Remembering Her — Kathryn Ruth Byer Trautwein, January 3, 1916 – May 25, 2014

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It was a strange feeling to walk out of that room for the last time; it had been her home for the last five years, with just enough space for a few personal belongings, a private bath, and a small view of the lovely patio outside. Yesterday afternoon, we closed the door of Room 80 at the memory loss center where she lived, where she died.

We picked up the last of the furniture, filling both of our cars to do so; some of it will go to her eldest great-grandson, who will soon be setting up his own place.

It was a graduation weekend, you see. In every sense of that word. 

We got the call on Friday night. The Hospice nurse, who had been so faithfully checking on my mother-in-law each week for the last two and a half years said, “Something has shifted. This is the weekend and I just wanted you to know.” An hour later we were there, and it was true. There is a ‘look,’ an other-worldly sense that someone is not long for this plane. And we saw it.

We felt it. 

I took out my small prayer book, the gray one that I carry in my car at all times. The one with the beautiful prayers, the particular scriptures, and I made the sign of the cross on her forehead and I read the words I love so much, to this woman that I love so much:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior,
we commend your servant, Kathryn.
Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you,
a sheep of 
your own fold,
a lamb of your own flock,
a sinner of your 
own redeeming.
Receive her into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the 
glorious company of the saints in light.
Amen.

May her soul and the souls of all the departed,
through the 
mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
– The Book of Common Prayer

And the next morning, we made the 140 mile drive south to celebrate Ben’s graduation from Chapman University, Dodge School of Film and Media Arts. And we congratulated him on winning Cinematographer of the Year and a lovely grant for his next project. We hesitated about going, but decided that if Mama were able to talk it over, she would say, “Go! Celebrate. Give Ben my love.”

And so we did. We gave him her love.

So much love.

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Kathryn with her first born, Richard, 1942

We have lived such a blessed life. We have surely had our share of pain and struggle; we have endured wildfire and near-flooding, burglary and accident, disease and death. 

But we have had so much love.

Our children were the only ones in their circle of friends who had all four of their grandparents still living and active while they were students in college. At the time of her death, my MIL had fifteen great-grandchildren, one of them named for her, many of them with stories to tell about her great laugh, her delight in them, her fabulous cooking skills.

We know how rare this is.

And what a great gift.

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On a warm summer evening in 1968, soon after that first born,
his wife and infant daughter returned from two years in Africa.

I suppose on the strange and twisted scale of celebrity and fame that captures the minds of so many, Kathryn Trautwein was not a ‘big’ name. She never caused a scandal, she never made a ‘name for herself,’ she never wrote a book. From the outside, there wasn’t much that seemed the least bit big or celebrated about her.

But she was big in the hearts of her family. She was big in the hearts of her many friends. She was big in faith, big in love, big in laughter, big in commitment and joy and service. 

She was a remarkable mother-in-law. When it became clear that her son was getting serious about this younger student at UCLA, she called, and made an appointment to meet me. We had tea together in the living room of the small Christian sorority to which we both belonged, and she asked me some good questions. I think I was 18 years old when we met.

I passed muster. Because from then on, I was included in every family gathering – and there were many family gatherings! – and assumed to be part of the tribe. I was never criticized for anything, even though I’m sure she must have had a lot of questions about decisions I made and the way I raised my kids. 

They lived 5 minutes from us, she in the house she shared with her husband for 62 years, we in three different homes, the first of which she found for us. The only time I can ever remember her saying ‘no’ to me about anything, was to a house I was considering that had a pool in the backyard with no fence around it. She never learned to swim and hated getting wet, and she could not imagine her grandbabies surviving such danger!

I’m glad she said ‘no.’ I trusted her judgment and God had a much better house in mind for us, one where we raised our three for thirteen good years. A house she loved and enjoyed, too.

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 Mama & Papa with our son, 1972, in the house that she found for us.
It was his surprise arrival, bringing our brood to three, that pushed us into house-hunting again.

If I needed help with the kids, she was there. If I needed advice about cooking (NEVER about sewing!), she was there. If I needed advice about gardening, she was there. And she was there for a long list of other people, too. She was intelligent, well-read, loved crossword puzzles, made the world’s best short ribs and a magnificent 3-layer cake.

She was an active volunteer at their church and at Christian Women’s Club, where she taught and mentored younger women, and she helped with the Women’s Auxiliary of Fuller Seminary, where I later became a student. That was probably the decision of mine that caused her the most inner anguish. She did not come from a tradition of women in ministry and she wasn’t quite sure about it. But she never doubted God’s call on my life and after my installation at Montecito Covenant, she said the most interesting thing to me: “Now, you belong to the people here.”

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 At our daughter’s wedding reception in 2011, one of her last outings anywhere, with Dick’s sister Jean,
on the patio of Montecito Covenant Church. Such a happy day, but she struggled to be there.

And she was right. For fourteen years, I belonged to those people, as one of their pastors and as a kind of through-line during a lot of challenging transitions. 

But I also, and always, belonged to my family. And she was such a central part of my family, such a central part of me. I will be forever grateful for her love and encouragement. And I will miss her until the day we meet on the other side.

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On Mother’s Day this year. She died two weeks later.

Driving into the driveway at 11:00 on Saturday night, after the graduation festivities and the long drive, we called to check. “She’s still here.” “Good,” we said, “we’ll be there tomorrow.”

And so we kept vigil all day Sunday. What a privilege to sit in such holy space, to wait while the angels gather, to greet family as they come to say good-bye, to say ‘thank you, thank you’ to the amazing aides who loved her well during her time in this place.

Our nephew came and brought his three young children. Our daughters made the long drive and brought their husbands. Our son had been there the day before. All of her ‘local’ grandchildren came by to say farewell. At 5:00, we checked out for the evening, gathering good Mexican take-out food, and eating it on our patio with our girls and their men. Just as we finished, the phone rang. 

“I went into her room to check on her . . . and she was gone.”

Just like Mama, to leave quietly, no fuss.

We returned to that space, met my friend Sherry, who is the chaplain at The Samarkand Retirement Community, said a few more prayers, picked out some clothes to send with her body, talked with the hospice nurse who made everything official.

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THIS is who she was – a beautiful, caring, faithful woman of God,
who loved her family and lived well.

Kathryn Trautwein was a true gift to this world. A brave woman, a strong one and a good one. She loved us well. We are grateful for her long life, and we are grateful for her release from it. I find myself saying ‘thank you, thank you,’ just under my breath; drifting off to sleep at night, waking in the morning, these are the words in my heart and on my lips.

She will be buried on Monday, in a crypt in Ontario CA that she will share with her husband of 64 years. Jean, Dick and I will make the long drive and I know our rich memories will carry us all the way there.

Like her father before her, she was an occasional poet. These are two of my favorites, ones we will include with her memorial folder at a service of celebration in the Chapel at The Samarkand Retirement Community in Santa Barbara on Sunday afternoon, June 8th, at 2:00 p.m.

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How like God to have His 
lamb be born in a stable.
Be announced to and first
worshiped by shepherds.
Be dumb before His
accusers then be
sacrificed for me and
be risen as my Good Shepherd.
Now I the obedient sheep do
follow him!
–  Kathryn R.B. Trautwein

Potter’s Ware

I am God’s
    signed, named, original
    not cloned with many likenesses,
    one of a kind,
made in His image,
    treasured by Him,
    valuable in His sight.
A simple earthen vessel but
Indwelt by eternity.
— Kathryn R.B. Trautwein

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Comments

  1. What a rare gift, indeed.

    And what a lovely tribute. Pitch perfect. Grace and peace to you and yours.

  2. A beautiful trinbute Diana! Thank you for sharing her with us.

  3. I read this through tears, and I imagine you write it with more than a few of your own. Kathryn must have been a remarkable woman to be so wondrously loved. So much of what you’ve said brings back memories of my own MIL. My FIL was a pastor (as is my hubby), and she was the kind of pastor’s wife I always wished I could be… so gracious, gentle and filled with love for everyone.

    Blessings to you in this time of missing her.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful woman and a wonderful legacy.

  5. What a beautiful way to remember your mom in law. I love her poems! Prayers for you and your family.

  6. Gwen Acres says:

    A beautiful life! What a rich legacy she leaves with her family. The empty room felt so sad until I thought that now she has the heavens as home. I love the last line of her poem “Potters Ware”…A simple earthen vessel, but indwelt by eternity. Thank you Diana for sharing a little of Kathryn’s story and your love for her.

    • Indeed, Gwen! the heavens as her home – makes me happy to think of her, restored and together with so many loved one who’ve gone on ahead of her.

  7. Mary Ann Smiles says:

    This was so beautiful to read. I will miss being at the memorial. Please save a memorial folder for me. I know she was welcomed to heaven by my mom and dad. They were in my dreams the night before she passed.

    • Oh, oh, oh, Mary Ann! That made me cry – to dream of your folks the night before Mama died – what a sweet gift. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. We will miss you! And yes, we’ll be sure to save you a folder. Jean and Richard are planning to come to the family reunion in July – not sure about me. I’ll be recovering from foot surgery that leaves me on one foot for 8 weeks! The surgery happens the Thursday after the service.

  8. A beautiful tribute, Diane.

    The love for your mother in law shines brightly with each word. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family as you celebrate her life and her home-going. May God give you all His comfort and peace.

    ~ Cassandra from Renaissance Women

  9. ‘We have lived such a blessed life. We have surely had our share of pain and struggle; we have endured wildfire and near-flooding, burglary and accident, disease and death.

    But we have had so much love.’

    There is no greater gift than love and word by word, line by line you have shown us a woman brim-full of love. Thank you for this lovely tribute. May this time of graduation be for you all a time of blessing – when joy and thanksgiving for all that now begins helps you to deal with the sadness of loss.

    With love and continued prayers.

  10. I was hoping you would find time to write about your lovely MIL. I loved every word.

    I love most Kathryn’s faithful loving and serving in each stage of life. A lesson for modern moms of all ages.

    Many blessings as you grieve.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

    • It was a matter of time, yes, it was. But it was mostly a matter of emotional space and readiness. It took me several days to even reflect very clearly. Thanks so much for your blessings, dear friend.

  11. This is so very lovely, Diana – just like you. I think of you often, my friend, as you walk through these days. May the Lord comfort and strengthen you and your dear husband, and may all who have been loved by and love Kathryn know the sure hope of Heaven. Love you dearly.

  12. My MIL would like yours. They departed this life five days apart. I’m so sorry for these separations but so thankful for our hope in Jesus. He is our every hope. Love you.

    • I had guessed she was close to heaven, but didn’t know she had passed. Many blessings to your whole family, my friend, but most especially to Jim. He’s a lot younger than my husband to lose his mama!

  13. Diana, you put so many pages of a life well-lived on to just a few. So very beautiful. I know she must have loved you very much. I thank God for her influence on many who have the blessing of her legacy. Prayers for you and for your dear husband as he walks through the journey that accompanies grief, necessary even when heaven and eternity lie before.

    • I thank God for her influence, too, Dea. She was a great gift in my life, that’s for sure. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. What a love-filled tribute you have written here for your mother-in-law! Your words sound like a symphony. They and your mother-in-law have spoken to me about how I want to live and relate to my loved ones. Even though I never met her, she has impacted my life. Thank you for sharing with all of us. May God comfort you and Dick and all the family.
    Linda

    • Such wonderful words, Linda! Thank you for leaving them. It’s a gift to know that even in her dying, she has had an influence on someone new. She truly was a remarkable lady. We’ve been missing her for a long time now; one of the gifts of her death is an almost immediate re-connection to the heart of who she once was. So many rich and wonderful memories!! I am grateful.

  15. I know you must be glad for her restoration with Jesus now, but her absence here must also leave a hole, and I’m sorry for that loss and the long loss of dementia. Thank you for sharing this beautiful woman’s story with us. A life lived like your mother-in-law’s makes me long to love well, live well, finish well.

    • It’s always both, isn’t it, when a loved one dies after a long illness? Sadness and joy, all wrapped up together. Thanks for your kind words, Elena.

  16. I couldn’t write at first for the tears. Dear Diana. I wish I could sit beside you, take your hand and just weep for a little while together. I read this with my heart because we share a similar blessing. You are walking this road a bit before me, and you model such grace.
    Praying His peace, comfort and unfathomable love will fill the hearts of all of you who loved her so dearly. She leaves behind a precious legacy.

  17. How favored are we who have been surrounded by light and love and led on a well-worn path of following Jesus. You have said it perfectly here and blessed us all by her life.

  18. Diana,
    My heart goes out to you and your family in your profound loss. I read all the lovely comments and echoed many in my heart. Thank you so much for this exquisite tribute that I wish could be read by millions. I’m inspired by your words about her life to be the best m-i-l that I can be to the wives of my three sons. I am blessed by two precious daughter-in-loves so far, and I pray for the wisdom and grace of your “Mama.” I can hardly wait to meet her in heaven someday; that will be pure joy! (And I have the feeling I’ll be thanking her then for her godly example given to me by your precious words.Thanks again, Diana.)

    • Such kind words, Judy! Thank you, thank you. She will be among the first to make you feel welcome when that day comes, believe me. She had lovely, quiet gifts of hospitality. We miss her!

  19. What a lovely tribute! I didn’t skip a single word. How did you find the time? It must have come pouring out. I’m glad it did. Blessings on the entire family at this time, Diana.

    • Thanks so much, Marilyn. I began gathering what few pictures I have in digital form first and then just sort of lived with the reality of her passing for a few days. And it did pretty much come pouring out last night. There were so many stories that could have been told, but these are the ones that came.

  20. I’ve just recently connected to your writings so as a stranger, the polite thing is to say,’ I’m so sorry for your loss’, and I am because I well understand the burying of beloved family members.
    But what my heart wants is to be able to sing and rejoice and congratulate you for appreciating this wonderful gift you were given. God is so wonderful to put such precious people in our lives. Thank you for sharing your beautiful tribute to a life well lived in love.

    • Thank you, Elaine. Though we are tired and occasionally sad, our primary sense is one of celebration. From the moment her eyes closed to this world, she was ‘present with the Savior,’ and all the loved ones who have preceded her in death — including her parents, both of her brothers, her husband and a large extended family and many friends. We are deeply grateful for that wonderful truth.

  21. Quiet and unassuming, but bold to speak out when it was necessary. A lovely tribute to a wonderful godly mother in Christ.

  22. So many mixed emotions I imagine. What a legacy of love and Godliness for your family.

  23. This beautiful tribute to your Mother-in-love is remarkable. So frequently women will compete for control instead of combining efforts. Thank you for sharing her story and yours.

    The angels gather in mother-in-law years before I met my husband, and I know I’ve missed a treasure.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Diane. It was wonderful having her in my life – she truly was a second mother and a good companion.

  24. How like God, indeed. Thank you for sharing her poems, Diana.

    Love to you.

    • Thank you, Lyla. Apparently, this is your first visit here in the comment section, because I had to APPROVE the maker-of-this-blog-site just now. Love to you, too. I know you know this journey. Far too well.

      • No way, I’ve been here before. You know that. 😉 I think my name came up differently is all. 🙂

  25. Diane, what a beautiful tribute to your mother-in-law! Your love for her comes through loud and clear. What a wonderful testimony!

  26. Ohhhhhhhh, Diana, I was out of town at our Women’s Retreat and drove home this afternoon, thinking about your MIL. What a precious, time–yes. We were with my husband’s father when he passed away here at home and it was a holy time.
    My husband’s aunt and uncle lived at Samarkand (we visited there often when we lived in So Cal) and they both passed away there. What a lovely place.

    You are blessed–thank you so very much for sharing this private family story with us and letting us know Kathryn–we will see her on the other side.

    • ‘precious time…’ Kathryn’s passing, NOT our Women’s Retreat. (tho’it was.) Sorry for the randomness.

      • Honey, I am nothing BUT random these days – so no problemo. Thanks for your kind words and good thoughts, Jody. I had not idea you were familiar with The Samarkand – such a nice place to live. . . and to die, too. We are grateful.

  27. Every MIL deserves a DIL like you to write a remembrance like this, Diana. I feel honored just to read it. And so glad you included her poems!

  28. I have been thinking of you along with all of us traveling this journey of becoming the oldest generation in our families. I can imagine you feel this curious blend of grief and gladness as I did. I have been wondering through my week after the memorial service, after all have gone home. Don’t know if you saw this, but can ‘t help but think it might apply to you and these days. …this is just a part of the poem by Ted Loder.

    In silence, Lord,
    I feel now the curious blend of grief and
    gladness in me
    over the endings that the ticking and whirling of
    things brings;

    and I listen for your leading
    to help me faithfully move on through the fear
    of my time of letting go
    so the timeless may take hold of me. –

    a lovely tribute – you inspire me to put the tribute my nephew wrote to his grandpa a couple years ago and read to him at Thanksgiving. said he wanted to say it to him while he was still alive…then we had him speak for the grandchildren and read it at the memorial service. think i will do that tomorrow.

    Will be praying for you and your upcoming surgery. I may be having knee replacement in August. Ugh. but needs to be done.
    Love and peace to you, Diana

    • I’ve been wondering about you, Carol, how you’re doing with all of this. Thanks so much for checking in tonight. What a lovely poem! And I also love this one by Luci Shaw. Do you know it?

      WHEN YOUR LAST PARENT DIES

      Move up to the top of the ladder.

      Looking down over your shoulder you can see

      the replicas from your own body crowding the rungs

      all the way down. Precarious, you teeter there

      on the final step with nothing for your hands

      to hold. They grab at emptiness. The glancing

      stars are falling around you. Cosmic dust

      stings your eyes. There is no one above you

      to compass the wideness of space. You

      are the final clasp that buckles

      earth to heaven. Somehow, you

      must hold up the ladder, heavy with life.

  29. Betsy Josi Griest says:

    Price and Kathryn Trautwein were our family’s across-the-street neighbors from 1941 until their move to Samarkand. We had moved into our home in 1939 and my parents welcomed this lovely young couple. Over the years they watched my brother Bob and I grow up, and all of us watched Richard and Jean arrive and then grow up. And later Megan was a precious part of my late Mother’s life. She adored Megan and the love was very much returned. As the years went on the two families watched over each other. The Trautweins were the ones to alert my Mother to my Dad’s being down on the back driveway. He had been trimming a hedge and had apparently suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Nine days later, aged 88, he passed on. The neighborhood watch contined. When I moved back to the house in 1989, during my Mother’s last illness, I kept an eye on the Trautweins, alerting Richard when I noticed his father should no longer be trying to take care of his own front lawn. And finally one day seeing him fall as he was gardening. Broken hip. Before too long they made the decision to move to Samarkand.

    Over the years they celebrated family victories with us, Price did my parents’ tax accounting, and Kathryn never forgot my birthday, usually bringing me a little vase with baby pink roses from their garden. I never see baby pink roses without thinking of Kathryn.

    Dear, dear people. Christians in the truest sense of the world. I am sorry I wasn’t there to say goodbye, but will be saying hello again to both of them one of these days. With my dear parents and the Trautweins there, Heaven will be an even more glorious place.

    Love always, you two….

    • Betsy Josi Griest says:

      I forgot to mention two things:

      Kathryn’s merry eyes. How they twinkled. Even in that last photo.

      And Jean. Thanks to Jean for calling me this morning to tell me about Kathryn’s passing. Kathryn had been in my thoughts and I wanted to reach Jean, but had misplaced her address and was reluctant to inquire at Samarkand. Then the call came. And with it news about Jean’s new situation (sounds so good) and Megan’s family. Kathryn would be so pleased that her girls are happily together in such a beautiful place…

      Thank you, Jean…

    • Betsy!!! I am just finding these lovely comments. Thank you so much for leaving them and loving Kathryn so well as her good neighbor the last few years she lived on Wagner Street. What a gift to find your name here.

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  1. […] the same eyeballs were threatening to well-up as loved ones struggled with sad news I came across this from Diana Trautwein and redemptive welling-up took place because sometimes that’s what you need. Reading this […]

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