Tilma Annikki Halonen
March 25, 1937-August 5, 2015
My mother immigrated to Canada from Finland as a young girl, and landed in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. She worked as a chambermaid in a small independently motel business, and eager to meet other Finnish speaking young people, she started attending the Finnish Pentecostal church in that same city. It was here where she met Jesus as her Saviour, and where she also met my father, her future husband.
My father always told the story of their courtship with a sparkle in his eye, and as young children growing up at home, we heard this story often, and never grew tired of hearing it. He had written down his version of this whirlwind courtship with my mother, and had me read it aloud at her funeral just a few days ago, and of course I did. It was my honor to do so. Her health had been declining over the last couple of years; she had had multiple surgeries and had suffered a couple of strokes. This last one she could not recover from, and she died peacefully in the hospital with my father and my sister at her bedside.
My dad remembers how, more than 55 years ago, he and a couple of his buddies had been away in Toronto, and upon their return to the Soo, they had heard that a new girl from Finland had begun attending church. They, of course, being normal boys, decided to go to the very next service in order to check her out. He maintains that as soon as their eyes met, it was love at first sight, and the other fellows didn’t stand a chance. He and my mom were inseparable after that. As a matter of fact, he made sure of it, because the very next Friday, he bought her a ring, and she accepted it. The only thing was, he had neglected to actually ask her to marry him; it was just simply clear to him that she would be the mother of his children.
When we were growing up at home and heard this very romantic story, my mom always interjected in this part of the storytelling. When she accepted the ring, for some reason, she didn’t understand it was an engagement ring. I suppose because she was new to the country, she thought it was a friendship ring of some sort, and it wasn’t until their friends and acquaintances started congratulating them on their engagement, that she realized what had happened. By the time she had gathered her nerve to give the ring back, she realized she was smitten by my father’s good looks and charm, and decided to go through with the wedding, which took place on September 17, 1960.
My father went on to say that the Lord had blessed them for 55 years with 5 children and 9 grandchildren. He added that despite some hardship, he had an abundance of wonderful memories with my mother; he loved her with all of his heart, and he would miss her. He relinquished her into the arms of her Savior where He was waiting for her with open arms. Dad was at peace with her passing. He knew she was finished with her pain and suffering.
When my brother called to tell me of my mother’s passing, I thought of many things I would have liked to have told her, or done with her one last time, and then I realized how futile those thoughts were. One of my husband’s and my favorite Bible verses is found in Isaiah:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
He often reminds our children of this valuable lesson: there are only two things to take away from the past: lessons learned, and good memories.
With this in mind, I was reminiscing about my childhood, and the memories I had of my parents. The years of my adolescence and the years I spent in college, before I moved away from home for the final time, seemed to be the most significant years for me, as I remembered conversations with friends and neighbors. These years were financially difficult, but I remember often we had someone, usually a friend of my older brother’s staying on our couch for one reason or another. The door in my parent’s house was always open; there was always an extra pillow or blanket; a cup of coffee, or a bowl of chili to share with anyone who needed it. We lived on the shores of a lake; my parents ran a small business with a convenience store , coffee and snack bar and dock rental for boats. I think we gave away more cinnamon buns and coffee than we actually sold; our profit margin could not have been very large.
My father also sold firewood on the side. He cut down the trees, dragged them out of the bush, cut the logs and split them, and delivered whole cords of wood to whoever would buy them. We also heated our own home this way. It goes without saying that my mom and all of the kids helped him with this hard work.
I remember a conversation with a neighbor who marveled at how hard my mom worked alongside my dad splitting and preparing the firewood. He told me he admired her grit and strength. He said he did not know of another woman who could work as hard as a man, and be as devoted to her husband. Another neighbor told me once, that as hard as he tried, he could not entice my dad to have a sip of beer or to utter a cuss word. He had seen my dad get frustrated and lose his temper, but he had never heard him swear, and he had admired him because of it. Hearing the admiration of my parents’ neighbors at a young age made me realize they were also worthy of my respect and admiration. They preached love and acceptance in the community they lived in, and they did it without words.
Last weekend, my mom was in the hospital after she suffered her stroke, and it seemed as if she would recover. I was at her bedside with my sister and brothers, and my father urged us all to go home and be with our own families, but my sister refused. She adamantly decided to stay until the end of the week; nothing could make her go home. It was a good thing she decided to stay because she was a wonderful support for my father when my mother passed. I realized then, that she possessed the same resilience and determination that my mother did. Some would say she was stubborn, I suppose, but she saw what needed to be done and she did it.
My mom was never one to raise her voice and lose her temper. I see that quality in my brother Tim. He is very patient and even- keeled most of the time. I have never seen him lose his temper either. My other brother Ray is now a dad to young children, and I love to watch him with his family; the doors of his home are always open to his neighbors and friends; and I see my parents’ gift of hospitality in him as he shares what he has with those around him.
I have spent many hours in conversation with my mother, in phone and in person. She was never too tired to talk with me or to listen to what was on my heart. She was kind and empathetic, and when my brother Brian calls me up on the phone, it doesn’t matter what he is going through himself, he is always quick to ask me first how I am doing. He is very selfless that way, and I believe that is also a gift he has received from my mom.
It so true that we can’t choose our families, and no one family is flawless, but I am so blessed to have mine. As we laid my mom to rest this weekend, the time we had together was a sad time, but it was also a time of celebration. We celebrated the blessing of having Tilma as our mother, and we celebrated as we knew she was at peace.
When my friend Carri found out my mom had passed, she gave me an incredible verse from the Psalms to read. It comforted me at the time, and it comforted me again, when my dad so lovingly stated that Jesus was awaiting her at the gates of heaven, with open arms.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15