a simple man. I am a sinner, stubborn, ornery, and a bit opinionated about many things, a lot like my dad. My dad, through his love for Mama, his amazing care, tenderness, strength, and determination in being there for Mama through every single moment of her needs, acted in a way that was more like my Father in heaven than I have ever seen a man on earth act. Dad has shown us all an unconditional and true sacrificial love that makes me proud to be from him as my father on earth and want to be more like him. I desperately strive to be more like my Father in heaven and pray for my dad to get to know him in the ways I do.
Right now I’m imagining Jesus saying to Mama, “See, Dorothy, you really were a lot tougher and lot smarter than you gave yourself credit for.” I’m betting Mom is smiling. I also know that she knows even more of Dad’s love for her from where she is now. Dad’s determination and fight for Mama, especially in the last few years of her life, has underlined for me the grace of a loving God who brought together two people who were tough in very different ways and who were smart in very different ways.
My parents both took God’s gift of each other and figured out how to help each other be formed more and more in the image of Christ over the course of nearly sixty years together.
Mother’s legacy is wonderful. It is a strong example to follow. Keep focused on what is truly important, not only when your life is easy, but when it is difficult as well.
Join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s to help find a cure for so many others like Dorothy. Visit GeorgiaWalk.org to sign up for the Cherokee County Walk to End Alzheimer’s event on Saturday, October 21, 2023, at Etowah River Park in Canton.
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