It is odd to touch death. Were it not for the heart, and the treasures of faith stored there, death’s cold stiffness would feel final. I have come to write about Mom’s passage to heaven, to speak to you with words of comfort about Anabel, and to share my reflections on her life—our life—as my Mom. I’m afraid to though. I’m afraid I won’t get the job done well. Nevertheless, I begin—knowing it will be imperfect.
I’m overwhelmed reading the comments about Mom at lifetime.org. Your notes to me at my Facebook are such an outpouring that I’m paralyzed to write a reply. “Thank you” seems worn, but it is the only blanket I find that feels warm as I think about where I am, where you are, and where my Mom is.
Mom needed to make her exit from life. She fell badly on October 2nd. She called me every day, at least once, usually several times. She started calling early on the 2nd, very early for a Saturday. I could hear her pain as she told me she had fallen and needed help getting up. I asked if she needed 911. Vintage Mom: “No. I just need you to come help me. I’ve hurt my arm and can’t roll over.”
I doubted her assessment of her situation. Mom tended to be either understated or overstated. With doubts rumbling in my brain, I turned on my emergency flashers and headed her direction. I broke a lot of rules driving to Mom’s house, which is interesting in reflection. Rules were made to be lived by in Mom’s estimation. That’s why she called me and not 911. In her mind, she needed help; she didn’t have an emergency.
The metal screen doors were locked on the house when I arrived. My key was useless. As I contemplated my situation for ten seconds, Mom called again to say her hip was also hurting. I called for an ambulance and broke into the house.
Mom looked like a squirrel that had been run over, except she was lying in the kitchen floor with her head mashed up against the base of the stove. As I straddled her body, touched her shoulder, reassured her, and waited for the emergency personnel to arrive, I asked her what happened.
For as long as I can remember—since I was a little kid—Mom periodically washed her hair in the kitchen sink. I don’t know why. She just did. And on the 2nd of October 2010, she decided to wash her hair in the kitchen sink. When she lifted her head, she became disoriented, danced around a bit trying to regain her balance, and then her feet kicked out from under her. Mom didn’t fall—she splatted.
I didn’t know the extent of Mom’s injuries at the time, but I sensed them as I stood over her. Come to find out, she broke her hip, her pelvis twice, and her elbow. The hip and elbow required surgery early the next day. Vintage Mom, she used her broken-elbow arm to reach into the front pocket of her jeans and call me.
I put my hand on Mom’s shoulder, touching her back carefully as I straddled her form. It was a helpless feeling. I wanted to reassure her and to comfort her, which I did, but they were grim assurances I don’t think I believed.
A few days prior, I gingerly broached the subject of a cane with Mom. I suggested she might use her cane when she stood up and sat down. “You know, Mom. It would give you three points to balance on. Once you are certain you are stable, you don’t have to use the cane. You can carry it by the shaft.” Adding for good measure, “If you don’t like the metal cane, there are all sorts of nice walking sticks we can get for you.” And for double measure: “I carry a walking stick when I’m by myself out in the woods, Mom. Just in case.”
Mom’s cane hangs today where it hung the day I made the suggestion she use it. Vintage Mom: On the morning of the 2nd, as I stood over her broken body, sirens screaming from both directions down Chelsea Drive, I asked Mom what happened. “I just lost my balance—but I didn’t need my cane!”
And she doesn’t, does she? I still do, and you do, and my brothers do. Because we are here and she is there. She is there with the One who took all brokenness and promised to make it right.
Anabel and I had a unique relationship. She and Bill (Dad) came to work for me in 1985. Prior to that, Dad and I worked together. Mom was around, and she and Dad did their conference gigs once a month, but that was the extent of her involvement; direct involvement, anyway. She was always involved, if you know what I mean, speaking strictly as her son.
But in 1985 our relationship shifted. It wasn’t dramatic, only sort of formal, but in retrospect I became son and boss while she became Mom and Anabel. Managing my mother was like managing a mountain river. She didn’t flow, she roiled.
The flash I saw from her green eyes as a child, I saw as she lobbied for her perspective and projects inside Lifetime Guarantee. The toughness that dug her mobile phone out of her pocket, in spite of a broken elbow, was the toughness that determined to say what she needed to say, the way she wanted to say it, and to whom she felt she needed to speak to. The tenacity to endure the last five weeks of inexpressible suffering is the same tenacity she brought to writing one thought after another until she had written enough devotionals to cover more than a year.
Most of the last 36 days, Mom would instruct me to organize her hospital room and surroundings. She wanted everything orderly and cleaned up. This was the way my room had to be as a kid.
And it is the way her computer had to be at the office. No clutter. If there were files not doing anything meaningful, she wanted them gone. On three occasions that I can recall, she cleaned her computer hard drive. By the third occurrence I knew what I was going to find when she called for my assistance. “Pres, can you come help me with my computer? I’ve lost the file I was working on.”
These were the old days of personal computing—the days of DOS. Somewhere along the way, Mom picked up the command, “format,” and three times she used it at the DOS prompt. It is very hard as a son and a President to explain to your mother and an officer in the company that everything is gone.
For Mom, it was legal to come to the office wearing both her “mom” hat and her “office” hat. It wasn’t really fair, but neither was it unethical. It was vintage Mom: determined; passionate; intense. Mom didn’t live life or come to the office half way. She brought everything she had, every time, all the time.
Managing Anabel was a challenge and a demand that drove me frequently into late night discussions with Father God. But managing Anabel was also a privilege and a reward. The comments posted at lifetime.org about her life speak volumes—about her, but also about me, and us, the people who worked and lived alongside her.
I think I knew when Mom came to work for me in 1985 that my days as her son were largely over. Ministry was her life’s devotion. Dad too, for that matter. So when the family gathered, I wore my son hat to the occasion, but my work hat was never far from reach.
And this arrangement persisted with Mom and me—until October 2nd. On that morning, the world reverted back to what it once was, with only one hat apiece: mom and son.
Mom’s last five weeks were immensely difficult, but I think they were necessary. By that, I mean they were necessary for both of us to reset our relationship.
The work Mom, and Dad, and I did together through the ministry of Lifetime Guarantee was powerful. It was important to you, to them, and to me. It was consuming as well. The notion of leaving work at the office was a misnomer. Consequently, it was pervasive to our relationship.
Lifetime Guarantee demanded professionalism from the three of us. Behind closed doors, Bill and Anabel were Dad and Mom; publically, they were Bill and Anabel. Today, they are Dad and Mom.
When I transitioned Lifetime Guarantee Ministries to the next generation of leadership two years ago, I hoped that a collateral benefit would be that I could return to being Bill and Anabel’s son. Mom and I were getting there—sort of—but powerful relationships are difficult to redirect. Dad and I regained our familial balance pretty quickly as Parkinson’s began to exact its toll from him.
But for Mom and me, I guess we needed a more profound catalyst. With her big fall, we were catapulted back to the basic relationship that defined us from the start: mother and oldest son.
I don’t recall when I stopped holding Mom’s hand as a child. I guess it must have been early, but I remember when I started again: it was October 2nd, in the back of an ambulance. I don’t recall when I stopped kissing Mom aside from a rare peck on the cheek. But I know when I kissed her on the head and treated her as my Mom again—just my Mom, not the Co-Founder of an international ministry. It was on October 2nd in the emergency room at Baylor Hospital.
My brother called last night to ask me questions about Anabel’s professional life as he assembled her obituary. The information did not readily come to mind even though I thought about it every day for thirty years. I eventually referred him to the LGI website.
But there are details about Mom that are at the forefront of my memory—like her birthday, her favorite flowers, the birds she liked, and my favorite dishes she prepared. I know her favorite poems and can hear her playing Grieg’s, “Wedding Day at Trogholden,” on the piano. I hear her tune as she whistles while getting the house in order and move again to accommodate her asking me to relocate the bird feeder to outsmart the squirrels.
And in my younger days, I can still see her with her head bent over the kitchen sink washing her hair. It was an odd practice to me growing up, but I never questioned her habit. And had I known she was washing her hair in the sink on the morning of October 2nd, I wouldn’t have questioned her. It was probably safer than climbing in and out of the shower, but it was fateful, and it was the beginning of the end.
As is the case with anyone you live around for nearly fifty-five years, I have lots of memories of Mom. October 2nd was the second time I had seen Mom carried away in an ambulance due to a broken hip. The first time was in 1963, but she lived over that fracture—barely. Blood clots threatened her then, and they threatened her again last month.
There were lots of hospitals during Mom’s final days. In fact, I was introduced to hospitals that I didn’t even know existed. I’ve learned things I would just as soon not know about: transfusions, Hospice, “Do Not Resuscitate” orders, the tenuous balance between pain management and blood pressure, to name a few. I’ve wrestled with life and death, articulated my thoughts to my brothers, and then turned to the doctor and made life-altering decisions as medical power of attorney.
I have rediscovered that the theories of life get hammered out in the living of life. It is humbling to espouse an eternal belief before crowds of people as I have done, and then flinch when the nurse reports Mom’s oxygen saturation is 50% of normal and her appendages are turning blue. “My recommendation is that she be sent to the hospital now, Mr. Gillham. Do you concur?”
Mom did not die for lack of oxygen, but it looked like she was going to on Saturday when her oxygen saturation dropped. I’ve not asked my brothers how they felt after the fact, but I felt like I was killing Mom when I declined to have her rushed downtown to one of the big hospitals.
In those moments, I didn’t have a crisis of faith regarding where Mom was going to spend eternity, but the application of my faith into life and upon death was challenged enough to give me pause. Big decisions, one after the other, concerning Mom’s (and Dad’s) wellbeing have dragged me into different catacombs inside my soul.
It is humbling to face a circumstance larger than the force of my spiritual confidence. I’m not used to that.
Death is formidable. I quoted the Scripture about death having no victory or sting, but in the end, only God faces down death. I am embarrassed that I flinched when tested and humbled by the divine mercy that patiently waited until I collected myself and sided with my eternal convictions over the temporal crisis.
Today, Mom is gone. God has made all things right for her, and my confidence of faith and trust in Christ Jesus have grown exponentially during her passage. Is there any greater treasure we can invest upon this terrestrial sphere than an eternal confidence that life is much more than the things we leave behind?
Mom leaves a number of things that will prove challenging to care for as the Executor of her estate. At the top of the list is her Bible. It was so precious to her here, but so unnecessary there that she left it. Close to the top will be her copy of "Streams in the Dessert," then perhaps her edition of "Grace in Ungracious Places," and the winnowing process will go on from there.
Ultimately, Mom and Dad’s lives will be resolved with an estate sale. More accurately, the stuff that made their lives comfortable and that create nostalgia for us will be sold. Their legacy—I shouldn’t speak of Dad in the past tense yet—her legacy is posted at the memorial page of lifetime.org, and that will not be liquidated. She might be forgotten, but that is our choice, not hers.
Mom lives—in heaven to be certain. But Mom lives in me, and she lives in you. She did a fabulous job of conveying what it means to trust Christ as her life. She and Dad together were unparalleled in delivering that message from Scripture. That is one reason I gave up being a son and chose to become a coach, and mentor, and their boss. Others did similarly, and in so doing, facilitated Anabel’s ability to articulate what was working itself out in her heart and life.
The message Mom wrote about, spoke about, and relayed in her devotionals at lifetime.org was not her message, and the Gillhams (me included) did not deliver a unique message; it was an old message delivered uniquely. It is an essential message that every one of us must grapple with, implement, and then if we are true to ourselves and to our belief, that we must transfer to the next generation.
Mom did this. Anabel did this. The transfer wasn’t perfect. It couldn’t be. Otherwise, none of us would have believed it was true that the infallible God lived within a fallible vessel of humanity with green eyes. You loved this about her, and in the end, I loved this about her as well.
There were incongruities in Mom. The Bible calls it the flesh, and just like the Book says, Mom’s flesh warred against the Spirit in her. As Mom said so often, publically, she was a performer. In the end, she wasn’t able to perform. In the end, she reached out for my hand and longed for one more kiss to reassure her that she was loved, accepted, and not alone.
It was good for Mom and me that life was reduced to such a tender reassurance. We were both too resolute, too head-strong, too much forces to be contended against, for too long to have laid all that aside, found each others’ hand, and allowed all that preceded and all that remained to be covered in a kiss.
In the end, I was struck by how human she was and I am, that though broken irreparably, life would coalesce into one vital concept essential for her the dying one and me the living one: mercy. Mercy together, mercy for each other, mercy from our Heavenly Father, and mercy as a way of life.
I have written a great deal about grace. My latest book, "No Mercy," is a book about grace—and the germination of mercy. Father is speaking often with me about this complement to grace. After the dust settles—in life and in the storm within my soul—I know that mercy will play a prominent role in my next book, the sequel to "No Mercy."
I began writing to you about my Mom and have concluded talking about myself, what I’m learning, and my next writing project. This is how it should be. If something remarkable—my Mom’s life—ended on November 7 at 12:30 PM in Room 113, then life the day after would always be less than remarkable.
I don’t believe that. I believe all that is noteworthy in her lives on in service to me and to you and to those who follow us. What is left behind an arm’s depth in the Oklahoma clay was broken beyond remedy and is rejoining the dust from which it was formed. What remains of Mom is noteworthy in that we live beyond because she lived here.
Thank God for the heart—for the capacity to bond, to connect, to remember, to hope, and to have faith. Thank God that everything is right for Mom, and that the placement of her remains in the Oklahoma dirt cries out to us through the ashes that everything will be right for us as well, and sooner than we might imagine.
Mom was born, Anabel Hoyle on May 10, 1928. She died, Anabel Hoyle Gillham on November 7, 2010. She leaves behind thousands who are better people because of her transparent sacrifice of thought, life, reputation, and story.
May we who come after follow her lead.