Sunday, December 3, 2000

Tribute to my grandmother Betty Ford

To: Suzanna, Erin, Anna and Gabrielle

Today, Dec. 3, 2000, at approximately 4:00 PM, Betty Elaine Baumberger Ford, passed away in a nursing home in Atlanta Georgia with Arlene Ford by her side. She had suffered a severe systemic staph infection and spent a month in hospital, finally being released last Monday into a nursing care facility. She had been in great pain during most of that time until 3 days before her death when doctors finally prescribed medication which brought some relief. She knew that Jeff and Arlene were near and helping her as much as they could. She also knew that she was loved. Her wishes that she be cremated will be carried out without any service or viewing at this time. Her ashes will be kept for possible future as yet undetermined memortial service and disbursement. I love her and I am thankful that her suffering is over.

Her second daughter, Dianna



I got your phone message this evening. Thank you for the call. I knew what it was going to be when I saw your number on the Caller ID. I assume that in the condition that Mother was in, living didn't have much more to offer. Perhaps she is better off now. Even so, I feel terribly alone without parents. I sincerely thank you and Arlene for talking care of Mother for the last 25 years and especially this last year. What were her last wishes?




Mother had a very difficult last month and it is a blessing at this time that her suffering is now over. Over her last four days she was given morphine to reduce her discomfort and at the time of her passing she did not show any signs of pain. For that I am greatful.

Concerning her wishes, mother never wanted any fuss to be made. She was always frugal in her conduct and never wanted to be a bother or burden to her family.

She explicitly stated that she did not want a religious ceremony. The only time that I was able to get any specific wish related to the handling of her remains was on a visit I made years ago when Arlene and I were still in Chicago. I took her to a restuarant in Santa Barbara, on top of a hill overlooking the bay on a typically beautiful California day. She told me that she would like to have her ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean off the Santa Barbara pier. Our mother loved California and Santa Barbara was a beautiful and majestic place that symbolized that special quality that California represented to her. Years later she said that it really did not matter that much to her what happened to her remains. However, I believe that it did matter to her and my intention is to do exactly what she had requested. It is my way of honoring her and to express my unconditional love for her.

I do not yet have a specific time frame to carry out her wish and I do not feel rushed to make a quick decision in this regard. These details can be worked out over time and anyone that wishes to participate can let me know and I will try to make accommodations. I intend on writing a eulogy for mother which I can read before the spreading of the ashes. Anyone that wishes to write some sentiments they want expressed at that time can either participate directly or I will be happy to read those sentiments on their behalf.

We all owe a great deal of gratitude to Arlene. The care and kindness that she showed mother over the 35 years she has known her has been remarkable. But even that pales in comparison to her recent devotion. Arlene worked extremely hard to help relocate mother to be close to us in Atlanta as her health made it impossible for her to continue to live independently. Once in Atlanta, Arlene spent countless hours four and five days a week to help mother make the adjustment. Once mother became hospitalized on November 2, Arlene was at the hospital almost every day for hours at a time to try and provide comfort to her. In the 30 or so days that followed the hospitalization, Arlene maybe missed 3 or 4 days, and only when I was able to spend time with mother on the weekends. Our mother loved Arlene dearly and rightfully so. Arlene was with mother when she took her last breath and made sure that the last thing that mother heard was that we loved her. Arlene is the one who deserves the thanks. You can thank me for marrying Arlene.



Tomorrow morning Arlene and I fly to LA to meet up with Joel and Corey. On Sunday (07/01/2001) we will have a brief ceremony on a charter boat and spread mother's ashes in the Pacific ocean. I put together a eulogy and we will be reciting a few poems. I will carry your love for mother on the boat with me. (along with some dramamine tablets, because both Corey and I are notorious for needing them) I've attached the eulogy and poems that we will be using. If you are thinking about it around 12:30pm on Sunday PST, you can join in as well.

Betty Baumberger Ford
Born: April 2, 1920
Died: December 3, 2000

Today, July 1st 2001, we have returned to California to commemorate the life of Betty Baumberger Ford, and to spread her ashes off the coast of Santa Barbara. It is always difficult to summarize a life, we each carry different memories and experiences. Today I wish to honor my mother as I remember her. My beloved wife, Arlene, and our two wonderful sons, Joel and Corey, are with me to pay tribute to her and to fulfill my commitment to return her spirit and remains to the place she loved the best.

My mother loved California, the golden sunshine, the cool ocean breezes, a quality of life that begged for independence and freedom. We had lived in California earlier in the late 1950's when I was growing up. It was one of the happier periods in my mother's life with our family still intact. By the early 1960's we had moved away. But in 1984, when she lived near my own young family in Atlanta, I told her I was being transferred to California and that I would move her as well so she could continue to live close to us. It was a joyous day for my mother. ...and now, and forever, she returns again to California.

Born in St. Louis, raised in San Antonio, abandoned by her father, Charlie, before she was 5 years old, and despite being struck by lightning when she was 6, my mother had a happy childhood. She learned to play the piano and was musically talented. She and her younger sister, Sweety, sang and danced together as children, performing at functions all over town.

In high school the two sisters enjoyed the popularity that you might expect two attractive, talented young women might have. It was a happy time, before responsibilities got too heavy, when you could enjoy the vitality and physical joy of youth, when all the parts still worked, when movement was fluid and effortless, when you could almost fly like a bird.

She fell in love with my father right after high school, became a military wife, and during the war years, while my father was serving and defending our country, she began the work of raising the family. Being a military wife meant moving every couple of years, leaving close friends and beginning anew. It meant being separated for long periods of time from the husband you loved. It meant most of the burden of child rearing came to rest on her shoulders. Certainly not an easy time. But my mother was fiercely loyal to her children and protected and nurtured us in the best way that she could.

Unfortunately, she developed a drinking problem during this period that became a major disruptive force within our family. The day before she died, she told me she wished that she could have controlled it, and she tried to express her regret for the pain that she knew she had caused. I told her I understood, that I forgave her, and that I loved her.

I came along on her 30th birthday and we shared a special relationship because of this bond. We were more alike then not. I got my determination to succeed and competitive nature from my mother, I got my high aspirations from my mother, and I also got my temper from my mother. We inherit both the good and the bad. We are linked with our past, and I understood my mother because I am a reflection of her.

She loved sports and encouraged me to excel. She demanded the best from me and supported me with an outward enthusiasm that, at times, was embarrassing to me, as her shouting voice rose above the crowd cheering me on in my athletic endeavors.

Once I left home, being the youngest, my father divorced my mother after years of periodic separations and a new phase of our relationship began. As I started my own family, my mother became a grandmother to my boys when we moved her to Atlanta to be close to us. She was a terrific grandmother and took care of the boys as our permanent baby sitter. She loved our boys and demonstrated a side of her parenting that, although I benefited from it myself as a child, I could not recognize until I had a different vantage point.

Joel and Corey were a source of great pride for my mother. She enjoyed helping to raise them and marveled at the fine young men they became. I am grateful that she got to see both of them one last time over Thanksgiving, one week before she died. It was further proof of her life's contributions. I wish her other grandchildren could have known her on that same level.

When she moved to Atlanta 24 years ago, she also started on the road to conquer her drinking problem and finally succeeded. Her drinking problem masked many of her wonderful traits and blinded those around her to the positive qualities she possessed. When her mother, Muddy, passed away, Hobart, her step-father, established a trust fund for my mother. Because of my mother's drinking problem, Hobart did not trust her to handle money matters. He locked up the trust fund monies so tightly that she never really benefited much from the inheritance. Yet, for the last 30 years of her life, she managed her own finances in such a way that she was able to live on a bare subsistence income. She learned to do without. Her only luxury was a TV.

Besides her declining health, my mother's single most challenging assignment was how to make the money last. She did a remarkable job. Hobart would have been amazed at the job that she did. Before she died, I told her how proud I was of her accomplishment. I think this gave her some relief in her final days of pain as she reflected back on her life. She knew she had done well with her money situation and that she had not become a burden to her children.

When I moved my family from California to Chicago in 1989, I again offered to move her with us. She decided that she would remain in California instead since the climate in Chicago would be too harsh for her arthritis. Plus, she loved California and really never wanted to leave.

She spent 11 years in California, living alone, with no family nearby to care for her. It was her choice. It was her way of saying that she could take care of herself, that she was going to remain independent as long as she could. Her arthritis condition degenerated dramatically over that 11 year period and caused her great pain and discomfort. Her hands became virtually useless and her ability to walk severely limited. She could no longer cook for herself or go to the store on a regular basis. She had to subscribe to a meal service which delivered her almost the exact same meal every day for years. She could not afford a better service. But she did not complain or ask for help. She gritted her teeth, the few she had left, and made the best of her situation.

Always independent and filled with courage and defiance, my mother did not choose to be alone without a companion in her later life, but she adapted to it. Her greatest fear was in becoming a burden to her children. In her last ten years, she complained much too infrequently when she really needed help with her physical ailments.

Arlene and I visited her in early 2000 and I was shocked at her deterioration. We made the decision to move her to Atlanta to be closer to us so that she could receive better care. Although I knew she never wanted to leave California, and that she never wanted to become a burden to us, she also was desperate for assistance and consented to the move. The move itself was difficult. Arlene was magnificent in making this transition as painless as possible. My mother loved and respected Arlene for her kindness and kept claiming that Arlene was "the smartest woman I have ever met." Of course, I kept reminding my mother that being married to the smartest woman has got to qualify me for being the smartest man.

We tried hard to improve her condition and make her as comfortable as possible. We had made good progress and I was hopeful we would have a few more years together and we could bring her some happiness. Arlene saw her almost daily and I spent time with her on the weekends. She jealously watched her tennis, one of her last passions, and disciplined herself everyday to make it through yet another crossword puzzle to keep her mind alert. She registered to vote, determined to once again support the Democratic party and made sure she got her ballot mailed in time.

Then she developed an infection that her body could not fight off and we had to put her into the hospital. Five painful weeks later, she was gone. She was courageous during the whole period, but eventually desperate to stop the suffering.

She lived her life with dignity and courage. She handled her daily pain with true grit and determination. I admire her and respect her for that. And for being my mother, well for that, I love her unconditionally.

She is now free at last, free from the arthritic pain, free from the crippling movement of deformed joints, free from the worry of financial constraints. At the end of her journey with us she knew she was loved, she knew she was forgiven, and she did not die alone.

Today, we release her spirit back to her golden California, where she can bask in the sun and feel that cool ocean breeze, where she can sing and dance once again,

...where she can fly like a bird.

God Saw Her

God saw that she was getting tired,
And a cure was not to be.
So he put His arms around her
And whispered, "Come with me."
With tearful eyes we watched her suffer,
And saw her fade away.
She didn't deserve what she went through,
So we could not make her stay.
And when we saw her sleeping,
At peace and free from pain,
We could not wish her back
For her to suffer that again.
A golden heart stopped beating,
Her twisted hands at rest,
One last sigh she gave us all
She gave to us her best.
On Death

Speak to us now of death.
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death,
Open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one,
Even as the river and the sea are one.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the world and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing,
But to free the breath from its restless tides,
That it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence,
Shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top,
Then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs,
Then shall you truly dance.

Kahil Gibran

Some Time At Eve

Some time at eve when the tide is low,
I shall slip my mooring and sail away,
With no response to the friendly hail
Of kindred craft in the busy bay.
In the silent hush of the twilight pale,
When the night stoops down to embrace the day,
And the voices call in the waters' flow--
Some time at eve when the tide is low
I shall slip my mooring and sail away.

A few who have watched me sail away
Will miss my craft from the busy bay;
Some friendly barks that were anchored near,
Some loving souls that my heart held dear,
In silent sorrow will drop a tear--

But I shall have peacefully furled my sail
In moorings sheltered from storm or gale,
And greeted the friends who have sailed before
O'er the Unknown Sea to the Unseen Shore.

Elizabeth Clarke Hardy

Windward Passage

Beating against mediocrity,
always pointing high.

Sunshine warmth atop golden swells

Loving Breezes passing through

Flowing winds soaring fluid Wings

Flying Floating Dancing Free

Singing sweetly eternally,
memories anchored leeward key.

(in memory of Betty Baumberger Ford
written by her son Jeff)

Page first published by Erin Howarth at 21 Oct 2001
Re-published by Erin Howarth @ 24 July 2009