A word of love for Frances Wilks Hammock


Last night (Saturday), my mother passed away in Fairhope, Alabama. Holding my brother’s hand, she whispered peacefully to him her last word: “Love.” No word could better sum up my mother’s life.

In April, she would have been 96. Like my father before her, she spent the last few years of her life having her memory slowly and cruelly chipped away by Alzheimer’s or a similar dementia-type progressive condition. But the disease could never take away the memories her family and loved-ones will always hold onto — memories of her wit, her gentle spirit and her heart of unsurpassed kindness.

In 2009, I wrote a Mother’s Day message about her that included the following:

“Whether or not it is true, I’d like to believe that dementia has slowly peeled away all my mother’s memory and thoughts until she has reached the essence of who she is. And for her, that essence is complete and total love and joy. While it is sad that she does not know who I am when I visit her, that sadness is more than compensated by the way in which she showers love on me — and all others — with whom she comes in contact. She is still funny. She loves people. And she loves God. That is her essence. That is her reality. For the past couple of years, I’ve observed that my mother has reached a state of being that is like that described in some eastern and new-age religions as being “in the moment” or the state of now. There is no future or past. Just this moment. And so, embrace the joy this moment brings. (While that may be an eastern way of viewing things for others, for her it’s very much Southern Baptist.) The journey through dementia can be cruel and contain great sorrow. But for my mother, it has brought her to a place where only this moment is real. And, for her, the only real thing is love.”

Earlier this evening, I posed this question to my two brothers: “Do you recall her ever saying anything mean-sprited or unkind to anyone — about anything?”

Never, we all agreed.

“Love.” No word could better sum up my mother’s life.