Riding the waves

Several people have mentioned to me that my grief would roll in like waves. I nodded, figuring they knew what they were talking about even though I didn’t.  Now I get it. A wave rolled in yesterday and I’m still on it, trying to surf, or swim, or just jump off and go sit on the beach. I’m not a fan of the waves, because the further I get from December 8, the less “normal” it is for me to be randomly crying at the dog groomer. And yet, there’s nothing I can do but just ride the wave until it lets me go. 

I miss my mom. 

A long time friend from as far back as my 12th year of life wrote me a letter when she heard my mom had passed. She had lost her own mom recently in much the same way. She said, “There’s no one like a mom. Is there anyone who fully has your back but your mom?” And she’s right. And maybe that’s part of the wave of grief…the realization that a layer of protection has been stripped away and now it’s just me and the world. 

For me, another part of it is the remembrances of this time last year. It was one year ago on Christmas Day that she last walked into my house. 

Today is the day before my 47th birthday. I don’t mention that because my birthday matters to me, especially not this year. I mention it because it factors into the story. She called me on the 28th to wish me happy birthday. She was a day off. She might as well have been six months off because my mom never got anything wrong. She knew the birthday of her nieces-in-laws. I took that phone call and was shaken when I hung up. I knew then where things were and where they were going. 

And here we are one year later and I’m trying to get through one family event after another. Without her.  I think if I can just get off this particular wave, I’ll be sunning on the beach until her birthday, a week from now. 

They say that grief is the price of love and I believe it. It’s worth it. So if you see me and I look a little lost, don’t worry about me. I’m just a kid who got separated from her mom. For a little while. But I’ll find her again. Thank God for that. 

A Celebration of Life – Ann Dawson White

Today was amazing in every way. Everything went just as I prayed it would. I made it through the day without the ugly cry. That’s been the last several days. But not today. Not yet. I believe my big moment is coming. The moment I realize what I had and what I’ve lost. It may even happen later tonight. But for the moment I will just reflect and wear yoga pants and try to fall asleep before 1 a.m. and bask in my gratitude. Gratitude that my mother was who she was and that SO MANY PEOPLE loved her. Gratitude that her friends and my friends came out of the woodwork and worked like carpenter bees to clean and cook for me and take care of the business of death so that I could take care of the business of saying goodbye.

Gratitude and grace.

I know the live stream didn’t work today and so many wanted to join in that way. I haven’t determined if they recorded the service successfully, but I’ll update once I know. For now, I will post the thoughts that were read in the service by my Dad, who did speak on his own and did a really great job, me, Bart, and Todd. I am also pasting in the program we handed out and a link to the Slideshow. Anyone who wants an actual program, message me your address and I’ll send you one. We have plenty. This is a long post, so consider yourself warned.

Thanks for loving all of us.



Ann Dawson White

Thoughts from my Dad:

First I want to thank this wonderful church, and all of you and the people at Angels Senior Living where we live for all the support.  It has been amazing and so helpful.

Some of you have heard this story, but it has to be told.

I met Ann when she became a dental hygienist for my dentist in Tallahassee.  I was in a dental appointment with my dentist when Ann walked into the room to tell an elephant joke:  “Why did the elephant wear tennis shoes?”  That is all I remember.  She was the prettiest person I had ever seen.  I immediately scheduled an appointment with her for the next day.  At the appointment I couldn’t talk with her because she had her hands in my mouth.  But afterward, coming down the hall, I said, “How about going to a movie Saturday night?”  She said, “With who?”  If she were here she would explain why she said that, but it isn’t important…it makes a good story.

Ann wasn’t naturally an adventurer, but she was a real trooper and became an adventurer with me.  We sailed lots of boats in all kinds of weather.  Our first boat was a little wooden sailboat, bought just before we married.  We took it to the Gulf, got it all set up, two sails, ropes going everywhere.  But I didn’t really know how to sail and was worried about a pier just to our right; I didn’t know if we would miss it.  But we jumped in and off we went.  We just missed it.  She was a trooper to get in that boat; but only to a point.  Another day we were in the same little boat, out on the Gulf, and we were going nowhere; the wind wasn’t blowing.  She said, “Take me to shore and I will walk back.”  I had a little paddle with us.  I said, “But the wind will start blowing and we will have a great sail.”  “No, take me to shore and I will walk back.”  So I paddled her in, but just before arriving to shore the wind starts blowing.  I said, “Great.  We can sail.”  “No, take me to shore; I am walking back.”  She walked back and I had a great sail.  She could be definite….and we  hiked; she was a great hiker, always getting there first.  Rain, mountains, cold…she was good with it all.  We hiked all over the Tennessee and N.C. Mountains.  She wasn’t athletic, but she was a hiker.

Ann’s memory was amazing.  She knew most of your birthdays, and your children’s birthdays and even some where we were living.

It was a real blessing, a privilege, for me to serve her, and the Lord, these last few years. I am most thankful and have been blessed by God over and over.  I needed that opportunity and loved it….and I loved her.

Ann was as good a person as I ever knew.  She did what was right and lived her life for the Lord.  Now He is blessing her.


Thoughts from Bart:

I remember my mother, Ann White, not for the last few years when disease took her health.  I remember her for the things she said and did during times of good health, things which mean so much to me and others.  My mother spent most of her life working hard at something, whether it was helping my dad at his business, being a devoted stay-at-home-mom, or just generally helping those in need.  As for the “mom” part, she was a staunch believer in the old fashioned homemaker approach, insisting, among other things, that my sister and I have a homemade hot breakfast before leaving the house every weekday morning.  In fact, thanks to mom I am fairly certain that during those formative years I consumed more strips of bacon than any other person in history.  My mother’s outlook was that if there was something she could do for us that would benefit us in a way that would help us to grow in body or spirit, she was going to do it, even if it was hard.  I am grateful to God for her and all she did for me, and am sure I didn’t tell her often enough how much I appreciated her.  More than anything, I am thankful for her dedication to the Lord, which she instilled in me continually.  She taught God’s word to me, my sister and many others, with a strength and sincerity that was formidable.  For that and for everything else, I owe my mother a debt that could never be repaid.


Thoughts from Missy:

I know every mom is special, simply because they are yours. But my mom was SPECIAL. Not just because of what she was to me, but because of who she was to everyone else.

I have been thinking about my mother for a long time now. I tried to recall every speck of every detail as I witnessed her disease stealing her from us. The more dramatically she disappeared, the harder I had to focus. But you can’t just erase someone like Ann White. She made an imprint on the heart of everyone she encountered and she certainly made an imprint on me.

My mom laughed a great deal. When she laughed, her dark eyes vanished into little crescent moons. She couldn’t laugh with wide eyes. When her mouth laughed, her entire face got involved. She wasn’t usually the one telling the jokes. Sometimes, because we were all a little strange, she didn’t even understand the jokes. She thought Far Side comics were completely stupid. But she laughed anyway. She laughed at me. She laughed at my brother. She laughed a lot at my dad, in spite of the fact that she was always telling him to “knock it off.” Even in her final days, when she was just a shell of her former self, my dad could still make her laugh. But I think the thing most notable to me was her ability to laugh at herself. She never got her feelings hurt when we made fun of her terrible, terrible dancing that we would sometimes walk in on in the family room with no music even playing. She didn’t mind us mocking the way she tried to speak Spanish in her thick Kentucky drawl. She didn’t care that we corrected her version of Minuet in G, which she always whistled in 4/4 time. She called us music snobs and kept on whistling it exactly like she wanted to. She always laughed right along with us, completely comfortable with the fact that sometimes she was the best joke of all.

My mom smelled like a perfectly southern mix of light perfume and Aussie 3-minute miracle. She worked crosswords and watched Jeopardy daily, never needing our help for anything but pop culture references. She knew everything. Remembered EVERYTHING. Every date. Every fact. Every Birthday. Every anniversary. Every address or phone number. Every child’s name and blood type. Every medical diagnosis. She diagnosed my Bell’s Palsy my junior year at FSU before the doctor did. And she had the nerve to take a no-cell-service Fall Foliage cruise to New England when I was curled up with Salmonella, wondering what to do. I broke down and called the doctor on call at 2 a.m. when I really just wanted my mom.

I can hardly remember a phase of life when Mom wasn’t singing. After an 8-day trip to Kauai, in July 2000, I hummed Melikilikimaka for more than a month, thanks to her.  For every occasion, there was a song. When I was young and she wanted to engage me in some way, she would sing her made-up song, “Sister Suzy Q White,” which is what she called me. I begged her not to; begged her to reserve this song for family only. But when the spirit moved her, she sang. From out of season Christmas songs to church hymns to made up songs using every family member’s name she could think of, she sang. We didn’t always join in…or ever. And we took every opportunity to make fun, but our world was full of music. And the nice thing about music is that the songs live on even after the singers have closed their mouths. Even here today, her song still fills the air.

There were countless times in my life growing up and even as an adult, when I wondered why my mom didn’t have more hobbies. More outside activities. She worked with my dad. She sewed when she needed to. She exercised. Played Solitaire. Alternated between Karen Kingsbury novels and true crime stories that made us all a little nervous. Researched her family history. But she never took off to do her own thing. She never went to dinner with friends, leaving us to fend for ourselves. Never took a weekend away. I wondered about that until recently when the truth of the matter came to me.  We were what she did. We were where she wanted to be. If Bart had a band concert, she was there. If I had a softball game, she was rooting from the stands, even when 7 innings turned into 22, which we eventually lost late that night. If there was a gospel meeting or a church picnic, she was there. Supporting us was her thing; her only thing. If we had enough…if we had everything we needed, then that was enough for her.

I think I owe her for the fact that I married Todd. We had been dating only a month when I went home for Christmas in December 1990. I remember sitting on my kitchen counter, talking to my mom about him. As usual, I was wishy washy. Should I or shouldn’t I? She stopped me in the middle of a rambling and looked me in my eyes and said, “Missy, please don’t mess this up.” My mother knew something I didn’t yet know. As usual, she was right. And never have I been more thankful for her advice that day than I am now that she is gone.

Of all the things she provided for us, what she knew we needed most was God. No one was more equipped to guide us than my mother. She knew more about the Bible than any person I have ever known. But it was more than that. My mom had the uncanny knack for instilling it in others. She was fantastic at teaching young people and getting them excited about it. Her favorite age to teach was the 1st through 3nd graders. Not too clueless, but not too big for their britches, either.  She had ways of remembering things that were mostly foolproof. Occasionally one of those would backfire. One day, while trying to tell Todd how she remembered the order of the kings, Felix and Festus, in Acts 28, she said, “First you feel it and then it festers.” And then she stopped in her tracks and said, “Or is it, first it festers and then you feel it…?” And then she went and looked it up and we just let her because we figured if she knew it, we didn’t need to. My mother’s mind was amazing and her heart was always on doing the right thing. That’s how she lived her life. The beautiful thing about my mother, though, is that she managed to impact so many people with her service and her faith. Scores of people have contacted me, telling me how my mom changed their life. She changed the world one person at a time. She left the world better than she found it. And she has exchanged this world for her true Home.

I had a conversation with a friend recently about her own mother, who was slipping away into the dark world of dementia. She said this: “I dream about my “well” mom sometimes, the simplest of dreams, where I say something and she laughs. It’s a sweet reminder that this is a very short phase of a well lived life.”

If I had been given my wish, my mom would have lived another 20 years and died peacefully in her sleep of natural causes. What a shame that she was gripped by something that twisted her into something she was not. But even so, she was so much to so many for so long. And that’s enough. Because she taught us how to walk and set us on the path to Heaven where we’ll see her again someday. She’d like it to be a grand reunion and she lived her life trying to make sure of that. I’m thankful for the sweet reminder that this was a very short phase of a well-lived life.


Thoughts from Todd:

I wanted to take this opportunity to just tell a few memories I have of Ann (or “Dear Mother-in-Law” as she forced me to call her)

The first memory I have of Dear Mother-in-Law is walking into the bustling Tallahassee office of Mike White Realty. She sat right inside the front door and helped manage a rag-tag group of agents who bought and sold a lot of real estate. Within a few minutes my thought was “She is holding this thing together.” What I came to realize over time was the she was SINGLE HANDEDLY holding that thing together. But always in a humble and thoughtful way.

That was really a good example of how she did things. When she was involved, everything was handled. Quietly and thoughtfully managed. Consummately prepared.

I didn’t realize how much I would miss that, but I do. And the moment that her illness took away her ability to do that. Everybody missed it.

There is no question that Ann’s top priorities were God and her Family but the rest of the list goes something like this:

  1. Florida State Seminoles
  2. Tampa Bay Rays, (don’t jack around about the Rays)
  3. Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake,
  4. Price is Right,
  5. Creepy Dateline Murder Mysteries,
  6. Strawberry Pretzel Salad,
  7. Saving and Reusing her (and other peoples) Plastic Cutlery after Every Party,
  8. and two words: ORNAMENT PARTY.

I need to give credit to something else very important that Dear Mother-In-Law gave me. If you want to know a major factor that brought me from the 6-foot 165 pound boy I was when I met her and made me the man I am today it is this: Sour Cream Poundcake.

The last thing I wanted to mention is probably the most important. Rarely does a year go by that I don’t meet a person or a family that Dear Mother-in-Law took under her wing at some point. Almost always they were an outsider, or lonely, or even an outcast in need of a friend. And then they met Ann and they were never an outsider again. They were family. To me if anything this is her legacy.


Goodbye and Godspeed, Mom. I’ll see you. Until then, you’ll live on in thousands.