When this week started Monday, I knew that our mother would, most probably, not survive to the end of the week. I began Monday morning by drafting her obituary, not because I necessarily anticipated her passing, but I felt a need to understand her life and to put things into perspective before I was too emotionally distracted. After her passing, I continued to write down thoughts and as I did, I began to organize the sequence of events throughout her life.
I have always personally ignored the passing of time and therefore have not been able to reconcile in my mind the timing of the events of her life. I found events to be overlapping. There were just too many things happening in a short period of time. What I realized as I investigated, was that there were periods of her life where things happened quickly, mostly because she had to compress a high amount of activity into a short period of time.
What I found was not a person that was superhuman - as we idealize mothers to be, but rather a very human person with desires and needs, strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else. What did set her apart from the norm was her drive, her keen intellect, and her sense of responsibility. Our mother was to a large degree an "unstoppable force" that never met an unmovable object - which I suppose makes her a bit superhuman.
As people pass away, we sometimes learn more about them than we ever knew. Let me relate some things about our mother that I have always known and some that I have not.
Our mother had a lifelong love for teaching. She was adept at languages knowing 4 fluently and two passably. One thing that I never knew was that she began her "professional" teaching career in 1945 at the ripe old age of 15. She taught English at a professional engineering school. This, to me, is incredible that she, at 15, was mature and courageous enough to enter a classroom and perform in front of students that were much older. Her father died when she was 7 years old, and I suppose this added to her need to mature at an early age.
Her life was spent with times of happiness and calm, times of intense activity, times of great joy, and times of great sadness. In 1951, she was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and by 1954 was serving in the Brazil mission. She was one of the first sister missionaries in Brazil and for all intents and purposes ran the mission with her mission president. She would translate, negotiate land purchases, and see to the business operations of the mission.
During her mission, she had the opportunity to travel across the Brazil with President David O. McKay as his translator. During this tour, President McKay asked her to come to Utah and attend Brigham Young University. When her 1-year mission was completed, she came to Utah in 1955 and was sponsored by the Apostle Mark E. Peterson. During that summer with the Petersons, she traveled around the Western U.S. and became fast friends to Sister Peterson. During one of these trips, they toured California and our mother was amazed at the intensity of agriculture and the vast acreages of orchards, particularly Walnuts, Pecans, and Macadamia orchards. I believe that this area reminded her of her native country.
When she began preparation for entry into BYU, Sister Peterson begged her not to attend BYU, but rather attend the University of Utah. It seems that she was a die-hard Ute fan. But our mother entered BYU that fall of 1955. While there, she was asked to give Fireside talks to students and interested parties to describe what life was like in Brazil. It was during one of these Firesides that a member of the audience, feeling a little full of himself asked, "Now Brazil, isn't that where the nuts come from???" Our mother did not understand the play on words since her English, while fluent, was still not able to understand the subtle pun. She replied matter of factly, that "While it's true that Brazil grows a lot of nuts, the U.S. seems to cultivate them to a far greater extent!"
During the next four years, she attended school, married, had three children, and performed a complete translation of Talmage's Articles of Faith, among other church related works.
In the early to mid 1960's, Myriam, her husband Jim, and their three sons moved to Brazil, where for the next six years they worked closely with the church, began two schools, taught English, and had a fourth son. Our mother was a builder; she loved organizing, developing, and making great things, and other things great.
In the mid to late 1960's, the family moved to Atlanta Ga., and in 1969, Myriam was faced with her greatest challenge. With the marriage dissolved, she was faced with the task of raising her four sons and providing for them with all the opportunities that she thought they needed for life.
I teach Sunday school to the 14-15 year old age group and sometimes have the opportunity to teach about choices. When I teach this, I always use our mother. She made choices in her life, when those choices were made she aimed for an ideal. She worked relentlessly for that ideal and often hit her mark. Life is about choices. The choices we make affect not only ourselves, but also those around us, and these effects can last a lifetime.
Our Mother strived to make the right choices and set the correct goals in her life. Her primary and overriding goal was to give her sons the life they needed in order to succeed. She knew that this would not be easy, particularly for a single mother of foreign descent in a man's world. She knew this goal would take time and a great deal of her energy. She began her postgraduate work at Georgia State University in 1971, achieving a Master's Degree in French Literature by 1972. She began her doctoral work at the University of North Carolina in the winter of 1973 and completed it in the spring of 1975. She did this while supporting her sons. This is no small feat since the normal time for this work extends for 6 years. These were hard times for Myriam, she survived on the charity of others, including the government - which went against her independent nature. In short she did what needed to be done in the best way that it could be done.
When she moved to Utah to begin her career at BYU, she was faced with another problem; where to find a house suitable for her sons that she could afford. Her salary would only allow for a spartan home. She could not reconcile her accounts with what she felt she needed - in a sense, "Mohammad would not come to the mountain". Since our mother would not take no for an answer, she did the only natural thing, she brought the mountain to Mohammad by purchasing a house that was to be torn down, moving the house from it's foundation and placing her new house on a new property. The house cost her what amounted to what she could afford and the bank valued the house for twice the cost.
Once her house was placed on a new foundation, figuratively and literally, she began the process of making it our home. For the past 28 years, our home has been there, built by our mother with great fortitude and strength. She achieved her goal as she had in the past, by keeping her eye on the ball, meeting all of her responsibilities, never deviating from her path, facing her challenges, and in short moving mountains
This is the great lesson we will take with us. She discussed with our brother Paul what she wanted as an epitaph on her headstone - "I did my damndest".
As I search for a phrase that describes our mother as I see her, I am reminded of what President Thomas Jefferson said of Captain Meriwether Lewis as he promoted the exploration of the Northwest - "with courage undaunted". Little did Tom know he was really talking about our mother.