Gladys (Patron Saint & Spiritual Midwife)

March 6, 2013 | 11 comments

Aunt Gladys seemed more ready for Heaven than anyone I ever knew, but even when her body begged to go, she demanded more time on Earth. She told us that she was determined to outlive her four siblings. She saw herself as a sort of caretaker, I guess.

So, she would will that heart of hers to keep on beating.

It perplexed me, as if Aunt Gladys could simply untie her apron, curl up on her bed and slip out of her skin whenever she pleased.

I’ve never been the style of believer who had a good sense of what was coming in the next few years, let alone the next few minutes. And I’ve never been one to think we could tell God what to do in these matters.

But Aunt Gladys had a different way of seeing. As a child, I thought it seemed a sort of simple prophecy. I wondered if maybe she’d found that gift tucked in her tattered Bible, which she read straight from Genesis to Revelation once every year.

Like her Scripture reading, her whole life had a rhythmic certainty to it. She rationed her bread and knew precisely how many loaves she ate each year. On our birthdays, she penned us long letters that we could barely decipher. (She wrote in small print, to save paper.)

I can’t remember for sure anymore — maybe it’s legend — but I do recall stories about her instructing people to use only one or two squares of toilet paper as a way to conserve.

She knew poverty and pain. During the Great Depression, her sister, Lois, died from pneumonia on the way to the Ringgold County Hospital. So Aunt Gladys stepped in, marrying her sister’s husband, and helping raise the three young children.

She wore all those hard years on her frame, it seemed. With each passing year, her back hunched deeper. I thought it looked like God folded her in half.

There was nothing fancy about her. Her socks sagged in ripples around her ankles. She wore simple, threadbare house-dresses. She gave us coloring books or socks for Christmas.

Yet, more than anything else, I remember her smile. I remember how the corners of her mouth pushed her eyes into a tight squint. I wondered how she could see with eyes pinched shut like that.

I always wondered how she could see.

And then, the Dukes brothers began to die. Merle. Then Vincent. And in November 1989, her brother Paul — my grandfather — died of a heart attack at the Ringgold County Hospital.

I remember watching Aunt Gladys — last Dukes standing — bent over her brother’s casket a few days later. They say she lost the will to live here after 85 trips around the sun.

Thirty days later, with a county hospital blanket drawn around her, Aunt Gladys’ heart stopped beating.

snow angel

Author Sarah Bessey is collecting stories about spiritual midwives and patron saints who’ve shaped our spirituality. So then, this story of Great Aunt Gladys…. (Find more of of the spiritual midwives’ stories over here. )

(And our #TellHisStory linky can be found by clicking here.)

by | March 6, 2013 | 11 comments


  1. 3dLessons4Life

    I think we could use some more rhythmic certainty in these very uncertain times. She sounds like a dear saint…. What a blessing to have such a godly legacy in your family!

  2. lynndmorrissey

    Beautiful Aunt Gladys sounds a lot like my beautiful great aunts Francie, Hazel, and Martha. How I miss them. And if you have ever read Truman Capote’s classic true short story, A Christmas Memory, your Aunt Gladys sounds a lot like the author’s precious elderly cousin, Sook Faulk. I highly recommend this story. Thank you for sharing about your aunt, Jennifer, and the wonderful legacy she’s left you and which you are living out. I wish I would have known her…..but I”m glad to know you, her reflection.

  3. Michelle Eichner

    What a beautiful picture of how important the inside is! Isn’t it a blessing to have Godly women in our heritage? Thanks for sharing Aunt Gladys with all of us. We’re richer for it. Hugs!

  4. Mai Bateson

    Aunt Gladys is a great legacy to your family. May the Lord give her eternal rest! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  5. lorisprayercloset

    Oh, I loved your honoring your dear Aunt! What a wonderful portrait you painted of your memory of her. Made me smile and get kinda teary too! Lori

  6. Megan Willome

    “I thought it looked like God folded her in half.”–that is a great sentence!

    In my dad’s family, one man stepped up and married his brother’s wife (my dad’s mom). His brother was a deadbeat, and the good man had lost his wife in childbirth with their second. Thus, they created an instant family of two brothers, plus a cousin. One more boy came. They all grew up on the farm.

  7. Duane Scott

    Beautiful, Mrs. Lee.

    What an interesting lady!

  8. debyholtschlag

    I always smile when I hear the name Gladys. My friend’s father called his sister, Gladys, “happy butt”. In my life I have known two Gladys’ and they have been mighty warriors for Him and living up to the nickname of their name. He shown so brightly through them and have left the same memories. “Yet, more than anything else, I remember her smile. I remember how the corners of her mouth pushed her eyes into a tight squint. I wondered how she could see with eyes pinched shut like that.”


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