Maiden, Mother, Matriarch


My mother-in-law went to bed Saturday night and never woke up ever after. She was a remarkable woman. I wrote this as I reflected on my years of knowing her and being in her orbit. Thought some of you might find her interesting.

There is an arc to a woman’s life, if she leans into the life-giving potentiality of her womanhood, that has been described as a journey from maiden, to mother, to matriarch. The beauty and fertility of a woman’s youth is joined together with a man and from that union new lives emerge. And these squalling, demanding new lives draw the attention and elicit the devotion of young women and thereby transform the young women into mothers.

Mothers, good ones at least, will spend the most productive years of their lives investing in someone other than themselves. Motherhood is, as it happens, one of the most potent antidotes to self-absorption ever encountered. And if these mothers are fortunate, very fortunate indeed, their squalling, demanding, self-absorbed infants grow and transform into functioning adults who will need, even if they don’t always know it, their mother’s wisdom and experience. And so she becomes the matriarch of her clan and, sometimes, an object of devotion for the generations that follow.

Barbara Faye married at 18 when she met a Navy veteran of World War II who shared her faith, and her love for table games. Together, during the years that followed, they produced three girls, bookended by two boys. Barbara devoted herself to her five children, to their moral and spiritual upbringing, but also to their fun.

Barbara loved games.  She loved games so much that she invented games. One of them, Wordsworth, is played in homes all over America.

Barbara was an expert instigator and organizer of fun for children, and she was more than a little inclined to enter into it herself. Games and sports, ice skating and sledding. Camping and cooking and church and singing and puzzles and friends. These were the things that characterized her children’s lives.

As her children had children of their own, there began a steady parade of grandchildren through her home as Barbara transformed into the energetic matriarch of her clan. The grandchildren found in Barbara Faye a grandmother just as devoted to fun as ever. Golf, and rope swings, and stilts, and big wheels crashing, and reckless hilarity sledding down the hill in her front yard. These are the happy pictures that inhabit the memories of her grandchildren from those many Thanksgivings and Christmases gone by.

She was nothing like a stereotypical grandmother. All the way into her 50s, and even later, her grandchildren would visit and might find themselves at a local gymnasium, where their grandmother was playing league volleyball, regularly diving onto the court to dig the ball and save the point. The volleyball may well have been preceded by her most recent golf tournament victory at one of the various clubs in the central Ohio area. She would afterward proceed to the house at which she would bake copious numbers of homemade pies and inevitably fill her dinner table with piles of food, lest anyone grow faint from going ten whole minutes without a meal.

She did all of this while maintaining a volunteer sideline as a sort of self-appointed hospice nurse. She started this practice early in her life, even as a child, caring for an ailing relative. And she continued it late into her adulthood when she traveled to help care for her beloved sister who had MS. Later, she turned her attention, consecutively, to her father-in-law, her brother-in-law, and eventually her husband as they each experienced failing health and their final days on this earth.

Most recently, she has busied herself at her church (one of her lifetime pursuits) and in teaching her great-grandchildren how to bake pies and play all the games that Barbara found so enjoyable.

On Saturday night, she lay down to sleep and, alas, she never woke up. The accumulation of years had become too much, even for her. But she lived – really lived – all the way to the end. She will be missed by everyone who knew her. She was a lifelong source of love and wisdom for many. She was beloved by children everywhere.

And she was fun. Was she ever fun.

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There are 13 comments.

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  1. Caryn Thatcher

    I am so sorry for your loss.  At the same time, I am very glad for your time with such a remarkable sounding woman.  May her memory be a blessing.

    • #1
  2. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt

    Condolences, thank you for introducing us to a wonderful mother, and grandmother.

    • #2
  3. Manny Coolidge

    I’ve always said, mothers are what hold society together. What a beautiful tribute. May she be with our Lord now under His shining, perpetual light. 

    • #3
  4. JustmeinAZ Member

    Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. Indeed she will be missed!

    • #4
  5. cdor Member

    What a wonderful eulogy for what must have been a uniquely wonderful person. No doubt she will be missed by many. After reading your post, even I miss her as you have helped me to know her.

    • #5
  6. Charlotte Member

    She sounds like a hoot.

    If you don’t mind my asking, how old was she?

    Thank you for sharing this lovely remembrance.

    • #6
  7. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    She sounds like a hoot.

    If you don’t mind my asking, how old was she?

    Thank you for sharing this lovely remembrance.

    She was just barely shy of 87 years old.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    I didn’t grow up around my grandparents and am not one myself, but I love hearing stories of these wonderful women who enjoy those who follow in their footsteps. A beautiful story, Keith.

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge

    Beautiful, thank you.

    • #9
  10. Rightfromthestart Coolidge

    Beautiful , condolences, what more could any of us want but to go to sleep after a full life. 

    • #10
  11. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill

    Great piece of writing, to honor a wonderful well lived  life.

    And Barbara’s picture was the icing on the cake.

    • #11
  12. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat

    A beautiful description of a beautiful person. 

    • #12
  13. Stad Coolidge

    A touching tribute . . .

    • #13
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