The past 24 hours have been pretty emotional for our family. My wife’s mother, Camille Mizell, passed away early yesterday morning. She was 82 years old and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the past 7 years. Other than that cruel disease she was in pretty good shape for someone her age. She became suddenly ill at the nursing home, was rushed to the hospital and within 6 hours she had slipped into eternity.
I loved my mother-in-law. We didn’t have the “usual” bumpy relationship husbands have with their wive’s mothers. I was her only son-in-law and she loved me as one of her own. When my wife’s step-father, Clarence, passed away and everyone realized that he had been covering for her memory loss, confusion, and the other early symptoms that accompany this awful disease, I was one of the “sons” she trusted. When we moved her from her home into an assisted living facility for seniors, I was the one who stayed with her at night to make sure she didn’t try and leave.
[Clarence raised my wife when her own father died too early from cancer when she was 10 years old. Camille married Clarence after sufficient time passed for her own mourning and they began a marriage that grew stronger as they grew older together.]
At Clarence’ funeral, Camille was in the early stages of her disease and didn’t really know what was going on. She was confused and kept asking me “where’s Clarie?” It took a while for her to realize that he was dead – just like her first husband – and she fought guilt and despair, wondering what she had done so bad to deserve losing two good men.
Camille moved to Charleston, SC when she was 15 years old. Her own father – a Baptist minister – provided a good life for them. Her mother – Nan – was a good woman who knew how to raise a daughter properly in the genteel life of Charleston. When Camille and Charlie, my wife’s biological father, married it was done in the proper Southern manner befitting a Southern Belle (though they weren’t wealthy, they were proud). A big church wedding, lots of parties, all the silver and crystal gifts. Nan even made her wedding dress – the same one my wife wore when we married 26 years ago – out of expensive slipper satin, something not in great supply during the wars. The pictures of Camille as a young bride wearing that formal gown with the cathedral train is stunning. She was a beautiful new bride and loved every minute of all the festivities a young bride celebrates.
Years later she would participate in the celebrations of the debutantes and society people in Charleston, but this time as a floral designer. She became president of the Charleston Garden Club (one of the largest and oldest in the USA). She was president of the Council of Garden Club of Greater Charleston, Eastern Lowcountry District Director for the Garden Club of South Carolina, member and president of Charleston Pride, president of the Isle of Palms Garden Club, and flower show judge extraordinaire. The ribbons she won for her entries in garden shows were innumerable. For many years she was in charge of decorating the magnificent old mansions in downtown Charleston at Christmas each year. Her work was known far and wide because she was good at what she did. I am blessed because my own wife is just as talented and shares many of the same passions for decorating and flowers as did her mother.
And yet in the last years of her life she couldn’t remember her own name. In the past year she lost all recollection of who we were. I could see her eyes light up when I walked into her room at the nursing home, even though she could no longer speak. I know she knew who I was, and so I would sit beside her and she would lay her head over on my shoulder and cozy up to me. She couldn’t speak but she communicated. She didn’t need words. For someone who created magnificent award-winning floral arrangements that welcomed the visitors in the finest old homes in Charleston, she became reduced to a fragile shell of the woman we once knew.
About 36 hours ago this wonderful woman passed from this life into the presence of her King. Her mind instantly returned to her. The skills to create beautiful things from God’s creation returned to her at that moment. Her mouth began to utter praises to our God in a way she had not done in several years on this earth. Her strength returned to her and that worn out body she once inhabited no longer kept her bound. She is reunited with Charlie, her first love; with Clarence, the man who raised my wife from childhood into the woman I love today; and with Nan and Papa, the parents who instilled a strong work ethic in her growing up. With those innumerable angels in heaven they are all worshiping God around His throne together.
And so we weep because of our loss. But we can also rejoice because of heaven’s gain. Camille will be missed, but one day we will join her in the presence of Jesus and together we all will dance before the King of Kings.