My Stepmother Passed Away

This morning my father called from across the country to tell me that his wife of 40 years — my stepmother since I was 10 — had passed away.

The chemotherapy for her cancer proved too much.

This woman was the first person who ever showed me what real work is. She had been raised as poor as poor gets in northern rural Minnesota; farm people who dig at ice and pray it grows food. At 15 she ran away from home to Minneapolis; two days into that unimagineably big city and she had herself a full-time job as a secretary: She looked 18, was deadly beautiful, and smarter than any four people combined. And she knew enough about how the world worked to start making it work for her for a change.

She must have been around 30 when she married my dad in 1968. When they met, my dad was already divorced from my mother. He was a Big Deal Actor in the San Francisco Bay Area, which even then was famous for the quality and diversity of its regional theater. He was a leading leading man, looking majestically cool in his black turtlenecks and sideburns; she was — as people who were in their 30′s in 1968 still tended to think of it — a real bombshell.

She took an acting class he was teaching, and was smitten.

“The minute I saw your father,” she once told me, “I swooned. Swooned! I simply could not believe my eyes. He was the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen.” She pulled in her breath. “And when I found out he was single?” She stared at me, meaning to convey the enormity of her incredulity, and I saw flashing in her eyes that same resolve that had once set her walking away from her family’s land toward a life she knew could only be better. “Well,” she said, “I knew that was going to end. I said to myself, ‘Annie, that man is going to be your husband.’”

Within a year my dad had a new wife, my sister and me a new mother.

Literally, too: My dad and his new wife legally adopted my sister and me: in a day, they became to whom we came home from school.

My sister left our Home 2.0 when she was 15 years old. I lasted until I was sixteen.

Nobody’s fault. Life is hard. Things happen. We all spin like crazy from hits we never even saw coming.

Once I left my house I didn’t have much contact with my father or stepmother for the next 20 or so years. Then (at 38) I became a Christian — and so became a generally kinder, more patient person. So I began writing my dad and Ann letters. After a while they invited my wife and me out to their home. So we went, and spent a week with them.

It was a trip. I had become a stranger to my own father–and to the woman who had basically been my mother for seven or so years. But we all had a lovely time; my parents and I weren’t, after all, total strangers.

And my wife cracked my dad up — my dad, who spent his life making others laugh. Whom no one is funnier than.

It’s a fine thing, to watch your father gazing at your wife with love and respect. Watching him watching her that way engendered in me a combination of emotions I had not known before.

My wife and I visited them again the following year. That was the last time we saw my step-mother.

She called me, for the first time ever, about a year ago. She had read my book, “Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do the Things I Do,” by God (as told to John Shore.) She wanted me to know that the book had awakened in her a desire to go to church. She sounded like maybe she was crying — except she was also clearly joyous. She sounded like a little girl.

“I can just go to church, can’t I?” she said. “Just to go?” That’d be all right, wouldn’t it?

“Of course you can,” I said. “Yes, absolutely.”

“You don’t think the sins of my past would somehow automatically keep me out?”

“No,” I said, “I’m sure they wouldn’t.”

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • samwrites2

    John,

    My condolences at your loss. I hope and pray there's yet one more family reunion coming.

    -Sam

  • Ray Searan

    John I am so sorry to hear about the death of your step mother. Please know that our prayers and thoughts are with you and your family during this time. If there is anything that we can do other than pray, please don't hesitate to let us know.

    Blessings,

    Ray

  • http://working-diva.blogspot.com ElleBee

    What a beautiful memoir of your stepmother. My heart and prayers are with you and your family.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com Skerrib

    What a beautiful story.

  • http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com Byron

    John,

    Oh man, what a story, so nicely done. I am sure you grief deeply, but yet—"we spin…" What a line. I guess that puts a twist into the sadnesses. It is wonderful to hear that your faith and newfound generosity opened the door to some new contacts there. Wow.

    Just today at Ingram Book distributors I was telling the order taker about your books, since comma sense, itself, is a pretty funny title. She said, "I'll have to check those out." Maybe she'll end up in church, well punctuated.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing about your life and times. This was good.

  • http://www.sheppardministries.com Greta Sheppard

    A beautiful ode to your step-mother, John.

    You will be experiencing a grace you haven't needed till now.

    Cherish every moment of what is given freely to you by God in times like this. Peace to handle possible regrets! The 'if only's' that want to haunt us when we lose some one special.

    God bless you and Cat with a special relationship with your father.

    He will need you now.

    Greta

  • Leif Sr.

    John,

    I'm sorry for your loss. My mother passed away a few years back and it was an emotional time for all of us. It's cool to hang on to the good memories.

    Blessings.

    Leif Sr.

  • http://www.todayscoolnews.com Brian Shields

    John:

    You and your family will remain in my agnostic prayers.

  • Trace

    Your story is lovely.

    I, too, have a stepmother. Mine showed up when I was about 5. My brother and I saw her and my father rarely. I grew as far apart from them as I could. We became strangers.

    One day, when I was about 29 years old, single and childless, I suddenly realized my stepmother had been about 27, widowed and childless, when she married my dad and we showed up. Very suddenly the scary woman who for 22 years had been clueless and cold became a young woman who had been truly clueless and terrified. I wanted to send her flowers.

    Since then, my brother, his family and I have spent some time with my dad and my stepmother. We’ve all gotten to know each other again. We’ve discovered that we actually like each other in our much less hideous adult forms.

    This year, at 36, I’ve gone from single and childless to married with two stepchildren of my own. I am clueless. I am terrified. I am so lucky to have her. She always knows what to do. Now I want to go to her house and grow her flowers, pluck them from their delicate stems, and lay the petals down at her feet.

    What the love of God can do to a human heart.

    Our prayers are with you and your father.

  • http://www.tracetalks.blogspot.com Tracey

    Hey John,

    So sorry to hear your news. Keep well.

    Blessings,

    -tracey-

  • http://www.praisefree.com Sukky Fagbohun

    John,

    May God comfort you and your family at this time. You are in my prayers.

    I am particularly touched by the impact your book had on your Stepmother. You succeeded in touching her life even in your absence. What a great blessing it is, to be an author with a purpose.

    Be Blessed,

    Sukky.

  • http://www.barethoughts.com/blog tam

    I am so sorry for yours and your family's lose. The words you have written are beautiful… I thank you for showing this glimspe into your life with such heart and grace, and so very heartwarming to see your positive, focus on the good and fun, attitude is still with you on what must be a very hard time in your life.

    Trace – I must say your story also touched me. I am so glad that time and life has shown you another side of your step-mother that was hard to see as a child. I am glad you know have the relationship with her that you now do. Treasure it (although i think you do not need that advice).

  • http://mizthinz.multiply.com Thinz

    sorry to hear about your step mom..

    my prayers are with you & your family…

  • http://maymee.multiply.com MM

    Prayers from across the globe. My condolences to you and your whole family.

  • http://anushankarn.blogspot.com,http://anushankarn.wordpress.com Anu

    my condolences at your loss. i lost my father when i was 5, and thank God for leaving me my mother… she never re-married, and now that I am married myself, I appreciate her a lot more…..

  • http://writingcanvas.wordpress.com Loni

    Since finding your site, I cannot believe how much I can relate to your emotions. Though our stories differ, they intertwine as well. I shared with you about our 16 year old son that died (and you sent some readers my way – thank you). My mom died about 8 months before my son died. We too went our different ways – but it was more my mom’s choice. But the last year of her life, she finally read my letters and kept pictures of my kids. Now I hear from my dad. I got my first birthday & Christmas card from him in over 20 years this past year. We had our 12th baby this past year – this was the first baby ever acknowleged. So along with you, as I read between the lines, to anyone who reads this, don’t give up on your loved ones. It make take years, but family is worth it. Thank you for sharing again. I am sorry about the death of your step mom- who was a beautiful mother to you in many ways. I am thankful with you for reconcilliation. I am sure heaven is rejoicing.

    Loni

  • Elizabeth

    John,

    I am sorry to hear the news of your stepmother’s passing… We will certainly be keeping you and your family in prayer. May He grant you the peace that passes all understanding as you grieve this loss.

    Beautiful story… I am sure that she will be sorely missed.

    God bless you in the days ahead.

    Elizabeth and H.H.

  • Samhain

    My deepest condolences. Our prayers be with you and your family and friends.

  • Catherine Howell

    I am so sorry for your loss. It is wonderful that you saw each other and reconciled. It is also an awesome testimony how your book touched her! I pray comfort would envelope your family with the comfort that can only come fromn The Lord, Himself!!

    Peace and Blessings,

    Cathy Howell

  • http://www.1truebeliever.wordpress.com wickle

    Wow … this has a lot of emotion in it. I'm not sure what to say, except that this is an amazing story, and I'm sorry for your loss. On the other hand, it sounds like you did bless each other's lives in the later years.

    You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  • http://dontknowwhaturlmeans?sorry Penlee

    Sorry to hear of your stepmother’s passing know that because of where you are in the Lord you will have the assurance of knowing that she is “present with the Lord” after reading that lovely story of her.

    Also please tell me what URL means?

    God richly bless you all and your family.

  • Burt

    God continues to touch you and use you to bless others. His grace is sufficient.

  • http://lisamm.wordpress.com lisamm

    I'm so sorry for your loss.

  • Arnette

    You have my deepest sympathies…Iyou just don't know how much of a kindred spirit I feel in you, John. I have a stepmother who is much like yours was and whose spirit was as big and full of life-one who is caring for my dad and will until God sees fit to take one of them home.

    I thank the Lord that He gave you a chance to get to know your parents when you could see them through "big boy eyes" and appreciate them both. Some people are left with a bunch of "what-ifs" but you KNOW they were good people and one thing's for sure, you saw to it that she had an extra chance to give her life to God. You should be proud. That's what it's all about. I'm praying for you and your family and for the peace that surpasseth all understanding.

  • Kelly

    I mourn with you Brother.

    I see most of all through your story the power of love, which IS our main calling. The Holy Spirit empowered you to love them and reconcile. That mantle of love on you & Cat moved on their hearts to admire, accept and love back. Your step-mom, because of omnipotent love, was open to Him. You weren't saved for just yourself, my friend.

    Kelle Belle

  • Emily

    Dear John,

    I am very sorry about the loss of your step-mother. It was cool to see how you allowed God to work in your heart in reconciling with your parents.

    Sincerely,

    Emily

  • Pastor David

    John, I also come out of one of those 'blended' families. I also left home in my teens. I also lost one of my parental figures. Just trying to say 'know how you feel!' I always wonder, how does the rest of the world make it in times like these – those people who do not have the peace, love, joy, and HOPE. How do they make it when they loose someone important? That is why I keep telling the story, casting out my net to try to catch people for Jesus.

    May He give you deep strength in these sad days.

    Blessings

  • Sabina

    John,

    I'm sorry to hear of your loss, but appreciate hearing your story of her. she was amazing! and you are too!

  • http://www.savemenot.wordpress.com Samanthamj

    John,

    I'm also sorry to hear of your loss. It's never easy. She and your father sound like pretty special people. I'm glad they had each other and that you were able to reconnect with them after so long. It's funny how differently we see our parents as we age ourselves… They suddenly become real people as you look at them thru older, wiser, more accepting, more understanding and loving eyes… but the love was really always there… and always will be.

    ~smj

  • dsilkotch

    She sounds like an extraordinary person. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  • giudiciwriting

    Thanks for the message, and congratulations on having developed such a caring community of friends as the folks who have responded to your moving email.

    Your stepmom sounds like the kind of person who might even be intrigued as she embarks on The Ultimate Adventure.

    Take care and keep up the good work!

    Carey

  • http://melcartera.wordpress.com melcartera

    Hello, brother.

    My deepest condolences. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman! It is indeed encouraging to read that your book moved her so much.

    Perry and I pray that you, Cat, and your Dad have a special experience of God’s love and comfort at this special time. May each of you feel His loving embrace and hear His tender whispers.

    With much love and prayers,

    Mel

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    My wife Cat and I have read each and every one of these most touching messages, and want very much to express our gratitude to each of you for saying what you have. That you would all say such beautiful things is extremely touching, almost oddly comforting, and even a little astonishing. From the bottom of our hearts we thank each and every one of you.

  • Hjordes

    I'm sorry for your loss, John and Cat. It was a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • http://andychristensen.wordpress.com Andy Christensen

    John,

    I am sorry for your loss. I pray for you and your family to experience God’s comfort and strength.

    It sounds like the love of Christ in you has enabled you to be a blessing to your stepmother and to your whole family.

    “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake….Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23)

    Andy

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    You life and your words create a beautiful picture of grace.

    And I can totally see how Penguins would create that kind of reaction.

  • http://www.earlwadejr.com Joe Wade

    I am sorry to hear of your loss, but happy that you have such a wonderful, loving family.

  • http://thestateofamerica.wordpress.com Daniel

    The happy ending of your personal story begins in heaven. For now, I add my prayers with others asking Jesus to be a listening ear and comfort to your heart and to that of your family and especially your Dad.

  • http://www.robinsonwalchef.com Shawn Walchef

    John:

    My Grandfather (the Bulgarian Buddah) and I are terribly sorry for your loss. We truly appreciate your faith and will be praying for you and your family.

    Sincerely,

    Shawn and Luben Walchef

  • Angela

    A beautiful tribute, John – to your step-mother, to your father, and to our God.

    Thank you.

  • Angela

    "Nobody’s fault. Life is hard. Things happen. We all spin like crazy from hits we never even saw coming."

    These are a few words that say so much. Thank you for this.

  • Judy Brown

    John,

    My deepest sympathy for your family. My prayers go up and out to you and your family

  • http://www.squidoo.com/coolmoney John

    Sorry to hear. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  • Cathy

    So sorry for your loss. May God hold you in His arms as you and your family experience this part of your life, and may your step-mom sing and dance with the angels. Thank you for sharing.

  • Second Michele

    John, I'm terribly sorry. God bless you.

  • Brian

    John, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, and the prayers of all of us, including my wife and kids are with you, with your father and everyone else in your family – especially your stepmom. I wish there was more we could do, but I know prayer goes a long way. And again, you and your family have ours. – Brian

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  • http://arewestillcool.blogspot.com cool dad

    I’m sorry about the loss, John. Praise God that He healed your relationship with your father and step-mother and that He clearly used you to minister into her life.

  • sheryl

    Mr. Shore I am sorry about the loss of your stepmother. Thank you for sharing her story. She sounds like a fabulous lady. I'm glad that she sought God, and that your story, entitle "Penguins , Pain, and the Whole Shebang" made an impact on her. My thoughts and prayers are with your family during this difficult time.

    Sheryl

  • Thankful

    I MAKE HAPPY ENDINGS…

    GOD

    How great of God to lead you back home to touch your step mother in such a special way that she turned back toward Him. Though no words may ever be spoken, your father watched how your faith healed, encouraged and motivated. He is grateful for you, as is your heavenly father. You do His work beautifully.

    I'm am so sorry for your loss John. Praying for you…

    I can't help imagining the story she's telling everybody up there. How God orchestrated everything, timed it perfectly, inspired just so; and it went exactly as planned…what a beautiful, happy ending.

    The Plan…. Jeremiah 29:11.

  • Nyanso

    I am sorry John, My deep thought are with you and your family! God gave, and now he has taken away! May his name be greatly praised!

    Amen

    May I ask you something? Where did your mother go!

    Greetings to your family!

  • Nyanso

    Thanks a lot for a beautiful story, sad though

    God bless you

  • JOANNA

    I LUVED WHAT YOU SAID ABOUTE YOUR STEPMOTHER I NEVER HAD ONE BEFOR I ALWAYS THOUT THAT THERE MEAN AND AND THAT THEY WONT LOVE YOU AS YOU WANT WELL THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL……

  • Kazakhnomad

    I too am a stepmother and happen to be from NW MN, so I can relate to your Ann story and perhaps to your pain in her passing. I hope that my stepchildren will remember me in the same way you gave Ann tribute when I go to be with the Lord. Thanks!

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