I've known only one person in my entire life who never spoke an unkind word to others and who truly lived by the Golden Rule: doing unto others as she wished they would do unto her. She believed devoutly in Jesus Christ and in reincarnation and saw no incongruity in those twin beliefs. I never heard her utter a swear word or act or speak in anger. Not when her husband didn't support her talent or desires. Not when she ended up divorced after more than thirty years of marriage. Not when her divorce settlement wasn't honored. Not when other people, thinking her weak, took advantage of her. No matter what life hurled at her, she never complained. She smiled serenely and lived in a state of grace unknown to most people.
This remarkable woman was Frances Smith Reeves. If she'd been born later in the twentieth century, I think she'd have become a renowned artist of the realist school. As it was, born in the early thirties in a small Texas town where women weren't expected to "become" anything other than wives and mothers, she did as was predictable, marrying while still in her teens and producing three children, my husband being her middle child. Yet, in her soul, she sensed there was something more for which she was fated. Throughout her life, she tried to fulfill her potential and find her destiny.
As a child, her talent was undeniable, but there was little opportunity though her parents always admired her work and encouraged her. There were no other artists in west Texas where she grew up and attended school. She had no chance to develop her talent or to learn how to make art a career. Everything she learned, she learned by reading and experimenting. By the time she was thirteen, she started painting and never stopped until she left this earth.
The two paintings I photographed tonight to share with you are some of her work. I apologize for my paltry photographic skills that don't do the oil paintings justice.
We all hear that you should live each day as if it were your last. Frances Smith Reeves, the beloved mother of my husband, did that every day of her life. In the end, she died with dignity and grace--just as she had lived.
In 2003, Frances suddenly fell ill and was taken to the emergency room. By the end of that horrible day, she'd received the diagnosis that she had pancreatic cancer and had mere weeks to live. My husband and I, three of our children, and my brother-in-law traveled to be with her. We were all devastated and couldn't imagine life without her in it. Frances was calmer than any of her children and their spouses and her grandchildren. She said she'd had a good life and had no regrets. We battled guilt and regret that we couldn't stay with her as we returned to our respective homes.
Daily, we who loved her called and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to cram a lifetime of love into those phone conversations--without breaking into tears. She was far stronger and more composed than any of us.
August 29, today, would have been her birthday. In 2003, she made it to her birthday, but on September 26, less than two months after diagnosis, she lost her brief, agonizing battle with pancreatic cancer.
If one believes in reincarnation, then it's easy to believe that Frances was an old soul, evolved higher than most mortals. If this is true, then her next life should be filled with happiness from all the good karma she built up. If one believes in Jesus Christ, then it's easy to know that Frances has found her reward in Heaven. Perhaps Frances was right in her belief in both. If so, there is no doubt she has found her soul to be doubly blessed. But we miss her.
Wherever you are, Frances, you live on in our hearts.