Death of a Matriarch

I received word on Wednesday, January 17th that my Grandmother Foutz had passed away sometime in the afternoon. Amazingly, my father had traveled from California that day and was at the doorstep of the nursing home when she died. She was living in Rest Haven Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a home supported and run by the Plymouth Brethren denomination to which she belonged and raised her children in.

The wake and funeral were held in her hometown of Grand Haven, Michigan, a port town on the shores of Lake Michigan. I drove up Thursday morning, and by midnight several other family members had arrived from Texas and California. We spent the better part of Friday taking care of the remaining details, clearing out her room, and preparing for the upcoming services. The following obituary was carried in the Grand Haven Tribune on January 20:

Ruth A. Foutz, age 87, of Grand Rapids, formerly of Grand Haven, went home to be with the Lord on Wednesday, January 17, 2007, at Rest Haven Home.

She was born July 16, 1919, to George B. and Dana (Musk) Johnson in Grand Haven; and married Paul Foutz on November 18, 1939, in Grand Haven.

A life-long area resident, she had been employed at Michigan Bell Telephone Company as an operator. Ruth was a member of the Grand Haven Gospel Chapel.

Surviving are her children: two sons, Robert (Patricia) Foutz of Grand Haven and David (Martha) Foutz of Palm Desert, CA; six grand-children: Scott Foutz of Evanston, IL, Noel (Maria) Foutz of Palm Desert, CA, Jeff (Amy) Foutz of Kingwood, TX, Steve (Kathleen) Foutz of Grand Haven, LeAnn (Jeff) Schannep of Prattville, AL, Michael (Nacole) DeJong of Vancouver, WA; eight great-grandchildren; brother Charles (Lillian) Johnson of Spring Lake.

A funeral service for Ruth will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, January 20, 2007, at the Klaasen Family Funeral Home, with the Reverend Ken Shady officiating. Visitation will be Friday from 7-9 p.m.. Internment will be at Lake Forest Cemetery.

Memorials to Rest Haven Homes, 1424 Union N.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49505.

During the services the term matriarch was used and rightly so. My grandmother became a single mother when my father (Dave) was still an infant and remained single throughout the rest of her life. She was aided in raising her children by her mother and siblings, but to everyone's recollection her life revolved around her children and grandchildren, all of whom grew to love the warmth and acceptance she offered them.

And this was particularly the case for myself, especially during my turbulent years in Grand Haven where I knew, even on the darkest hour, that I would be given unconditional love, a warm bed and a home-cooked meal whenever I visited. To think that so much family, so many hopes and relations come from this one woman is truly amazing.

The funeral was well attended, exceeding our expectations. Most were faces I had not seen in decades, most distant family members from the Gospel Chapel which I attended as a child. Second, third and fourth cousins, aunts and uncles, Sunday school teachers and fondly remembered warm faces all surrounded us in a deluge of memories and support. The experience of being called back to my childhood permeated my days there, all with the complete sense that it was the love and Christian devotion of my Grandmother Foutz which made all my family's lives what they are today.

This was truly a bitter sweet experience, with a deep sense of loss on the one hand and an undeniable recognition of the value and worth of my grandmother's life on the other. I walked away from these three days in Grand Haven with memories and feelings I shall not soon forget. I am the eldest grandson of Ruth A. Foutz.

We will never forget.

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