Coping with the Loss of a Parent


May 2017

C.S Lewis once said about grieving, “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

I lost my mom a few months ago and it is still feels like an invisible blanket on some days.  I’m studying and working at Temple University and sometimes the long train ride is filled with tears, but most days I try not to think about the loss of my mother. I am still doing all of the same things I was before my mom died on Feb 9, 2017, but sometimes I feel like I’m watching myself rather than living my life.  It’s kind of eerie, but I do know that I love when my own children are nearby…it eases the pain of losing someone that has always been in my life. And my husband is a constant source of strength and encouragement.

A friend, Jeanette Dructor, who recently lost her mother said, “I feel like I’m scrambling to keep my family together. She was the glue, the reason we all came together on holidays, and special times.  Every first without her is so hard.  Even after five months, I find myself teary-eyed and overwhelmed.  I can’t count the times I whisper, “I miss you, mom” in my head. Or when I think of something I want to tell her or ask her and then remember…”

According to, many are surprised by how deeply the loss of a parent affects them. “Mothers tend to hold families together. They are the ones who keep in touch with all the family members and spread the news around.” The child becomes painfully aware that “no-one is ever as interested in everything you do as your mother, or as proud of you.” Judy Ball, a free-lance writer for Freitage Funeral Home in Bridgetown, NJ suggests some tips on grieving the loss of a parent.

  • Remember you have every reason to grieve. Even if we find ourselves “parenting our parents” before their deaths, it is the parent of our youth and childhood that we bury.
  • Find ways to talk and grieve. Just saying aloud the words “Mom” and “Dad” is remarkably consoling and healing.
  • Forgive yourself for being human. We can be consoled that our deceased parent understands and forgives us.
  • Grow from your experience and tragedy. We can use our losses as tools to help us grow in our understanding of self and our sensitivity to others.
  • Take heart. Our life has not lost meaning; indeed, it has taken on new meaning as we bury part of our past and write a new chapter in our lives.

I’m trying to remember these points as I move forward. After all, I am who I am in many ways because of my mom and although I miss her dearly, she would want me to go on and enjoy life. I believe as Judy Ball says that “life has not lost its meaning, but has taken on new meaning as we bury part of our past and write a new chapter in our lives.” -BBM

Let’s Celebrate Our Children’s Milestones




Written Sept 2016

Here I am on the eve of my eldest son getting married, and what am I thinking of?  I’m thinking about when he was born–of course.  It doesn’t help that he chose to be married in the same month as when he was born, so even the slightest pumpkin aroma or the beginnings of a fall chill remind me of those waiting, hopeful days.

I was so young and so naïve, but so excited on that memorable day that I drove not twice but 3 times to Grandview Hospital, hoping to deliver the child that had taken over my body.  The leaves were a colorful plaster along the side of Ridge Rd as my mom and I hurried to my destination.  I can see the wet, colorful red and yellow leaves with the tire paths through them as if it were yesterday.

The third time I visited the hospital, I had a higher than normal temperature and out of the kindness of the nurse’s heart, I was allowed to stay overnight.  I had run out of relief at home, so I was ready to deliver.

I didn’t seem to mind that I lay on a gurney that night in a dark room with only the pain to keep me company.  The nurses were tired of me coming in, claiming I had pains when I wasn’t dilated enough.  So when they checked me in the morning, I was sure I’d get the same response to “go home and get some rest.” But I can still hear the doctor’s thrilling response to my negative assumption, “No, you’re going to have a baby today!”  Oh what sweet words they were. I had had it with this pain and the waiting. I’m not sure if I cried tears of joy then, but I am today just thinking of those words on that milestone of a day. I was going to have a child and this tiresome pregnancy would be over.  Later, people mixed congratulations with “Oh, your difficulties are just beginning,” but I have to say, I never found that to be true.  Having a child, holding a child, and loving a child is just too wonderful to compare.  I was not a good pregnant woman and an even worse deliverer, but being a mother…now that’s something I loved and still love today.  I am an empty nester and yet I can still feel his body next to mine after the delivery.  It was too beautiful to describe.

My firstborn has found someone to share his life with and even though I know my mothering will not be needed very much at all, I couldn’t be happier. I sure wouldn’t want to give birth again, but I am so thankful that this fall, I can celebrate again his wonderful birth and marriage.

To see the mother son celebration go to

Saying Good-bye to a Friend

Sam and Cindy Williams, Sharayah and Tiana

Winter of 2016

“Ante in!” My husband, Ken, and I were still glowing with our newly married pride and we were over at Sam and Cindy’s house playing cards.  We didn’t have a lot of money, since I was going to grad school and Ken was working for his dad at the feed mill, but we had fun the old-fashioned way before laptops, cell phones and the internet. We sometimes went into Iowa City for a movie or a dinner at Carlos O’Kelly’s, but primarily we played penny poker or “Up and Down the River” and sipped wine coolers till we were too tired to think.  We talked plenty.  I was studying the great poets like Wordsworth and Yeats, and Sam, although the youngest of the group, listened intently and added in his love of Greek mythology.  But change was coming and we talked about how Ken and I were planning to move east.  As the evening fell into the morning, we gathered our coats and headed toward the door. As we were walking toward the door or perhaps even the next day when we saw each other in town, Sam asked, “Do you still love us?”

I thought of this recently when I traveled 30 years later to Kalona, Iowa for Sam’s funeral.  I visited Cindy and her now two grown children and we remembered our carefree young married days.  We had stayed in touch, especially when our oldest children, Patrick and Sharayah, were born 4 months apart. Cindy and I had commiserated over the long pregnancy and the late night feedings, sending each other pictures of our bundles of joy.  I know this because I saw the pictures in her photo album a few days ago.  I also saw the most extensive coverage of Ken and me kissing that could ever exist anywhere. It must have been one of our last nights together back in 1986 when Sam asked if we’d still remember them when we moved and became a part of the Eastern ways and culture.  And yes, Sam we do still love you and Cindy. I can attest to the fact that we will never forget those times we laughed together in that Hillary tent and ate Entennman’s crumb donuts, the times we sat around your card table and discussed the future of the church, and the times we came up with a Sunday school class called “Basileas.”

Rest in peace, Sam, we will always love you.

June 13: A Day of the Anabaptist Heritage Tour


Summer of 2015

June 13, 2015

The day started off with a switch in bus drivers from Marcus to John Paul.  It was sad to see Marcus go but it was a lot of fun listening to John Paul’s irreverent humor. John Ruth led our morning devotions on how Jesus responded to the Sadduces with mercy and not sacrifice, encouraging them to read and learn his ways. We than sang together from the Hymnal: A Worship Book sampler tucked behind each of our bus seats.

Our first stop was the Remagen bridge (located in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany) which played an integral part in the WWII fall of Hitler’s power.  The last bridge to be destroyed was the Remagen bridge which breaches the Rhine River, the great moat that divided Europe.  This bridge was eventually destroyed as well, but only after 10,000 American troops crossed over into Germany.  Today the bridge and accompanying museum stand as a symbol for peace and reconciliation.

We also stopped in Koblenz to see the “German Corner” called the Deutches Eck where the Moselle River joins the Rhine and pay homage to the father of Deutschland, Kaiser Wilhelm. Then we were on the road again, heading south, viewing the hill-strewn wineries of the Upper Rhine through the bus windows.  We marveled at how they could maintain wineries on the steep foothills of the Rhine Valley, but appreciated seeing for ourselves where the German Riesling wine originates.

When we stopped at Boppard for lunch, the St. Severus twin towers greeted us with their austere presence. Soon we were meandering the narrow streets of the Old Town, looking for brat sandwiches and cool, refreshing gelato. The curry bratwich was particularly tasty.  We talked and ate in the warmth of the sun and realized despite some clouds, it was a perfect day for a riverboat cruise up the Rhine River. We boarded the riverboat, taking seats on the top deck and admiring the landscape as we pulled away from the dock. As the riverboat travelled against the current, we ooed and aahed with each new castle announced.  The Hostile Brothers followed by the Burg Maus Castle were intriguing as we tried to imagine their occupants many centuries ago. Then the St. Goar Castle appeared before our eyes, very close to the Rhine and we were amazed at all that remained despite the ravages of the war. Even though we docked at St. Goarshausen, we knew it was not time to get off the riverboat because we did not see Wilmer or his familiar blue flag leaving the boat. After traversing the dangerous Loreley bend (the area that ship helmsmen find unnerving), we had to leave our enchanting castle cruise at Oberwesel.  It had been an exhilarating ride on the Rhine once known as the backbone of Europe for commerce and trade.

Our next stop was in the Palatinate region of Germany at the Mennonite Wierehof. We glimpsed the immaculate spread of farmland and learned that the Mennonites migrating to this area from Bern, Switzerland brought innovative and productive agricultural techniques.  It was too late for cherry picking, but the soon-to-be-golden fields of wheat spread before us invitingly.  When we reached the small Wierehof village, Astrid and Jochann greeted us with smiles and plenty of historical treasures. John Ruth grinned with delight as he fingered the 1556 Zurich Bible, the 1685 copper plates used in the Ephrata Cloister translation of the Martyr’s Mirror, and the 2000 sermons by the father of the Mennonite Encyclopedia and the first World Conference, the late Charles Neff. We took a walk through the village glimpsing the 3 spots of worship—the Adam Kraybill home, the small 1770 year building (that Napolean later used for his horses in the early 1800’s), and the 1830 meetinghouse where we decided to sing “Gott Ist Die Liebe” and 2 other songs.  Soon it was time to go, but we appreciated Jochann Showalter’s tour and animated dialogue with John Ruth. After a walk around the graveyard of the Palatinate ancestors, we headed to our hotel in Alzey. It was a good day of experiencing the Rhineland where our Mennonite ancestors lived, worked and strived to follow their conscience.

Don’t Take Me off the Farm

Bob and Addie, circa 2012

Summer of 2015

“Holy Cow, they saved the best for last!” was Robert Gehman’s reaction when he first caught a glimpse of Adeline Rush.  His family was visiting at Addie’s home in Dublin, Pa when all the girls came down the stairs after changing out of their church clothes. He noticed them all but it was the last one that stole his heart.  Even today, after 62 years of marriage, Robert (Bob) and Adeline (Addie) Gehman still enjoy being together and are committed to their church, their family and their farm.

The farming partnership they built over the years utilized their gifts, but also required a lot of grit and determination to create a 228 acre farm with 200 head of cattle and 75 milking cows. “I just wanted to be a farmer ever since I can remember,” states Bob.  Bob, the son of Norman and Viola Longacre Gehman, grew up in Lanark, a small town outside of Allentown where he shared a bedroom with 3 brothers. Two sisters slept in another very small bedroom.  “My dad worked as a florist for 26 years and he had long hours especially on holidays and us children would sit on the radiator waiting for him to come home.” Even though his father later worked for the family oil burner business, Bob only was interested in farming. “I had uncles that were farmers and I loved going to my uncles’ farms for a week at a time.” Bob remembers being at Uncle Henry Longacre’s farm one time as a young boy and walking past the cattle truck when a cow “blessed” him with excrement.  But even that didn’t discourage Bob from being a farmer.

Addie, the daughter of J. Paul and Barbara Wismer Rush, had the gifts to complement Bob’s desire to farm. “I would have been a carpenter if I would’ve been a man,” Addie says with certainty.  Naturally athletic and extremely intelligent, she was the capable helpmate to Bob’s keen business sense and love of animals.  The couple met when they were barely teenagers and because Addie lived in Dublin, Bob says, “I wore out my car going to see her.” They were married in 1953 and afterwards Bob did the two things his mother wouldn’t allow him to do, “buy a motorcycle and get a goat.”

For a while they lived in an apartment in Plumsteadville and then worked for a number of farmers, including Dan Schantz. They attended Swamp Mennonite Church where Bob had been carried in by his mother many years earlier. By 1959, they had 3 children and an opportunity to rent a farm in Coopersburg that was owned by Wellington Cassel and called Marwell Farm.

Wellington Cassel stopped in on the new tenant farmers every Thursday, partly to check on his two grocery stores in Quakertown and partly to see his farm. Bob recalls, “Nancy, our daughter, would go out, walk around with him, holding his hand. Then he’d give her gum.”  Addie comments, “He was a wonderful man. We never signed any agreement with him. What he said, he would do. “

Wellington was known in Franconia Conference for his song services and the Marwell Farm was where he held the sing-a-longs.  “I don’t know how many people talk to us from the Souderton area, saying, ‘Oh yes, I used to come to his song services.’ About everyone knows Wellington Cassel’s farm because he did that.  In fact he has a hill that they built for the chorister to stand on. It looks like a cave, but it’s not, it’s especially for the song service.”

After a number of years, Wellington told the Gehmans they would have the first chance to buy the farm. Addie remembers, “He was a very generous man. He never complained about anything we were doing,” with Bob adding, “And I’m sure he could have cause I didn’t know that much.”  They both appreciated that Wellington “wanted the person who bought the farm to be active in the church and active in the community.”

And the Gehmans lived up to their promise to Wellington because not only were Bob and Addie involved in the Board of Elders and the Mission Outreach Committee at church, Bob was on the Lower Milford Township Planning Commission for 30 years and the Lehigh Valley Cooperative Farmers Board of Directors for 20 years.  They raised five children on the farm and all of them contributed over the years to the farm’s success. “I never learned to milk,” admits Addie, but by the time the girls (Susan, Nancy, and Peggy) turned 9 or 10, they were able to do the milking by themselves. This enabled the boys (Barry and Bob Jr) to stay out in the field while the girls finished the milking.”

Listening to his parents talk about their home life, Bob Jr comments, “They have a successful business, good marriage, and good kids.” Addie says, “We always felt that the Lord gave us a big house so we had to use it. We had cousins by the dozens that wanted to come here on the farm.” Over the years, not only did they house nieces and nephews, but they had trainees come to live with them, six from Paraguay, three from Brazil, and one student from Germany.  But they have had some hard times, too, especially when their daughter Susan took her own life after several serious bouts of depression, leaving a husband and three sons, aged 9, 13, and 15.  Although they miss their daughter every day, Bob and Addie have found continued strength and reliance on the Lord, their family and their church family.

Addie taught guitar lessons at Clemmer Music for one day a week for 31 years. “It was a good chance to get away from the farm and it was also very rewarding to see a person come in not knowing anything about an instrument and go on to be a part of a worship band.” They’ve also taken some time away from the farm to travel, visiting Europe, Paraguay and Brazil.

The farm is currently a member of the Land O’Lakes agricultural cooperative, as sons, Barry, Bob Jr., and grandson, Wendell gradually take over more and more of the day to day operations. Bob Sr. still takes the hay and fertilizer orders and recognizes that he wants to stay on the farm “as long as [he] can.” In 1967, they started with 19 milking cows and 160 acres and gradually over the years turned the farm into 75 milking cows with 228 acres, renting an additional 1000 acres. They remember the moonlight walks in the winter followed by hot chocolate, the creek stomping and picnics, the Open Gate Farm Day when the public took hayrides and tours, and more recently the pig roasts and square dances on Labor Day. Although Bob and Addie have had some health issues in the last few years, they insist, “We are grateful for as many good years as we’ve had. You have to take the bad with the good, whatever…the Lord is with us.”

Twins Separated and Reunited

Paul and Pauline, circa 1938

Written Spring of 2015

“I was a gentleman and let Pauline come first,” was how Paul Hackman used to describe his birth with his twin sister. Though Paul and Pauline were twins they lived apart for many years. It’s unknown whether Harrison and Lizzy (Moyer) Hackman knew they were going to have twins before their birth in 1932, but it is known that they were the 10th and 11th children to join the Hackman family.

Sadly in 1934, when the twins were just 2 years old, their father, Harrison Hackman, died suddenly at age 45, leaving their mother, Lizzy Hackman, with 10 children and another one on the way.  Lizzy lost her husband and his income, so then she lost her house, and her beloved children.  She had to travel by bus and find work at a clothing factory.  Eventually, she had to find other homes for her children.  They attended Franconia Mennonite Church and the brothers of Harrison stepped in to decide where the children would be placed. Many of the children were “farmed out” to relatives or distantly related families that attended at Franconia.  The need for mutual aid became apparent as church members and relatives “took care of their own.”

The oldest child, Harold, had died in 1917, the same year he was born, so he was not aware of the sudden loss of his father. The oldest living child was Laaden who was 16 when his father died and was “farmed out” to Menno Souder’s and then later to Paul Ruth’s home.  To be farmed out means to be “put (as children) into the hands of another for care” but it often also meant working for food and care at a nearby farm. Samuel who was 14 went to his Uncle Raymond Hackman’s home.  Harrison who was 12 went to Wellington Clemens’s home to live with his mother’s sister and her husband.  Leroy was 10 when he was sent to live at the William Moyer home.  Norman was 9 when he moved in with Uncle Henry Hackman, a relative that attended at Plains.  Nelson went to live with Uncle Sam Hackman’s but was unexpectedly hit by a car along Route 113 in Franconia before his 10th birthday.  Katie was next in line at age 8, but as the oldest girl remained living with her mother.  Naomi at age 7 went to live with her Grammy (Kate) Moyer and Aunt Katie.  At age 3, Pauline was chosen to move to Harvey and Mary Ellen (Funk) Smith’s home, fellow church members at Franconia.  Betty Mininger lived on the other side of the house near Earlington and never forgot the loud screaming when the Smith’s tried to get Pauline into the car. Pauline had to leave her mother, older sister, twin brother, and baby sister to live in a stranger’s home. Paul was not required to follow his sister to the Smith’s because according to Grandma Funk (the mother of Mary Ellen Smith), the “town is no place to raise a boy.” The baby that was born 4 months after her father’s death was named Eva and remained with her mother, Lizzy.

It’s obvious from talking to Pauline that she was loved and nurtured in a caring family. Mary Ellen and Harvey provided a home for Pauline and were ecstatic to finally have the child that even “Lydia Pinkham” couldn’t provide.

Pauline breaks down when she talks about her mother, adding “I never realized what my mother must have gone through till I had my own children.” Even though she visited with her birth mother once or twice a year, she didn’t know her as a mother and referred to her as the “other mother.”  Harvey and Mary Ellen Smith were her parents in every sense.

Her early memories include going to the lawyer to get her name changed from Pauline Hackman to Pauline Smith. She was the only one of the Hackman children to be adopted.  She vividly remembers when her grandfather, Isaiah Funk, died.  He had been the one to buy her special treats from the ice cream truck, but on this particular Sunday, he stood up from the mid-day meal, remarking that he didn’t feel well and had to lie down.  When the family finished their Sunday dinner, they found him dead on the davenport.  After he died, “they laid him out in the living room.”

After a few years, Paul became “too hard for [Mother Hackman] to handle” and the Smiths decided to move out of Telford to a farm so that Paul could live with them.  So at age 10, Paul moved in with his twin sister’s family, but his name remained the same at his birth mother’s request. Pauline doesn’t claim any extra mental telepathy with her twin, but says, “We were close till we got older.” They went their separate paths with Pauline marrying Ralph Nice at age 19 and Paul starting to attend at Norristown Mennonite Mission along with Ralph Freed, who lived two doors down from their farm in Earlington. In 1956, Paul was ordained to the ministry to help Markley Clemmer at First Mennonite Church of Norristown.  A few months later, he married Faye Martin and together they moved into 21 Marshall Street, the former mission church and residence of Markley Clemmer and family.

Pauline has a photo that captures the lifelong relationship between the twins when they were reunited in 1964 with their families at Elmwood Park in Norristown.  In all, Pauline had 9 children and Paul had 4. Today, Pauline is a very energetic and happy person despite the losses she has had to experience over the years, including her oldest daughter, Lois, from spinal bifida. She had worked in home care as a nurse’s aide for many years, assisting even her twin brother’s wife when she was dying.  She remembers fondly the yearly Moyer family reunions pitching quoits, playing monopoly, and taking rides in the meadow. Although, she has grown closer to her Hackman siblings, it’s obvious that her sweet spirit came from the many years of encouragement and dedication of her adopted parents.  She was nurtured and cared for by her collective church family and she is filled with a deep gratitude.

I Will Rise

Albert Heebner, circa 1945Dan Heebner, 2014

Written Winter of 2015

And I will rise when He calls my name

No more sorrow, no more pain

I will rise on eagles’ wings

Before my God fall on my knees

And rise

I will rise

I can’t hear these words without hearing my cousin Dan Heebner singing on a cold wintry day in March of 2009. It was a bit too cold to stand outside on that day, especially with our feet in the snow, but we all wanted to show our respects to my uncle Albert or as we called him “Junie.”  So we gathered, standing in polite lines under the tent on that Monday afternoon when Dan’s voice rung out clear as a bell with an accompanying violin.  I will never forget it.  It was one of those poignant moments in life when all things come together.  It was the beauty of the blue sky and the cold crisp air and the worshipful voice that confidently sang for his father who could no longer join us in his beloved hymns. It was as if he sang the words his dad had been longing to sing, in the same warm, graceful tenor timbre.

Albert Heebner, my mom’s brother, had been stricken with macular degeneration and diabetes and sadly, in his later years, the strident farmer had lost both his legs.  The last time I visited him, flanked by my cousin (his daughter) and my mother, he had spoken about going to heaven where he “would have legs” and walk again.  He had been stripped of his mobility and it was not something this outdoorsman took lightly.  He spoke at that last visit of days gone by, of egg sorting, of a hard-working mother and father, and of words spoken in anger to his brother Norman.  It was as if he were already seeing his life flash before him.

So, on that brisk, blue sky day of March in 2009, his son Dan sang him into heaven and sang baring his soul with this song of hopeful release. Oh I wish you could have heard him sing…it was something I’ll never forget.

And I will rise when He calls my name

No more sorrow, no more pain…

And I hear the voice of many angels sing

Worthy is the Lamb

And I hear the cry of every longing heart

Worthy is the Lamb

A Glimpse of Life at Norristown Mission


Written Winter of 2015

The following is from Mary Lederach’s writings about Willis and Mary Lederach’s time at Norristown Mission during the 1920s. This is just one example of the service of many at our first mission church, Norristown Mission on Marshall Street, Norristown. Stay tuned for the release of the history of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) later this year. 

“A lonely man came to our back door, and …asked for a bite to eat. I asked him to come in, and I prepared breakfast for him. As he sat up to the table to eat, my husband (Willis Lederach) was ready to leave for work. He hesitated as he bade me good-by and asked whether I was afraid alone. I told him I was not.  And truly I was not.  I was alone in a large house most of the time for three years. In this time I had made it a custom to invite in to the table all who came for meals, and treated them as guests, not as outcasts. I never could tell when perchance I might be entertaining an angel unaware.” Mary went on to tell how after reading Scripture to the man, he opened up about his estranged wife and child that he desperately missed and how he had enlisted in the Army, wanting to die, but had returned home without a scrape on his body. Mary “tried as best [she] knew how to show him his need for a Saviour, who could fill that aching void, and make life worth living.” The next day, the man came back to thank her and ask her to pray for him. Mary continued to pray for this man throughout the years and in 1936, over 10 years after the incident happened, Mary wrote on her typed copy, “In August 1936, God gave me the assurance that this man is saved.  Now I pray, God, use him mightily to Thy glory, and oh God, I humbly thank thee. –Mary Lederach”