Mary Valentyn Pribbenow

 

The month of November is the time in the church year when we are called to remember and celebrate the holy souls who have gone before us. When the names were read at our parish All Souls Liturgy earlier this month, my mom’s name was among them. Althea Valentyn went to her eternal reward on August 13, 2017, three months ago today.

Mom was special to our Women Celebrate family. She attended the very first Women Celebrate in 2002. Because of her caregiving role for my dad, she was only able to be at one other weekend. She spoke to us via video at Women Celebrate 2015, giving witness to her love for Jesus and sharing her wisdom for living a Christian life. And she prayed all the time for our team and for the women Jesus would bring together each February—that we would grow in our love for and knowledge of Jesus.

At mom’s funeral mass, I was blessed to share the following eulogy/reflection on behalf of my family. I share it here as a way to honor my dear mom, and I pray that you are blessed in reading it.

 

“When Sr. Delores from St. Paul Elder Services came to mom’s apartment last Sunday morning, she took mom by the hand and spoke right to her. She said, “Althea, God’s got you, so do not fear; do not be afraid. He won’t let go. He’s got you.” 

As I was preparing this reflection, Sister’s words kept coming back to me. God had mom, without a doubt. But mom had God! Her whole life, mom had God. And how do I know that? Because mom had love! Mom was a lover and a giver. And she didn’t just love us or give to us, her family; she was there for anyone who needed her; there with an open heart and the joy that true loving and selfless giving bring.

Mom loved people like it was her job. 🙂  She couldn’t help herself. God gave her the ability to really be with people, present in times of joy, and sharing life-giving compassion in times of suffering. She knew when to speak, and she knew when to let silence speak. That is a rare quality, a true gift.

Her love for people led her to put others first. Mom was the one working in the kitchen while everyone else was relaxing. She’d be putzing, preparing and sharing more food than we could possibly eat, making sure everyone else had something to eat before she sat down with her plate. 

Mom was not only generous with her time with us kids and the grandkids, but also with her church and the larger community. I think she may be the only person I know who had a grocery store ministry. She’d tell dad she was running to grab a few things at the store, and we’d look at each other and say, “Okay, see you in a couple hours!” Mom ministered to people in the produce aisle and anywhere else God might bring them to her.

 Mom had a special way of helping people know that they were good and worthy; that their gifts were worth sharing with the world. She would make you feel like what you had to say was important to her, and to the world. You mattered in mom’s eyes. And she would give you a healthy dose of self-esteem by reminding you not to worry about what they say because you are good.

This innate understanding that people are good led mom to answer the call to become a coordinator for a religious education program for persons with special needs. Who does that at a time when the world said people who were different couldn’t learn, couldn’t understand? Mom did that. She knew at the core of her being that Jesus called her to teach His special ones about God’s love and care for them.

Her care for them came with a simple trust that everyone is special in God’s eyes. She believed that every child, every soul, was beautiful beyond what could be seen. With her faith, her love, her wisdom, and a whole lot of gumption, mom started a program that continues today. Her teaching extended beyond the students, to their families and to ours. Many people have grown in their own faith because of the example mom set.

Mom instilled her love of learning in us and in our children. This is the time of year, the start of the school year, when she’d tell our kids, “Listen, and you will learn.” So much to ponder in that short quote. And such great wisdom for all of us to practice.

We had no greater cheerleader than our mom. She loved us so much and was so proud of us. She wanted us to be good and to do good; to use our God-given gifts to the best of our ability, and for God’s glory. No matter what we were doing, she supported us with her presence and her encouragement. Even when we didn’t think we could do something, mom believed in us, and that was all we needed. Mom was on our side, and we knew it, and it made all the difference.

In August, mom was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. It was proposed that she may be a candidate for a new aortic valve. And so began a month of conversations with family members, friends, and doctors about whether or not she should pursue surgery.

I think this is where mom showed she was human. The thought of choosing to do nothing would mean ultimately leaving her people and this life she loved.

So what did she do? She did what she had done countless times before. She asked God for help.

A couple weeks after her diagnosis, an entry mom wrote in the visitor guest book we had at her apartment read, “Help me Lord, to hear you.”

A few days after that, she wrote, “Hi all, it is hard to decide…God will surprise us all…I love to hug you all, but I will be hugging you all from Heaven.” She inserted a smiley face here.

And finally she wrote… “Just remember me when I’m in Heaven…pray the door will be opened.”

Mom, I believe the door was wide open. 🙂

This lover, this giver, this woman who lived Jesus and loved Jesus and taught Jesus to everyone she encountered, now LIVES WITH HIM in HEAVEN. Thanks be to God!”