Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
Cover Image: My mother riding a camel in Jerusalem at age 93.
I probably should write a book about my angel mother, Martha Facer Proctor-Flandro, but as a tribute to her this Mother’s Day weekend, I’ve distilled six lessons I want to share with you. I could come up with scores more.
Not many weeks ago my mother was hosting a literary event in her home. She had prepared a sumptuous lunch for the 16 attendees. The meal was hot out of the oven. The guests had all arrived and were mostly seated. She was moving one last chair in place and, then a surprise–she briefly fainted, falling to the floor.
Many rallied to help her up. She insisted she was fine and the meal and book presentation proceeded as planned—for two hours. Mom could not move from her seat, so the other sisters cleaned up the table and kitchen and asked if there was more they could do. She said she was OK, but oh, she was not.
In her fall to the floor she had broken her hip, but she did not know this yet. She had also severed an artery in her pelvic region. She did not know this yet either. Her husband Royce tried to help her up, but she was in severe pain. They called the paramedics.
I was at the Utah Valley Medical Center within minutes of learning of her accident. The doctor’s report did not look good as the bleeding continued unabated. I called my brothers and sister-in-law and invited their prayers.
Oh, I forgot to tell you—Mom was at that point two months shy of 98 years old!
Indications were that she had lost a lot of blood. Scans showed the severed artery and the gathering of blood in her pelvic area. She was taken right into a very tedious surgery to get that artery fixed. They went in for nearly two hours placing seven tiny coils into the artery to stop the bleeding.
When Mom was wheeled out of surgery, she was shrouded in a blanket so that only her face showed. It was a face drained of all color. She was pale as a ghost, listless and wan. We walked alongside her gurney, “How are you feeling Mom?” I shall never forget this moment. She looked up and said, “I’ve been thinking I need to do a party for Mariah to celebrate her graduation from Oxford. I’m trying to figure out the best time to do this.”
What?! No complaints of pain? No fear? No self-pity. She is already planning another gathering. This is not normal—except that I’ve seen this innumerable times in my life.
LESSON 1: Life is wonderful, come what may. We get over the hurdles we are given and move on no matter what.
Two days ago Maurine and I got back from being out of the country for five weeks so, of course, we went immediately to see Mom. She was walking all over the place without a walker and said she only uses that walker for exercise as she does laps around the house. “I heal fast,” she beamed. She has often quipped when any of us are not feeling well, “Do you want some of my pollen to rub off on you?”
Ten years ago we had the grand opportunity of spending the entire summer in the British Isles doing family history research. We had the added blessing of having our mother and other family join us for ten days.
We took Mom to a number of her own ancestral villages and churches. We showed her centuries-old records and went to vine-covered cemeteries. We know the Church historical sites in England so we decided to take Mom to a few significant places.
On a Sunday morning we headed to downtown Liverpool. One of our favorite sites there is the historic Music Hall where nearly every member of the early Twelve preached. This was a six-story building and once lodged the entire company of Welsh saints who left on the famed ship Buena Vista. We remembered being in this building back in 1994 when we photographed the interiors for a book we did on the Mormon pioneers.
The building had been converted to a lovely bookstore in the 80’s and 90’s and the upstairs rooms where the brethren had preached had been left pretty much intact and original. We were so excited for Mom to feel the Spirit here.
When we arrived we were certain we had the address wrong. The building didn’t look the same at all. We checked and rechecked our records—this was the place, but it wasn’t a bookstore. It was now a bar and disco and garish in its appearance.
It was early in the morning and there was just a cleaning person inside the locked building. I got his attention and he came over to the locked doors. I spoke between the bolted doors and asked him if we could come in and look around, that this building was historic and we had come from America to see it. He looked at me a little oddly but finally shrugged his shoulders and let all of us in.
We went up the stairs and saw the beautiful, old stained-glass windows on the landing as we turned to go up higher. I recognized the window. This was the place, but as we came to the second floor, my heart stopped. Where once had been an elegant meeting room now was a gutted hall lit by neon lights with horrible images on the wall.
Nothing about this was like we had known it. I was utterly disappointed. I was also embarrassed that I had brought my mother into this place. Strangely enough, in the silence, despite all that surrounded us, we began to feel the Spirit. We spent five or ten minutes in the room then left to go outside. As we stood outside the old building we were all very quiet. Then, a hymn began to issue forth from my Mother’s mouth. We all turned to look at her. She sang, “Change and decay in all around I see. O, thou who changest not, abide with me!” Tears began streaming down all our cheeks.
Lesson Two: With the Spirit you can see past the things of the world and feel and know of unseen things.
That moment outside the old Liverpool Music Hall is indelibly printed upon my soul.
When I came home from my mission to Germany I spent the summer with my parents in my home in Missouri. Of course when you have a strong son hanging around for the summer, parents put him to work.
I was raised on a 200-acre spread of beautiful woods and meadows in south central Missouri. We had a lovely, modest home and a number of outbuildings. Mom said we had a lot of cleanup to do on “the farm” and while I was there we needed to get to it.
One particular day we took on the task of cleaning up the white shed. This shed had a lot of memories for me. Here we kept some of our valuable family pictures. Here we had our camping supplies. Here my brother and I raised our hamsters in multiple cages (at one point we had 60 of them—we couldn’t keep those males and females separated). To the side of the white shed our beautiful collie was tied with his long chain. It truly was in need of a good cleaning.
On our farm in the country we did not have trash collection, so we had to burn all our things. We had a very nice fire pit and a burning barrel made from a 55-gallon drum. Mom and I were getting things out of that shed and to the fire pit.
At one point she picked up our family’s ice cream maker—the old hand-crank kind—to throw it in the fire. You know what kind I mean—with wooden slats and metal bands around it. This ice cream maker carried with it loads of memories. We carefully took turns on the 4th of July each year whipping up the most delightful homemade ice cream imaginable. I loved that ice cream maker.
Mom went to toss it in the fire and I reached out to stop her, saying, “No, Mom! Not the ice cream maker!” As I tried to stop the toss, the ice cream maker fell to the ground and disintegrated into a pile of rotten slats and rusted metal bands. It truly was ready to be thrown away, but I did not know it. I was shocked! I stepped back, aghast at what just happened. Time stood still. My mother said, “That, my son, is where moth and rust doth corrupt.” That lesson imprinted bone deep.
Lesson Three: The things of this world mean nothing. We carry with us experiences, memories and our testimony but nothing else.
That moment has been replayed a thousand times in my heart and I have kept a more clear view of life, the things of this world and those things which are truly important.
When Mom lost my Dad back in 1999 she was only 80 so she decided she needed to see to the needs of the widows and widowers in her ward. She hosted a regular family home evening for many years. She also became an active part of a literary club and continued with her 60-years-old dinner group. Sometimes she will have two and three gatherings a week in her home with 12-20 people at each occasion. This does not count the many ad hoc gatherings of family many times a month.
She also started a tradition more than 40 years ago of making gingerbread houses for all the grandchildren at Thanksgiving and having them come and decorate these with mounds of candy and icing. These things all require cooking.
So, way back when Mom was 87 she decided to remodel her kitchen. We asked her why. “Oh,” she said, “I need to have double ovens to make it easier when I entertain.”
During this time of remodeling the kitchen she went through all her dishes and cups and serving trays and everything she owned that had to do with the kitchen. She found that she came upon a set of 16 goblets where there were only 9 left, or a set of 12 special cups where there were only 5 left. As she went through all these things, instead of mourning over the losses or the missing pieces, she just said, “State of normalcy. State of normalcy.”
Lesson Four: Things happen in life. Milk spills. Goblets break. Glasses tumble and are destroyed. Nothing of this kind matters; breaks and spills are just a part of life: State of normalcy.
I can’t tell you how many times Maurine and I have quoted that “state of normalcy” in our home. Raising 11 children comes with breaks and falls and spills and it really has helped us to just say, “state of normalcy.”
Mom has a lot of spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy. This I have always known.
Back in the early 70’s, she was serving in our newly formed Columbia Missouri Stake as the stake Relief Society president. Our stake covered a huge area. Our stake center was 100 miles from our home. Mom would often put 2,000 miles on the car per month just doing her Church duties.
We lived very far from a temple. We grew up in the Salt Lake Temple district, although the temple was 1,400 miles from our home. We were so thrilled when the announcement came that the Washington D.C. Temple would be built—just 950 miles away!
We were given our temple assessment (in those days) and our ward raised that amount with great joy and some sacrifice so that we could have this wondrous temple so close to us. But very soon after the Washington D.C. Temple was dedicated, it was announced that our ward (and stake) would be put in the newly formed Jordan River Temple district! This temple was 1,400 miles away—again! Frankly, this upset a lot of people. Obviously, it didn’t stop anyone from going to the nearest temple; it was just the principle of the thing.
In one particular stake leadership meeting there began to be a rather heated discussion about why we could not have our own temple in Missouri and why did we have to be in the Jordan River Temple district. The discussion continued to get worse and finally my mother stood up (as the stake Relief Society president) and said, “I think we should cease such talk this instant! We will be placed in three more temple districts and then, finally, we will have our own temple.” She said this with such power the whole group went silent. No more words were spoken on the topic.
It wasn’t long before the Atlanta Georgia Temple was announced and we were placed in that district—only 660 miles away! Then came the placement of our stake in the new Dallas Texas Temple district—only 550 miles away! Within a short time we were placed in the Chicago Illinois Temple district—just 400 miles away! And then on December 29, 1990, a temple was announced for St. Louis Missouri—just 100 miles from our home! This was the fulfillment of Mom’s prophetic words in that stake leadership meeting.
Lesson Five: Women have powerful spiritual gifts and need to speak up and share them and bless as many people as they can in the process.
I could relate numerous other stories about my mother’s spiritual gifts, her gift of charity, her gift of discernment, her gift of patience, her gift of prophecy. She is a remarkable woman, but I think what she would say to other women is that they are also remarkable and need to develop and use those God-given gifts to reach out and bless others.
Wherever we travel in the world we run into people who know my Mom and Dad. It has happened countless times. I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked, “Are you Paul and Martha’s son?” But more frequently I get this comment, once they find out I am related, “Your Mom was like a mother to me.” Truly, I’ve heard that comment hundreds of times.
When the reserve units from Utah called the 889th and the 144th were activated during the Cuban missile crisis our ward in Rolla, Missouri swelled in numbers with all these young LDS boys who were now preparing for war. Young couples arrived. They were so very far from home.
I talked to some of these men and they told me that after church they would stand in the foyer and just try to look hungry—very hungry. And, of course, my Mother picked up on this and would have them to our home in droves. We loved having all these amazing people over.
Maurine and I really couldn’t figure this phenomenon out—people referring to my Mom as their mother or as their “Aunt Martha” so, we asked Mom one day about this. “Mom, why do people always say you are like a mother to them? We hear it everywhere we go. Do you know why?” She stopped and thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know. But I’ll think about it.”
Two months later Mom said to us, “I’ve got an answer to your question.” We said, “What question?” She said, “Why people think of me as their mother.” We said, ‘Oh! Yes—what is your answer?” Again, another unforgettable moment—and she said this emphatically and slowly: “I make people’s lives my business.”
What she meant by this is that she noticed their needs, she asked about who they were, she reached out to them when nobody else noticed. She had done a lifetime of this.
Lesson Six: Make people’s lives your business and, done with love, they will become family to you.
I could give dozens of specific examples of this lesson in my life from my Mother. I shall not go on, but I have distilled these six lessons to touch upon the love I have for my precious mother and the regard I have for her position, her powerful position as matriarch in our family. I honor her and all other mothers this Mother’s Day weekend.