Saying goodbye to my mother and sharing my memories of her at her funeral. Her favorite hymn was "Here I am Lord" and she requested this hymn be played at her funeral. After it was played and heard I shared our memories.
Throughout scripture we learn God is always pursuing His children and “most of the time” it takes God a while to get their attention. And when He finally does…many have stopped in what they were doing and said “Here I am Lord.” Jacob in Genesis 31:11..Here I am Lord, Moses said the same thing in Exodus 3:4; Here I am Lord……… Samuel, Here I am Lord; 1 Samuel 3:4, Ananias..Acts 9:10….Here I am Lord and Isaiah 6: 8-9: Here I am Lord was Isaiah’ reply when the Lord called his name. A ready obedience to follow their Lord in this very simple statement has been echoed throughout salvation history, God calling his children.
Our Mother has always loved this song and has told me numerous times that she wanted it played at her funeral. I would always say “Mother I think it is about someone discerning a call into ministry.” She would say.. “Well it might mean that to some…but to me it is going to be the day the Lord calls me home.. I will be telling Jesus.. Here I am Lord….is it I Lord..I have heard you calling in the night.. I will go Lord if you need me.. I will hold your people in my heart.
Today my mother is holding us all in her heart.. she has not left us and I made her promise me before she went to her heavenly rest…that she would continue to pray for me in heavenly places, for my journey until I could see her again. I also made her promise to pray for all of us.. We now have another intercessor in heaven looking over us, cheering us on and praying for us all until we meet again.
This facility we are sitting in today.. it may have been added on, a few times, but my Mother told me a few years ago while attending a cousin’s funeral here. “You know I started out life here.. I might as well finish here. This place was the “White Way” when she was a teenager. The local hang out for the teens of her day to eat, flirt and have a good time. She and my daddy had a few dates here before they married July 20th
1953. John Herman Grogan was the love of her life and she never remarried. They knew each other as children growing up.. he being a few years older. They fought like cats and dogs as children…and they could not stand each other. This all changed when my daddy came home on leave from the Navy. Daddy had seen her picture in the Vivian paper on ship and told one of his buddies… “You see this girl in the picture; I am going to marry her one day.” Her story is: he chased her and would not take no for an answer.. for a date with him when he arrived back home on leave. And she said no to him several times before she finally said “yes.” Charlie Mae Hammock finally convinced her to go out with him…she said “Jan one date won’t hurt you.. John’s a good boy and comes from a good family.” So with a little nudging from Charlie she finally took up his offer. It was a whirl wind romance and in a few weeks they were engaged. Dad had to go back to his ship….but would return in a few months to claim his bride. During their separation she almost cancelled the wedding…getting cold feet, she did not think she was ready for marriage, the reason? She had taken up learning to cook and it was the pie crust that convinced her she was not ready. She could not master the crust.. my daddy reassured her that he was a cook and he would make the pie crust and not to worry. I do not know if my daddy ever made a pie crust… but my mother did master a pie crust and was a wonderful cook. The time finally arrived and my daddy returned home to claim his bride. The first thing on their “to do” list was to drive to the Court House from Vivian. The court house was located in Shreveport and they needed to get a marriage license. Back in 1953 Hwy 1 was a one lane dirt road.. no A/C in the car.. remember it was July.. off they went to the court house to get their marriage license. They got there only to find out my mother needed her parents signature.. she was 19 years old. So they drove back to Vivian for her mother to sign the paper work. Her mom Raybe, using a pen scratched on the paper work and off they went again to Shreveport to get their marriage license….stood in line…and finally they had arrived with papers in tow…gave them to the clerk…the clerk looked them over and her mother had written in the space where her name was to go… “Jan and John have gone crazy.” They both could have.. killed her. Time was not on their side…the wedding was a few days away and they had wasted a whole day driving back and forth to Shreveport.
I call my Mother….Mother, the boys call her Mama, Jan Swilley (no middle name…just Jan) was born May 22, 1934 in Henderson, Tx to Jack and Raybe Swilley and soon moved to Vivian, her mother’s hometown, and in time became her childhood hometown. She loved Vivian and had many family and friends here and they experienced many fond memories in school, church and play. She left here soon after her marriage and returning often. She was a Vivian Warrior class of 1952 and was one of the schools “beauties” also Band Sweetheart. She was in the band, but never learned to play her instrument. She had convinced her Band teacher she could play, always forgetting her clarinet at home when “test time” came up (I wonder if he knew?) She would tell me, I would march in the band, put my clarinet to my lips and act like I knew what I was doing… That’s our Mama! Mother was a Southern Belle from her birth and she wore her title well all the days of her life. She loved to be queen of the ball and wear all the accessories that went with it. When I took her shopping, she was like a child in the candy store and would go for hours... “shop till you drop was not in her vocabulary.” She never dropped…she was like the Energizer Bunny. When she was about 5, her mother owned a beauty shop in Vivian. One day she decided she wanted a new dress and while sitting in her mom’s shop…decided to do what everyone else did to buy a new dress. She slipped out of her mom’s shop, went to the clothing store, located just a few steps from her shop, she found a dress, shoes to match, gloves and a matching purse to go with her new outfit. She was so please with herself….. only five years old. She goes right up to the cash register as if she owned the place and said “Charge this to my daddy.” And they did… It was a few days before her mom and dad figured it out.. when the bill arrived. That’s our Mother!
Take notice of a picture of our Mother in the next video when she was about 8-9 years old, dressed in an outfit that looks like she came out of a Tarzan movie. That was her costume for Cleopatra.. a school play she was in. From what I have been told by reliable family members and her.. she took that role very series. She was not just Cleopatra…. She was Queen Cleopatra and orchestrated her entry onto center stage without any advice or direction from the teacher. Making several boys carry her in.. this was not in the script. Reminiscing with her about this story one day I asked her: “Mother why did you get the boys to carry you in? “Well, I was Queen and no one seemed to understand how important my roll was. I did not have any speaking parts.. and I was determine to show all my classmates, I might not have had a speaking part…but I was Queen Cleopatra!” How she ever talked the boys into carrying her onto the stage will always be a mystery. She would carry that spirit of getting her way and being Queen Bee always…… Knowing her she probably worked a deal with the angels and was ushered into heaven on Elijah’s Chariot.
Our Daddy’s last assignment in the Navy was Hawaii and somehow he got my mother over there w/ their first born child…Johnny. She never forgot that special time they had in Hawaii and shared with me many times..when their time over there ended, they both stared out of the plane window with great sadness. Looking at the beauty of the island from on high, my daddy made her a promise.. they would return one day. I think they just might be there now.
Daddy decided after the Navy he wanted to provide better opportunities and the best things needed in life for his growing family. He decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in dentistry. It amazes me today when I ponder this journey they took together for him to become a dentist. How our society has changed so much. How couples today both work and have to work..to supply the needs of a growing family. Our Mom never worked while daddy was in school and somehow they made it work. Just recently I found a letter that mother had saved in her bank deposit box for many years. It was a letter written to her soon after daddy’s death. It was from Emory University, written by the Dean of Alumni. He was sending his condolences to her and our family. He said “ John always gave a superb account of himself, had a distinguished career at Emory, he was ever-so popular with his classmates as evidenced by his being President of his class and becoming trustee of the Alumni Association. Not only did daddy go back to school with a full academic load and a family, he was very active in the student body and he worked to pay the bills. Daddy and Mother were from a generation that is dying out. He did not want her to work and she did not want to work. She loved being taken care of by her man. They say “behind every great man there’s a great woman.” She had to be some lady to persevere and cheer him on during that time in their life. We “kids” have teased her from time to time that she never had a job in life. She would always say, “you do not know how hard and smart you need to be..to find ways so you do not have to work…think about it.” Times were different back then too… no food stamps or government assistance…just pure God given drive to become someone. They did it!
Jamey and I were born when daddy was in dental school and after dental school…. Our family returned to Shreveport. I was four, Jamey was just a baby…Johnny was 8 going on 40. We were living the American Dream. Mother was a homemaker, daddy was building up his dental practice and with all the hard years of school behind them… it was time to enjoy life.
We had some fun years…fishing, hunting, camp, houseboat, summer vacations to the beach and we were surrounded by many family members and friends that shared this moment with us. Many wonderful memories growing up.
Thirty nine years ago (seems like yesterday) our life as a family was crushed in 1973. My mother was 38, Johnny was almost 19, I was going to be 15 in 9 days and Jamey was 12 years old. We lost our daddy and my mother lost her husband. At the time of his death our mother had never balanced a check book, paid a bill, worked a day in her life or made any major decision in running a household….. Her man did it all. On top of that she had two teenagers and one child heading that direction. I will be honest with you… it was a mess. I am sure, some of you that are here today, that knew us back then… you might have said “they won’t survive as a family.” I know.. I thought the same thing. Her Rock.. our rock had been pulled out from under our feet. It was a tough time for all of us and we all did the best we could in handling this great loss, our daddy. We kids in many ways also lost our mother for a while, as she muddled in this drama that this road had taken her to. None of us knew how to fix it, make it better and we all did the best we could with a situation that left us feeling like we had been abandoned. What a load she was carrying. But in time…she climbed back to the mountain top and she found her strength with the Lord’s help and there was no stopping her now. When she finally found the light…she returned with a great joy for life and a deep love for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She stepped out of her comfort zone and did things I never thought she would do on her own. Returning to church was one of the first things on her “to do list” and her longtime friend Sybil remembers that day. Mother had asked her to meet her in the parking lot because she was so scared to go inside by herself. It just took that friend’s hand to help her return to church. She loved her little church ( N. Highlands United Methodist) and was proud to be one of the ladies of the church that kept the altar clean and changed the seasonal cloths that drape the altar. It made her feel special and gave her the opportunity to do something, for her Jesus. She truly looked at it as a service to Him. She also got to serve on the financial committee of the church for a few years. Oh my, she was so proud of that opportunity. She told me when she was appointed, “I can’t believe they would want me..I don’t know anything about running a business or have any financial experience.” In time she settled into her role there and was proud of herself. I truly believe she made a difference and was a part of many decisions that helped her little church make wise choices in how the Lord’s money was to be spent.
Mother loved life and maybe appreciated it more than most. She knew and understood how temporary each moment could be and treasured the things she loved to do and the times she spent with family and friends.
Personally we made many wonderful memories together and I will cherish them always. We traveled; we took a few cruises together, for many years we took her with us on family vacations. We even got her to white water raft down the Natahala.. she was the only person on the river with a rain bonnet on. The seasons of life matured our relationship to one so special. I expressed this special gift to her many years ago in a painting… I painted for her. It was a painting of us shopping in Kennebunkport, Maine. Kennebunkport costal village of Maine with its historical 1700 picturesque architecture located on the Atlantic. I finished this painting with a simple handwritten phrase that coined our relationship . “Always my Mother…Now to my Friend.” This phrase might not mean much too many…but to me and my mother…it meant much. We understood it was a miracle and a gift that many never reach in life. We cherished our friendship…and I told her many times “you are my best friend.”
Mother enjoyed and took pride in her growing family over the years. She has six grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. Two of her grandchildren are at her side today in heaven.. Brad Grogan and Jamiee Alison.
Her faith was simple and her trust in her Heavenly Father was childlike..it had no theological understanding.. it was just knowing He was with her…and trusting in Jesus that all things would work out sooner or later. Knowing He was her Savior and He would take care of her…..all the way to her eternal home.
She loved the simple things of life..to stop and smell the roses. To listen to sounds of the birds singing a new song every morning was a gift..a promise for a new day. She and her neighbors Mary and Gary put in a prayer garden between their homes. She enjoyed that special place so much. She loved every moment in which she spent with her special friends admiring the beauty of God’s creation in a simple flower. The details of its shape, color and fragrance spoke to her heart about His love for her. To sit, to talk, to share, to make time stop, to visit, to plan, to love, to hear his voice speak was what she encountered in their prayer garden.
On one of our mother and daughter trips a few years ago we were driving on a country road…. It was a beautiful early spring morning and it had been raining for many days..the rain had stopped and the sun was shining to its fullest. She said to me; “Look at all different colors of green..How did God ever come up with so many shades of green? For an artist to paint them they would have to mix many colors to paint all these shades of green. She saw God and His love through the simplest things..that many of us never stop to see. Her advice for us all..is stop and smell the roses. She did stop many a times during her day…and smelled the scents of life, looked upon the simplest reminders that surround her , listened and heard His voice and she felt His love in the simplest things we all seem to miss out on in the hustle and bustle of life.
819 Livingston.. the house we shared with our daddy and her home became a returning place for many over the years. Mother became the Patriarch for us all, her home was a gathering place that we shared many memories with family and friends.
It’s gonna be hard letting go of that house.. where will we go now? You know our home is where our hearts rest and we feel loved. In reality our earthly homes are temporary and with the seasons of life they will always change. When Mother told me years ago she wanted the song; “Here I am Lord” played at her funeral, I would of never dreamed how appropriate that song would be. She was so ready to go home and I wonder how many times she actually called out to her God (in the silence of not being able to communicate with us) and cried out to Him “Here I Am Lord.” She knew that her temporary home was coming to a close and she was ready for the Season of LIFE that will “never change” it is the promise of Eternal Life..a home for eternity. She knew her Jesus and she knew He purchased that eternal home for her on the cross. We will all one day have to make this journey… and listen for His voice.. and say “Yes, I am ready….Here I am Lord.” Today we do not say “Good bye Mama.. we say; we will meet again.”
This was not part of the sharing at the funeral, wanted to add as my conclusion to a very difficult journey in my life. Through it all my God was faithful!A friend in Sacramento, CA. sent us a letter today and did not know mother had been sick. He shared with us all about what was going on in his life and ect.... He then asked me if I was reading any good book during Lent and share a few books he was reading. This was my reply to him and hopefully will paint a picture for you concerning my last days with my mother. It was tough....but "oh!" so special and would not trade it for all the siver and gold in this ole' world.
John you asked what I have been reading during Lent. You would not believe how important my readings have been during this stressful ordeal with my mom. I had been staying with her for countless hours this last three months. Several hospitals, Acute Care Hospitals, Nursing Home (2 weeks) and finally a Hospice Hospital for the last week of her life. The last week of her life in Hospice was such a spiritual journey for me as I read to her the daily readings of the church, did the Rosary, sang hymns and prayed. I had three devotional books I was using and the one that was my comfort and encourager the last week of my mom’s life is a 31 Devotional “The Christ of Easter” by Calvin Miller. The day before she died this was the daily devotional: It was now noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three, because the sun’s light failed. The curtain of the sanctuary was split down the middle. And Jesus called out with a loud voice, Father, ‘into Your hands I entrust My spirit.’ Saying this, He breathed His last. Luke 23:44-46.
Here are seven words you should reserve for your dying: “Into Your hands I entrust my spirit.” In our years of walking with Jesus, many of our steps must be taken in the dark, in times of great uncertainty. But the last step always be in the light. The dying time is the time for spending these seven words: Into Your hands I entrust my spirit.” Perhaps you are young. Perhaps Jesus’ final words do not seem to you to be anything you will need in decades. Let this be your counsel: find an older friend and draw close to them. Make sure the older friend is a Christian. Then watch them live out their final days. If God should make it possible, watch this believer change worlds.
You will see a grand confidence in them as they spend these final words. Best of all, you will see that only watching people die is often possible to find out what they really believe. Only from the end of life can we test those philosophies we said we believed during our younger years. Those who die well have lived well. Those who can say with peace and utter resolve, “Into Your hands I entrust my spirit,” are those whose dying proves they lived well. Only one confident ends awaits all of us who are flesh. It is to be able to use Jesus words legitimately, “Father into Your hands…..” Those who can use these words understand why Jesus died. They have ascertained the confidence Jesus placed in his heavenly Father---- the certainty he sensed when he closed his eyes for the final time. This is the greatest part of the gospel. It is to publish Jesus’ dying words as the hope of every heart; it is to give the final cross cry to every person. Sooner or later, all must close their eyes for the last time. If in such a moment they possess the final words of the cross, they will be able to say clearly, “Earth is receding but heaven is approaching. This is my long-anticipated moment of oneness with the Father! Into your hands I entrust my spirit.”My mother died with such faith and dignity and was so brave. She was this person in this devotional that “Only from the end of life can we test those philosophies we said we believed during our younger years. Those who die well have lived well.” Was this reading coincidence or what? My mom listened as I encouraged her to put her trust in the Father…and she did.