Memories of Mom
Today is the 7th anniversary of my mother’s passing. That night is permanently imprinted on my mind and memory. Perhaps that is why when I woke up early this morning at 4:30am, wide awake, and thinking it was the exact hour of her passing, that I came downstairs and therapeutically began to write about her. You may not find this blog inspiring, but it was definitely healing for me to write. The night of December 23, 2013 found my mother surrounded by those who loved her: her husband of nearly 50 years, my sister, my wife, and me. One of her last words she spoke was earlier in the day on December 22 and was to tell me that she “loved me”. Soon after she had a major seizure which she would not recover from and Hospice provided end of life care. She lay resting in her hospital bed, in the living room, where we had accrued so many memories as a family.
In the early morning of December 23, we were awakened by Dad who let us know that she had passed quietly moments before while we were asleep near her. In the days following that day: we received many visitors, looked at so many pictures, and cried together as a family. She was a dear wife, mother, sister, aunt, and one of the most loving people I had the pleasure of knowing. Maybe it is the fact that 7 years have passed, and I can now share about my mother without crying (although unsuccessful), maybe Christmas has made me sappy, and maybe it is the cancer which genetically has been passed down through several generations. (on a side note: my boys will need to be tested for the BRCA gene soon. Hopefully in the near future medical invention will produce a vaccine, a drug, and a treatment that will put to end fears of getting BRCA induced cancer.)
As my mother is on my mind today, I would like to share about her life and why I believe her to be one of the greatest humans to ever place foot on this earth (yes, I realize that I am biased). Ronda Elaine Tressler (from here on I will refer to her as mom or mother, but I thought it was important that you know her full name) was born on September 9, 1945 to Jesse and Betty Tressler.
My mother’s upbringing was one of difficulty and trials. When she was 14, her mother passed away from cancer (My grandmother Betty Tressler probably also passed away from the BRCA cancer, possibly of the breast or ovarian, but in the fifties the treatment was limited and there was not much shared with the family about her cancer). She was the oldest daughter in a family of 6, including her father, and took on the role to support and provide for many of the needs of her younger siblings. I have heard from several of her younger siblings that in many ways my mother was like a second mother to them during those years.
She graduated Newport Highschool in 1963 and attended a local business school for several years before the itch for adventure took over and she packed up all that she had and moved out to sunny southern California to see what fate would hold. My mom quickly made friends and found herself living near the navy base in southern California and also made friends with several Navy Seabees awaiting orders to be shipped off to Vietnam. One of those young Navy Seabees was Edward “Ted” Williams (and like before, from here on out he will be known as Dad, or father) from Indianapolis, IN. The two of them started talking, dating, and when word was given that he would be shipped out soon, my mom, after only knowing this soldier for 3 months, gave him an ultimatum, “Marry me or we break up”.
While later in life, they both admitted that the short dating and engagement was not ideal. My mother even shared a story about the next time she saw her husband following his deployment to Vietnam that she carried a photo of him because she was not sure that she would be able to recognize him. The soldier’s life was tough, he had 2 deployments over the course of their first 3 years of marriage and out of those 36 months, they were only together for 5 of them.
Upon returning from Vietnam, they settled in Perry County, PA, a rural county west of Harrisburg where she had grown up. This young couple, who because of his deployment, spent more time apart than together, soon experienced one of the greatest heartaches of their lives and young marriage. Michael Todd Williams, born in 1968, their first child, passed away suddenly in her arms as she was driving him to the hospital in Harrisburg in 1971. As expected, this heartache was difficult in many ways for this young couple and for each of them personally.
It was a miracle that their young marriage survived. Soon they would have another child, Venessa in 1972, and yet another in 1977, me. Soon after my birth, they moved to the house on Kretzing road, outside of New Bloomfield, PA, where Dad still lives today.
Our family was just like any typical family, our days consisted of school in West Perry School District. If we weren’t traveling to and from for sports activities, and band for my sister, then we were prepping our animals (goats and pigs) for the annual 4-H show at the County fair each year in August.
When mom was in her mid-forties, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease of her digestive track, little did we know that I would also be diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease as well when I turned 18. While she served her family, each of us, my father included, found success in sports, school, college, and in our professions. She was our supporter and biggest cheerleader over those years, as well as one of the most loyal and caring individuals I have known.
In 2005, when both of her children were married and she had 4 grandchildren (she would eventually have 6), she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was a trooper, enduring difficult chemotherapy and surgery. At the time, unfortunately, she was not able to be tested for the BRCA gene. At that time, insurance required 3 reasons why testing for BRCA would be needed and breast cancer was not sufficient (clueless to that rationale). In hindsight, we have come to believe that her mother and her brother, Randy Tressler, passed away from BRCA related cancers. Randy passed away from Pancreatic cancer in 1997 at the age of 53.
Her BRCA test and positive result would not come until several years later when she would be diagnosed with Fallopian Tube cancer. At this point it was too late to have any preventative surgeries, such as a hysterectomy, to reduce the risk of cancer.
The final several years of her life were years that she lived to the fullest. She never let the cancer dominate her life. She was first a wife, mother, and grandmother. Although in all honesty, her grandchildren would tell you that they were adored most of all. She traveled, cared for her aging father, babysat and loved her grandchildren regularly, and supported her children and husband. Dad, at this time had retired after a long career as director of Perry Humans Services and began working at Bethesda Mission in Harrisburg before retiring all together.
In the second half of 2013, it had become apparent to all of us that her cancer had come back with vengeance and it was not going to be treated with chemotherapy and surgeries. She spent many weeks in the hospital. These weeks and months were precious and difficult. I am very thankful for having a job at the time as a pastor at Church of the Living Christ in Loysville, that allowed me flexibility to be at my mother’s bedside often, whether at Harrisburg Hospital or at home. We had great conversations. I would like to share 2 of those conversations.
The first conversation was one on faith. My mother grew up in a religious home, her grandfather, who lived with them for the first several years of my mother’s life was a very religious man who made sure that his family was in church and that his children and grandchildren were taught about faith and the scriptures in both church and in the home. I was blessed with receiving his bible upon the death of my grandfather.
My mother at an early age loved God, served Him, and sought to live for Him in her life. She admitted to me that when her mother passed away when she was 14 and then when she lost Michael at the age of 26 that her faith struggled, and she grew bitter in many ways towards God for these losses. Michael especially was difficult as he died in her arms driving to the hospital while she prayed continually for God to save him. This conversation was so good to have with my mother at the end of her life. We talked about the story of Job from the Bible, who was afflicted with much suffering and also struggled with bitterness before surrendering to the Lord towards the end. My mother affirmed her faith and trust in Jesus Christ and those last couple of years handled her cancer and suffering with dignity, hope, and perseverance.
The second conversation happened in the hospital weeks before she would pass. I was reading and prepping for a Sunday night youth message when she said that there were several things that she wanted me to do after she passed away. She asked that I (and Venessa as well) look after Dad. First, she was concerned that Dad would become a hoarder. This was a real concern of mom, but since then Dad has not become a hoarder J. Secondly, and this is as real as if it was yesterday, she turned to me and said, “and make sure that he gets remarried, and maybe he could marry Melinda”. Keith and Melinda Martin were friends of my parents. My Dad and Keith sang together in a quartet for years. Keith lost his battle to Colon Cancer in 2005 and Melinda had been a widow for about 8 years. For my mother, in her remaining time on earth to be so selfless and wish the best for her husband and for Melinda as well. Her words were like a prophetic utterance of what would come to pass in the years to come.
Not a week goes by that I don’t think of my mother and wish that she was still with us. I am forever grateful for her and the way she modeled strength and resolve through some of life’s most challenging times. I constantly go back to the way she continued to selflessly love, care, and serve her family even when the cancer was at its worse. I trust that my mother now stands before the presence of her God and Savior. She is not my guardian angel for angels are created beings that serve the Creator. We, as God’s most loved creation are created higher than the angels and therefore are the apple of our Creator’s eye (Psalm 8:5, 1 Cor 6:3, Hebrews 4:11-14). We know very little about what heaven will be like. Will we be so amazed with the glory of God that the issues of earth are drowned out with the shouts of praise and worship of Our Savior (Revelation 4:6-11)? Will we be like the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16) who were concerned for the spiritual condition of those left on the earth? I have read nearly every book on heaven (well not exactly as there are a ton of them, but many) and while there are many uncertainties about eternity, there also are many certainties as to what eternity will be like. One thing I know for sure, as it says in Romans 8:23, that we groan inwardly for the redemption of our bodies which will become reality on the other side of eternity. We groan because on this side of eternity, the brokenness of this world through sin and suffering, has left us in need, in need of a Savior. And this Savior is who we worship each Christmas. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
We groan because on this side of eternity, the brokenness of this world through sin and suffering, has left us in need, in need of a Savior.
So, on this Christmas, first, if your mother is still alive, show her your love. Even in the complexities of the Corona virus, I hope you can find the right way to honor and enjoy her presence. Secondly, as my mother is now on the other side of eternity, worshiping her Creator and Savior, what better way to honor, worship, and live for your Creator and Savior on this side of eternity than to trust and live for Him this Christmas season. If I could help you, pray for you, support or care for you, please feel free to reach out to me.