Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Marmie: A Companion

Liz and her mother, Marcella Elaine Regier
My mother-in-law passed away a week ago. Her family surrounded her in bed as she breathed her last earthly breath. Her soul departed with little sting. As we prepared for her memorial service, I earned the honor of reflecting on her life. I did so by revisiting memorable phrases. For a woman who struggled to speak during the past fourteen years, her words indeed made an impact.

I've copied my transcript from her service. It was my pleasure to give her back her voice for a few minutes.

Marmie: A companion
In Little Women, the four sisters call their mother Marmee. It’s a term of endearment. Marmee shaped her daughters, loving, teaching, and modeling the character of a strong woman.

Every little woman needs a bigger woman to direct and guide and cherish her. Most people call this bigger woman Mother or Mom. Sarah, Liz, and Bekah called her Marmie. She was their mother. The grandkids likewise called her Marmie. But she was also known as wife to Mel, sister to her siblings, aunt to her nieces and nephews, and mother-in-law to me, Jeremy, and Aaron.

The rest of you know her as Marcy: co-worker, neighbor, church member, prayer partner, and friend.

I’m tasked with telling her story. So consider this a companion (a handbook) to Marmie: Marcella Elaine Harter Regier. This companion will not flow chronologically (those details are in the obituary), but rather thematically.

We all know that speech challenged Marcy the last fourteen years. The last few years she was limited to but a few phrases. This companion attempts to interpret her phrases—some pre-stroke, many post—and honor her legacy.

Our words outlive our bodies. Marcy, our companion, knew this fact well.

Marcy said, “I can do it myself!”
Toward the end of her life, Marcy’s communication withered to five expressions. Of all them, “I can do it myself” was the most ironic. To eat, she needed help with her spoon. To move, she needed help with her wheelchair. To clean her teeth, she needed help into the bathroom. To sleep, she needed help into her pajamas and onto her bed.

But Marcy was stubborn. Shouts of self-sufficiency echoed in every room.

“I can do it myself,” said Marcy at the dinner table.
“I can do it myself,” said Marcy on couch.
“I can do it myself,” said Marcy in the bathroom.
“I can do it myself,” said Marcy from her bed.

Sadly, she could not. We knew it and so did she. Marcy needed us. Perhaps, this is why she followed up so often with two of her remaining phrases: “I’m sorry” or “Thank you so much.”

Marcy said, “Itty-bitty-nitty-gritty.”
When Mel and Marcy moved from Hutchison, Kansas to Warsaw, Indiana, God had given them a baby named Sarah and a job called Seminary. God clearly led the way. Unfortunately, He did not provide much money. Instead, He supplied two more babies: Elizabeth and Rebekah. Three girls less than five years apart.

After Bekah’s birth, Mel quit seminary and got a real job at Zimmer. Still, it took several years to repay hospital bills and school fees. A lean budget meant no Happy Meals, county fair rides, or pop corn at the movies. Marcy deemed these the “nitty-gritty-itty-bitty days.” The classic picture sets her with her three daughters sharing two McDonald’s hamburgers. Two puny burgers divided among four hungry mouths.

Note: One time Marcy accidentally threw a burger out of the car window trying to swat a bee, but upon rescuing it, she still served it to her children. Now that’s nitty-gritty.

Second note: McDonald’s does not actually endorse their burgers for swatting away bees or a healthy diet.

Marcy said, “Aphasia.”
Marcy would hold out a card out. “I have had a stroke,” it read on the front. On the back it named her disability: Aphasia. “I have difficulty talking, reading, and writing. Please be patient.” She would display the card at the grocery store, Wellness Center, Church, and Boathouse.

Her stroke took place 14 years ago. Her motor skills returned to near full capacity. Her blue eyes and winsome smile remained bright. But her speech lagged behind. Even with therapy, phonics books, and support groups, words remained elusive. So she carried a card to pass out in public. Aphasia.

Marcy said, “Oh, Dirt!”
Marcy’s stroke brought me and Liz together. Within weeks of the incident, Liz called me on the phone to weep. I was the first non-family member she confided in. I played Rachmaninoff's Vespers in the background to soothe her as she sobbed.

My introductory meal at the Regier home came on Mother’s Day—less than two months after Marcy’s trauma. The whole family wept and there was no Rachmaninoff at my disposal. I just shifted in my chair.

I survived the first year and eventually became a fixture in this emotionally fragile family. Marcy honestly made me nervous. I knew she couldn’t speak fluently, but I was convinced she could read minds. Recently, my fear was confirmed, when I read that stroke victim’s brains become heavily right-hemisphere dependent. They learn to intuit body language and facial expressions as they interact with others. AKA: They read minds.

I often wondered what she read when she looked at me. One day she let me know. I walked into their kitchen. She smiled, pointed, and blurted, “Oh, Dirt.”

Her daughter was dating Dirt. Soon enough, I became her son.

Marcy said, “Water, Water, Always Water.”
Marcy’s faith seeped into every aspect of her life. She was raised on German hymns and Gaither sings. She went to Grace Bible Institute, worked at Grace College, attended Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church. And she loved books by Edith Shaffer, Joni Erickson Tada, and King David (i.e. the Psalms). She and Mel passed their faith down to their children.

One time Marcy read about the health benefits of drinking water in a Joyce Meyer book. She took the exhortation to drink water to heart. Half-full glasses of water lay about the house. More than once in her aphasic days, Marcy pointed at a glass and said, “Water, water, always water.”

In the last few months, Marcy rarely sat in a room without her water bottle nearby. (Along with her blanket, mittens, and heater.)

Marcy said, “No. No. No.”
Marcy often spoke in triplets. A smaller vocabulary meant a higher rate of repetition for her. When she needed help, she’d say her nickname three times, “Marmie, Marmie, Marmie.” When she bid us farewell, she’d say, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” When she wanted Peanut Butter cups, she’d say, “Yes, yes, yes.” When we misunderstood her gesture or request, she said, “No, no, no.”
The tricky part was that sometimes “No, no, no,” meant “Yes, yes, yes.” Other times “No, no, no” meant “No.” She’d let us know other ways.

“Marcy, do you want to go for a walk?” I ask. “Yes.”

I put Marcy in the wheel chair. She seems confused. She looks at me and says, “No.” I thought you wanted to go for a walk,” I reply. “Yes, yes, yes.” I move her through the kitchen. I open the garage door. I begin to push her through the threshold, but both her arms turn into door jams. She clenches the casing and arrests us.

No walk today. Marcy wins. Her fingernails have left scars in every doorway and hallway in the house.

Marcy said, “Oh, yes I love Jesus”
Marcy ushered her daughters to sleep by singing The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus most nights. Music played a central role in their family—from piano lessons to choir performances—song was a blessed tie that bound them.

Marcy even turned car trips into catechisms. “Oh Bekah do you love Jesus?” Marcy would sing from the front seat of the station wagon. “Oh, yes, I love Jesus,” Bekah cooed from the back.

“Do you know you love Jesus?”

“I know I love Jesus.”

“Oh, Sarah, do you love Jesus…”

As Marcy’s speech began to fade, familiar choruses or traditional hymns revived Marcy’s voice. Whether it was a daughter with a hymnal, friend at the piano, son-in-law on his guitar, holiday sing-a-long with extended family, or the Doxology at Sunday dinner, song was Marcy’s mother tongue. She kept singing till her evening came.

And I trust she’s singing right now.

Marcy said, “Pew-tinka”
Marcy would pull the girls shocks off, press her nose to their feet, pinch her face in mock disgust, and say, “Pew Tinka.” Mothering lends itself to silliness.

But Marcy exposed her playfulness in all relationships. The way she cut her husband’s hair; the way she hiked up her pantyhose and laughed with co-workers; the way she tickled her grandkids; the way she stole her kids’ candy and shared a box of chocolate covered cherries; the way she collected teacups and restricted their use to Valentine’s day; the way she logged her husband’s jogging mileage and likened it to Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe; the way she pretended to be Pippit; the way she made play dough; the way she talked about Gila Monsters; the way she said, “Oh, Golly,” when she spilled or no one understood her; the way she went to the grave with black socks on.

Marcy said, “I love you.”
The first years as a wife and mother Marcy said, “I love you.”

The formative year as a wife and mother Marcy said, “I love you. I love you.”

The final years as a wife and mother Marcy said, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Love in triplets.

And in the days and hours before she departed her earthly body, between shallow breaths and soft groans, she only spoke a single phrase clearly: “I love you.”

Aphasia, dementia, and fourteen years of isolation rendered her near speechless, but it never reduced her love. For Mel. For her little women and their motley men. For her grandchildren, siblings, and friends. And Marcy loved her God who never left her in the valley of the shadow of death.

Indeed, He was with her. And now she is with Him.


Busy1 said...

Thank you for sharing that. Was a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman / family. I met her just briefly when I first worked at Grace but she was a wonderful lady. And the picture of her and Liz is an amazing picture. Brought tears to my ears to see such love between a mother and daughter.

Angie Howett

Jeremy David Miller said...

Tim, I commented on this once before but from the looks of your page it doesn't look it went through. I suppose the server thought I was a machine/terrorist.
I'm glad I got to read all the words you said that day. I remember what a great job you did during your time of speaking and remembrance.
I'm proud your my family.