ICSF’s First Mother
As the saying goes, you never know the value of what you have until you lose it. I came to believe this ever so poignantly when I was, without warning, notified of my mother’s unexpected death in July of 2016, while I was away on a cleft palate mission in Pakistan.
After I first read the email I didn’t believe it was true. I thought it was referring to someone else or a mistake. But it slowly sank in. The person who supported me in everything I did and was the center of my life and work was now gone from this world. The only bright thought I could muster was that Beverly, my mother, had lived a long life (she passed away at age 86) and had been active doing the things she loved right up until her last minute on this earth. This thought was yet very little comfort. At one point I didn’t feel like I could go on with the work of ICSF without her.
Aside from tending her beloved garden, where she passed away suddenly on that bright sunny July day, my mother’s favorite activity was interacting with the supporters of ICSF. Most of all, she enjoyed writing thank you letters to our donors. Each and every donor received a sincere, personal letter from my mom and she became friends with a good many of them (each donor still receives a thank you letter from our tireless office volunteer, David Payne). Some donors still list their donations in honor of my mom. She took care of the business end of things, leaving me free to plan, coordinate and prepare for the missions, although she always lent a hand on those busy nights before I departed to another part of the world.
Although my mother lived a long life and passed away in her favorite place without having to suffer declining health or in a bedridden state, it doesn’t change the fact that I still miss her every day. I miss her starting conversations when things were too quiet. I miss her hand on my shoulder overlooking me as I worked on the computer. I miss her radiant smile when I walked in the door having arrived home from a mission. I miss her cheery voice when I called on the phone from far away. I miss her waving her hands high above her head, standing out on the street until my taxi was out of site when I left for my missions. She taught me that caring for people and tending to their needs was the most important thing we can do with our time. Although I have not exemplified this attribute nearly as well as her, I at least have her example to guide me.
I would probably never have started ICSF or begun my full -time international volunteer work without the ideals my mom instilled in me over my lifetime. In fact, when I first announced in 2003 that I was going to leave medical practice in the U.S. and enter full-time volunteer work in the third world, she exclaimed: “Geoff, this is what you were born to do!” It was this sentence, spoken by my mother, over the telephone that gave me the courage to go ahead with my decision, amid other voices of: “you’ll regret it!” or “you’ll ruin your career!” or even, “are you crazy?”
My mother’s heart for our patients is something that, to this very day, keeps me going and guides me. She was always visibly or audibly sad when she learned of patients having their surgeries cancelled for whatever reason. Every time I see a patient in need I think of my mother and am prompted to do the right thing for the patient and to put my own wants aside. My mom’s demonstrated love for our patients and their families has helped me see the children we serve through their own mother’s eyes, which makes me do my very best for them. My mom is the reason I take five hours performing an operation other mission groups do in forty-five minutes.
I think mothers are amazing things. I thank God for the mother I have, and I thank God for the mothers of our patients. ICSF was created through the inspiration of an American mother and it fulfills its goals through the love of Filipino, Mexican, Peruvian, Bolivian, Vietnamese and Pakistani mothers.
God bless you forever, mom--and God bless all of ICSF’s mothers in the developing world. You all have forever earned my respect and love. Mom, you still are, and always will be, the heart and soul of ICSF.
by Dr. Geoff Williams