Broadcaster Robin Roberts' mother shares the role that faith plays in her life.
- Posted on Jul 19, 2012
A few years ago, I was homeless. At least that’s how I felt. It seemed that at my late age, I had no particular place to go, no place to call home. Hurricane Katrina had turned my world upside down. My home in Pass Christian was uninhabitable, and I wasn’t sure if I should sell it as-is or refurbish and renovate it. My second home in Biloxi had withstood the hurricane but had been severely damaged from water and wind. Then just a few months after Katrina had made her unwelcome arrival, I had a dreadful bout with pneumonia. For a while I lived in a rehabilitation center, wondering where I would go when I was released.
When I think back to that hard season of life, I realize I was still numb from everything that had happened in recent years. Within a short period of time, my life had unraveled through a series of tragic events that began when my son-in-law Willie Craft, Sally-Ann’s husband, was diagnosed with colon cancer and died just six months later. The next year, my husband Larry suffered a heart attack and passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Soon after, I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder and a degenerative bone disease that had my daughter, Dorothy, ushering me to countless doctors’ offices and hospitals. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast. Then in 2007, Robin received the devastating news that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.
I lived in a hazy fog during much of that period of time, waffling back and forth on almost every decision. Seeing that I was weary and worn, my grown children took charge of my life as best they could. I think we were all wondering if I should just pull up stakes and move from the Gulf Coast. But where would I go? I had already tried a couple senior living options, including an assisted living center near Robin, but nothing seemed quite right. I kept asking myself what I was supposed to be doing at this stage of life. In all honesty, I felt frazzled and totally useless.
Even in those dark days, my faith was my source of comfort. Today I am happily back in my Pass Christian home where I play my piano and sing hymns each day. I have a home health-care aid to assist me several times each week. Physically, I have good days and bad. There are times when my joints are stiff and my words are slow, but I am reminded of an important truth. God has given me purpose that overcomes pain.
Over the span of my long life, I have learned many lessons. To be honest, I am learning them still. Out of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, I discovered not to prize possessions too highly. I grieved the loss of many special objects. The copper wall plaques we’d brought back from Japan. The china vase hand-painted by Larry’s aunt. Our stereo and collection of old record albums. My organ. Even now, there are times when I suddenly think about an item only to realize that it has been lost forever. I have also discovered what it’s like to lose a loved one in a heartbeat. But through every loss, I am learning to loosen my grasp on things of this world and to cling to good memories and to God instead. I have also come to understand that having a sense of humor helps to offset the challenges of growing old. My spirits are lifted whenever I hear laughter around the dinner table or at a family gathering. In fact, I often think that humor may be God’s best gift to those of us in late life, a salve for difficult moments.
Thinking back on all the stories of my life, there is one story that shines especially bright in my memory. My mother loved to tell it, perhaps because it captured the essence of who I am and what I believe. As I explained earlier, during the Depression my mother cooked on a wood stove in the basement because our electricity had been turned off. There was an occasion when my father was home between drinking binges, and we were seated for dinner at a makeshift table in the basement.
For some reason, I began to sing. My father looked at me sternly and announced that there would be no singing at the table. After a few moments, I got up from the table, went outside to the screened-in window that opened to the basement and pressed my face close. I began to sing words that just bubbled up inside me. “I’ve got a little song in my heart, and I’m going to sing it.” I didn’t intend to be funny, but even my father couldn’t resist a laugh. I suppose I just couldn’t be silenced.
I reflect back on my long life and realize that I still sing because I have a song in my heart and a story to tell. About the people who came alongside to encourage me on this journey of life. About a family who has given me bountiful joy and priceless memories. About a God who has been with me each step of the way and will walk with me until I’ve finished the last mile.
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This chapter was the main reason I prayed Mom would write this book. It can be difficult to watch a parent age. We must remember it's even more challenging for them. To slowly lose their independence...being able to drive...to live on their own. My siblings and I have all asked Mom to live with one of us but she has refused. She says she doesn't want to be a burden. As if she ever could be that to us. You know what, she still slips me a 20 dollar bill when I come home. Calls it "greasing my palm". She's a proud woman.
Yes, at times the child feels like the parent but it's so important not to make them feel like a child. What has helped me is knowing that my mom has been and always will be...a child of God.