Murphy Henry

As some of you already know, on Friday, July 16, I lost my dear sweet Mama. Or as I called her “my little Mama Pajama.” She had had Alzheimer’s for several years but it was finally her congestive heart failure that took her. She was 85. Her death was not unexpected, but still these first weeks without her have been hard. Who is ever prepared to lose their mother?

Wynk Hicks (aka Mama, aka Grandmother) and Casey Henry. October 2008

Wynk Hicks (aka Mama, aka Grandmother) and Casey Henry. October 2008

As Fate would have it, my sisters and I and many of the nieces and nephews had already planned to be in Georgia that weekend for our annual Hiawassee picking party. We had known all week that Mama had been struggling with shortness of breath but she’d weathered so many storms in the last few years (including a heart attack) that we thought it entirely possible she would pull through again. One of the Greatest Generation, she was made of stern stuff. My sister Nancy, who was having her week-long summer visit with the parents, did a wonderful job of keeping us apprised of Mama’s condition, but neither she nor the Hospice nurse nor any of our round-the-clock caregivers had any idea that Thursday would be Mama’s last night.

The story of that last night, as it was told and retold during the weekend of the funeral, was filled with meaning. Mama, who for once was resting in bed, asked for the preacher. Nancy called him but he didn’t get the message. So Nancy and my sister Claire, who was there for the night, went back to the bedroom and read from the Bible, sang some songs, and had a prayer with her. Then Nancy asked Mama if she wanted to say a prayer. Mama said she did. And Nancy said it was as if her Alzheimer’s didn’t exist—she prayed a long, eloquent prayer as we had her do in church so many times before. Then Mama asked, “What’s the game plan for tomorrow?” Claire said, “What do you mean?” And Mama replied, “Tomorrow’s going to be a Big Day.” Still, at the time, we just didn’t know.

Our wonderful round-the-clock help, Rita and then Karen, each sat by Mama’s bed for a long time that evening and both later told us some of the things that Mama said. She looked for a long time at the big picture of us—her five daughters--that hangs on the wall near her bed and talked  about us. Mama said, “I’ve got doctors, and I’ve got teachers.” (And as I’m hearing the story I’m thinking, “What about me?”) And then Mama said, “And I’ve got musicians. Lots of musicians.” And she went on to say how proud she was of all of us and that we had “done a good job.” I felt like we had received her blessing.

She also told Rita that tomorrow she and her girls would be “stepping on the soil.” At the time, Rita thought that she might be referring to Heaven. But later Rita told us that she’d found out that “stepping on the soil” was an old country expression that referred to digging a grave and the soil was the earth which was thrown out onto the ground. (Have any of you heard that?)

Mama slept pretty well that night, with Karen close at hand, and early the next morning, Claire, who is one of the doctors, thought Mama was doing well enough for her to go back home to her work in Asheville, N.C. But when Nancy checked on Mama around 7 a.m. her breathing had taken a turn for the worse. Rita, bless her sweet heart, had had a bad feeling and had come to the house even though it wasn’t her shift. When she saw Mama she immediately called the preacher, the Hospice nurse, and Mama’s own doctor and said, “You better come now.” And they did.

Red and I had just about finished packing the car for the trip down and he had gone to gas up when Nancy called to say that Mama would probably die that morning. I, of course, burst into tears. Nancy, who handled this entire experience with unbelievable poise and grace, had the presence of mind to ask me if I’d like to say goodbye to Mama on the phone Oh, yes! So Nancy held the phone up to her ear and I told Mama I loved her and would miss her every day of my life. She could not respond, but I believe she heard me. What a blessing that was.

As we left the house, I grabbed some photo albums and pictures of Mama to have for the trip. And that was a good thing because we had not been on the road long when Nancy called to say that Mama had died. It was 9:10 a.m. I could hardly talk as I called Casey and Chris to tell them that their dear grandmother had passed away. Chris was coming to Georgia anyway for the picking party, but Casey was in Michigan performing with the Dixie Bee-liners who graciously finished up their gigs without a banjo player so she could fly down to Georgia. I wished so much that I could be with each of them. It was a long, sad trip home with many tears. I was so glad to have Red there, doing the driving and holding my hand when I would start crying. I talked to my sister Laurie many times both to give comfort and to receive it. She is the youngest of us (and is also a doctor), and I always thought she was Mama’s favorite. (Although I’m sure Mama would deny having a favorite.)

Once we arrived in Clarkesville, there were more tears but there were also sisters and nieces and friends and flowers, and, yes, church ladies bringing food. Together we five girls planned Mama’s funeral service. We even managed to get a good laugh remembering Mama’s instructions about picking out her casket. She’d told us, “Price the least expensive casket, then price the most expensive casket. Then buy the cheapest one and give the difference to the church.” We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to buy the pine box, but followed the spirit of her wishes as best we could.

I’d always imagined, as the oldest daughter, that I would speak at Mama’s funeral, but I found that I could not. Instead, four of the grandchildren took part in the service. Chris spoke extemporaneously about his beloved grandmother and Casey played the song Mama always sang us to sleep with, “There’s A Little Cabin,” on the banjo. Then, as Mama had requested, our Texas cousins sang “Now I Belong To Jesus” as she left the Clarkesville Baptist Church for the last time.

At the graveside service after a prayer and a poem, the preacher read a portion of one of my blogs about Mama and me playing Scrabble. It felt good to remember those happy times, and even smile a little, in the midst of so much grief.

I miss Mama so much but writing this, knowing you will read it, has helped me a lot. Thank you for listening.

Winnie Claire Murphy Hicks

January 21, 1925-July 16, 2010

11 thoughts on “Mama

  1. Martin Bacon

    Welcome back to your blog Murphy and thanks for another wonderful story about your Mama. I know she is still in the lead and happy to be there.
    God bless you and your family.


  2. Jim Hand

    Dear Murphy, Red, Casey and Chris

    You are all in my thoughts and prayers. As Christians we handle and cope with death by knowing that death is just a door for us to walk through, knowing that Jesus and our Heavenly Father is waiting on the other side.

    God Blees Ya’ll


  3. Susan

    Whew! You’re back! I was more than a might worried about you, but could certainly understand the need for time and space. I’ve been inquiring about your folks for about 2 years now and feel as if I know them. A terribly sad time for you and yours, but the memories — ah, the memories — can be so sustaining. Here’s hoping you have many, many bright memories to sustain you.

  4. Kathy

    We are so sorry to hear of your loss. Please know that you and your family are in
    our thoughts and prayers.

    Zac, loves you to death Murphy you hold a very special place in his heart and he was soo excited when he saw you were blogging again

    See you after our vacation

  5. Dennis

    Murphy, Thanks for sharing your beautiful story of your Dear Mother. I know it wasn’t easy, but I feel like I know you and her better by reading it. Do you think she would mind if I used the different casket story when my time comes? Our church could really use the money. It is interesting – I worked two hours this morning on a break to “There’s A Little Cabin” which I really like. I’ll play it for you and Casey the next time I see you all. I believe your Mother (like mine) is now watching over us from Heaven.

  6. george (alaska)

    Murphy and family, so very sorry for your loss of your wonderful mother! God Bless you Murphy for sharing your thoughts with us, it helps those of us still living to endure the loss of all our dear ones who have passed on to Greener Pastures!

  7. Rick

    Murphy and Family,

    So sorry for the loss of your mother. I lost my father a few years ago and my grandfather last year. It’s always sad to lose a loved one, but she lives on through her children, grandchildren and generations yet to come. God Bless and comfort you and family.

  8. martha baum carlton

    What a heart rending story, Murphy. I have thought of you and your dear family so much during the last few weeks. I am sure that all of you five wonderful girls were her favorites, although of course, you are my favorite. Your mother was definitely part of the Greatest Generation. Many of the values of that generation were instilled in all of you. I know she was so proud of you for being such an innovator and taking the road less traveled. I hope I will see you soon.

    Martha (from Ecuador)

  9. Tam

    A Better Place
    By Joanna Fuchs

    She’s in a better place right now
    Than she’s ever been before;
    All pain is gone; she’s now at rest;
    Nothing troubles her anymore.

    It’s we who feel the burden of
    Our sadness and our grief;.
    We have to cry, to mourn our loss,
    Before we get relief.

    We know we’ll reconnect with her
    At the end of each life’s road;
    We’ll see her cherished face again
    When we release our earthly load.

    You have my heart-felt sympathy for the loss of your Mama Murphy.
    May the Lord grant you and your family peace.

  10. Bob Van Metre


    Great blog. Written from the heart as you are so good at doing on these types of occasions.

    I know this has been a tring time for the entire family, and through grief we sometimes gain strenght. This is; I’m confident, will happen with your family.

    Although “mama” is gone, remember what Hank W. wrote in one of his songs “Memory is one gift of God that death cannot destroy …”.

    See you Wednesday,


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