Irene Bryant Dobbs
1913 - 2005
Douglas D. Dobbs
Being an inadequate written record
her funeral service
her memorial service
It is a daunting task to try to sum up anyone's life and the things that were important to them, particularly so when she is your mother and has been blessed to live such a long life, filled with so many good things.
I have chosen to use her room at Fellowship Village, and particularly her desk, as a focal point for they really were her chosen distillation of her life. The things she cared about and the things that gave her joy were all represented in that room in some manner.
Mother was a believer in the
Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do, or
This had the unfortunate side
effect that she rarely wanted to part with anything.
But her "keeping" of things gives us clues into what she valued.
Mom loved nature.
Blooming plants and flowers, or at least pictures of them, were everywhere throughout her room.
She had books on birds, how to identify them, care for them, encourage them to come to your yard, feed them. Her one great regret about Assisted Living was that she didn't get to see her birds anymore.
Gardens were a big part of her life. She had books and books on how to garden; what plants would go where and how to rearrange and enjoy them more fully.
Landscapes gave her joy, be they of trees, deserts, fall colors or whatever. Mom loved nature.
Mom loved beauty.
She had her display case loaded with her "nice trinkets", the glass, porcelain, pottery, jewelry, etc. that gave her joy. As a child she would make up bracelets and necklaces out of nuts and twigs and leaves. Her sometimes austere aunts dubbed her "The Queen of the Cannibal Islands" for decking herself out this way.
Mom loved good poety, there were books and file folders galore with poetry that had touched her heart.
She enjoyed beautiful pictures, be they of people, nature, towns or farms. As Jan said, "She liked 'pretty things, well done.'"
Mom loved books.
Under her bed were three large boxes filled with books. Beside her bed was a bookshelf overflowing with many more. Mom knew that she would probably never read any of them again, but she wanted them near, like old friends. There were books on history, biography, hymnbooks, Bibles, novels, travel, etc.
Education was a priority for mom, there were books on how children learn, how to teach children. The Crossroads Nursery School, which she helped to found, was a big part of her life for over 30 years. For years we ran a branch of the Somerset County Library on our back porch.
Mom never stopped being curious about the world, what was going on in it and how we saw it. When I called she always wanted to know what my kids (in school) were up to and how I was getting along as a new teacher.
Mom loved to collect stories of people's lives, obstacles they'd overcome or triumphs they had reached. Sometimes they were in poems, sometimes poems she wrote herself. I found in her desk a poem she wrote about me going off to school in the fall of 1971. She knew me; then and now.
Among the other papers in her desk were letters and cards, some from the 1950's that she just could not bear to part with.
When we cleaned out Mom & Dad's house at Hickory Hill in 1996 it was hard on Mom. It seemed she had saved just about every card or letter that anyone had ever sent to her. As she and I were attempting to deal with this enormous volume of material she wanted to open each card, read the contents carefully, explain the life circumstances she had been in when it came to her and the entire life story of the sender. Such encyclopedic knowledge going back 50+ years was impressive for someone recovering from congestive heart failure. But at the time it was also a little overwhelming. Once she and Dad had left the house we gathered up something like 32 enormous garbage bags of friendship and connections (from just the upstairs alone). But I opened each card, I looked in each envelope before we discarded it because you never knew what you might find...
Mom loved her friends.
"Up home" at Mount Fern, outside of Dover, Mom was raised in a community. She knew her neighbors and they knew her. She could drive down the street and tell you who lived where, what their story had been and who they were related to. How many of us could do that in our current neighborhood?
Mom kept in touch with her schoolmates from Dover High and Newark Normal School. As recently as last fall Mom attended a reunion at what is now Kean College of Education. Mom's friends from her early teaching days, including Lottie Field, remained in "her circle" as she grew older.
In the summers we'd go on Airstream trailer trips and Mom was often "along for the ride." But she was the one who made the social contacts and kept the addresses and maintained the friendships over the years.
A few years ago I was on a business call with someone in Ainsworth, Nebraska. After concluding the business at hand I mentioned that I didn't get to talk to anyone in Ainsworth very often and what a pleasant town it was. The caller inquired how I knew the town and I said that we had old friends from our trailer days who lived there and I had visited several times. She inquired of their name and when I told her Howard and Irene Dixon, we were both stunned because that was her pastor and she knew them well. Without Mom's love of friends it would have been just another call.
Mom kept in touch with the communities she and Dad lived in through the years, Staten Island, Yardley, Bernardsville. In her desk were photos, cards and letters from all those places. Many of the senders are now gone themselves, but none were forgotten in Mom's eyes.
Mom loved her family.
Mother was a Spargo, her mother's people, who were Cornish miners turned stout New Jersey dairymen.
Her Dad had been a crackerjack bookeeper and she loved him deeply and kept in touch with distant cousins among the Briants. When I asked her one time what she longed to see most when she got to heaven, after Jesus, she responded immediately, "My dad." It was a reunion for which she deeply longed.
I learned more of the Dobbs family history from Mom than I did from Dad, actually. She had memorized and kept alive the stories of them all.
Mom made a warm home for us all, which we all thought was normal... until we got out in the world.
We children ... (until middle childhood I thought my name was "JanjimsteveDOUG") were all in her desk. The letters we sent home she kept. We moved out of her nest into the great wide world of high school, college, the military and life on our own, but Mom always had a place for us. A favorite Mom phrase was, "Once a mother hen, always a mother hen."
The grandchildren filled her life as time progressed. In the desk was an envelope with $120 cash that Carrie had given to Mom and Dad for expenses on a trip in 1982. On the outside of the envelope Carrie had written, "This is for expenses and 'putting up' with me." Mom's neat handwriting replied, "Carrie, we never had to 'put up' with you. You were a joy to have along. Love always, Grandma" Mom had written the note, then tucked it safely away in her desk, where it sat for the last 23 years.
In the desk were John's crayon drawings, Sarah's graduation program from Amherst, photos of David and Katie. A Christmas picture with my godson Lee was tucked in the corner of her mirror. And there were prized pictures from the great grandchildren, Matilda and Phoebe, galore!
Mom loved history.
The history of her family was a living thing for mom. Passed down from parent to child for almost 400 years was an oral history in which I have yet to find factual errors or exaggerations. When asked how this had been managed she promptly replied, "We washed dishes together. Aunt Sis washed and I dried and we'd listen to Mom tell us stories."
Among her papers were the funeral service of her grandmother; photos of her mother, grandmother and aunts at many stages of life; letters from extended family chock full of news from Arizona or New Mexico. In her Aunt Hallie's spidery handwriting is a history of the Spargos and the Davenports going back to the 1750's.
Mom also loved the history of her country. How many of us keep a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in our desks? Mom did. There were stories from the Revolutionary War, histories of Morris County, the proclamation of Bedminster Township to she and Iva Herzog for 36 years of distinguished service on the Board of Elections.
Mom loved her church.
Among her papers were countless church bulletins with notes of little "gems" she had gleaned from this sermon or that song. There were notes on Women's Guild meetings where she had served others; and notes from them in service to her.
Mom loved the Lord Jesus Christ.
Her love for Him drove her beliefs and actions and her identity. Despite over 50 years of membership in the Reformed Church in America she will always be to us children our "Methodist Mother." Her faith gave shape and purpose to her life. Service to others marked her life; service not for its own sake, but as an act of worship to God.
Mom also felt the tension between the "ought to's" of religion and the "want to's" of everyday life. Mom had a realistic faith, not merely pie in the sky religion. She recognized that in our "natural state" we are separated from God, we want OUR way, not HIS way.
In the early 1970's Mom began to attend the Christian Women's Club in Morristown, NJ. That drew her into a Bible study which she loved to attend and later led. Mom became aware that for all her good works, it was still not enough to get her close to God. She realized that religion could not fill the need she felt. She knew her heart was rebellious towards God, and she was helpless to fix that on her own. She needed to be rescued, to have someone pay her debt. In a word we don't often use these days, she confronted her sin.
She could never pin it down to an exact day, but sometime in 1971 Mom began to agree with God's assessment of her condition and accepted His help, His provision, His payment for her rebellion, His healing, His forgiveness, His undeserved favor given to those who will come to Christ's cross and accept that gift.
This brought her peace in trying times, but more than that it brought her peace with God. It was foundational to her life ever after.
As Mom and I would talk about her death over the years, she never wavered in her assurance of how sufficient God's provision was for her. She was often unsure about dying, the transition that lay ahead of her then. She was ALWAYS unsure about her own unworthiness of God's love (a good thing, according to the Bible). But rarely was she unsure about her ultimate destination for it was based on His promises, not her performance.
As I held her hand in her final hour, I have no doubt that when she let go of my hand, she took the hand of her Lord.
Which brings us to today.
The Bible says,
"All we like sheep have gone astray..."
Just like sheep we wander off, a little bite here, a little bite there, just looking for the next mouthful. Not caring how far out we get from the Shepherd. Dad used to raise sheep and they were always a chore to keep fenced in.
"We have turned every one to his own way..."
I am a willful man. How often I seek to solve problems my own way, rather than be still and see what God has to say on an issue!
"But the Lord has laid on HIM, the penalty for us all."
The Good News is that God has opened a way back to the Shepherd if we will but accept it.
Perhaps today will be the day you will accept God's assessment of your condition.
"We have gone astray."
and accept God's remedy
"that He took upon Himself the penalty for our rebellion at the cross."
And you too, today, can
the HOPE mom felt, even in the face of death itself;
the PEACE she knew, despite the indignities and infirmities of age;
the LOVE that she gave to us all.
We can greive for our loss, but let's not grieve for Mom; she wouldn't want that.
With the Apostle Paul she would today tell you, that for those who are partakers in God's forgiveness "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."
In 1974 Mom and Dad took a trip to England and in preparation for that she left behind instructions in case something ill should befall her. I found it while going through her desk this week. After describing the sort of service she wanted, the hymns and the details of how to dispose of her earthly belongings she wrote the following, and I will close with this, just as she did:
So on this 27th day of March in the year of our Lord 1974, I state my wishes for my family's use. Thank you for your love and making my life the joy it has been. There have been hard times but they have made me grow inside. I love you all and that can never die. I look forward to that day when we shall all be together in that world where we shall be with Jesus and we will have no other need. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost -- Amen.