In May of 1998 my mother Laurel Christiansen passed away after several long bouts with cancer. My mother was a young woman. She was only 59 when she died. My father is actually fifteen years older than my mom and she always figured she would be a widow for a long period of time. Much to all of our terrible dismay it was just tragic as we watched the cancer absolutely annihilate my mom. Despite fighting a very hard, valiant fight, indeed she did pass away.
As a beautiful young lady she graduated from college and went to a rural community to teach art at the local high school. (She later taught elementary school in town.) She had several marriage proposals, but declined each one. Then, much to everyone’s surprise she began dating my father–the blind county attorney.
At the time my father was nearly 40 years old, and had somewhat given up on the prospect of ever marrying. “After all,” he wondered, “who would want to marry a blind man?”
My father lost both of his eyes at the age of six; due to a rare melanoma in his eyes that first took one eye and then the other. (That is also a miraculous story that I’ll share at some point.)
My parents began dating, soon fell in love, and got married in 1962. I was born several years later and the rest of the story is just a wonderful, true, romantic love story.
My mother loved art. She was a talented, beautiful, sensitive artist. She loved to teach children. She was known as the master first-grade teacher. Every child that came through her class got special attention, and particularly the underdog whom she would take under her wing and help advance.
She also loved her 4 boys more than life itself. Our parents did a phenomenal job of raising us four boys.
When my mother was going to college she struggled greatly. She was the first in her family to go to college, and at that stage it wasn’t very popular to educate women. But my mother was determined to receive an education. She selected a very difficult university and for several years lived off of a bag of wheat and powdered milk. It kept her alive though. Through dedication, hard work, and effort she was able to get her college education.
There have been two women in my life the first being my mother and the second now being my beautiful wife. Boys run rampant in our family. Of all of the grandchildren on one side of the family, there are 52 grandchildren, but only two granddaughters. So women are a very much an anomaly in the family lines.
One of the greatest honors and tributes and memories of great sensitivity to my heart is this. Each year I return to my hometown, and my brothers and I present a scholarship in my mother’s name. This is given to a young woman–preferably the first in her family to receive a college education. We also give preference to someone who is going into the education field.
Yesterday I was able to go present this scholarship to a young woman named Bailey Smith. There were actually four individuals that we honored, but Bailey Smith won the scholarship. A lot of emotions welled up.
I took my oldest son John and my father John, to present the scholarship. We presented this award and we had a joyful experience. Then I took my son up to visit my mother’s grave. When we got there I had a delightful conversation with mom, telling her how much we loved her and missed her and how grateful we were for her love and for the example she had set in our family and the tone that she set going forward.
I looked up and much to my surprise there is a brand new elementary school being built within site of her grave. In fact, her grave is the closest to the school.
I thought, “How fitting, Mom is going to be teaching again. She loved children, particularly children that were struggling. She was always rooting for the underdog.”
I have to admit that we actually had tears come to our eyes as we thought about mom “teaching” kids again. There is no place on the earth that she would rather have her grave then adjacent to a school so she can watch all the little kids playing.
It is with great honor that I honor my mother and the incredible, amazing women and men who have the courage to be trend breakers and set an example. College very difficult for my mother, but the result has been a legacy of individuals who greatly value education. Her goal has made all the difference in my life, my children’s lives, and the generations to come.
Mom, even though you are not on this earth, I know that you are aware of your positive influence and I honor you publicly for the amazing example that you set for our family.