Honoring Irma, A Mothering Heart

May 5, 2015  - by 

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies….She reacheth forth her hands to the needy….Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. – Proverbs 31: 10, 20, 25-27

Karen Hawbecker’s voice becomes tender and quietly breaks. A gentle spirit enters the room as she remembers her Aunt “Irm,” Irma Cartigny. “She was there through my childhood and became like a second mom to me,” Hawbecker softly says.

She Reacheth Forth Her Hands
“My mother was exhausted,” states Hawbecker of her earliest years. “Because she had two sets of twins, she had seven children in seven years. Help was thankfully nearby. “My aunt and uncle lived in town and had no children of their own. My aunt had the generosity, a generous spirit, and came to the house every day to help my mother with all of the children.

Irma 3

Cartigny gave her time to others as well, making everyone feel special. “It wasn’t until I was older,” said Hawbecker, “ that I realized she was also caring for a lot of her other nieces and nephews: my cousins. They all felt like they had a close relationship with her.. I could see this at her funeral. So many of my cousins were there and all felt like they lost someone who had truly cared for them.”

“She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
Cartigny approached discipline lovingly, yet firmly. “I got in trouble with her just a couple of times” notes Hawbecker, describing one particularly memorable incident. “My parents weren’t home. [My younger sister and brother] were in the living room. My friend Sue and I snuck down the front steps, and I clicked on the organ and started playing haunted house music which scared them so badly. We then snuck back upstairs. My sister called Irma. She got to the bottom of it quickly. She told me that Sue had to go home. Then she said to me, ‘That wasn’t funny, and it was too realistic’ and I had really scared them.”

Cartigny’s listening ear and wisdom helped Hawbecker as she grew older. “As I got into my teens and collegeage, I could turn to my aunt to talk. I was able to talk about ideas and opinions and history and literature and…that’s what I miss about her now,” recounts Hawbecker. “Sometimes I wish I could call her. She was such a good listener, and if I needed to spend an hour more on the phone with her, she always had the time.”

She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Hawbecker portrays an industrious Cartigny. [Irma] always seemed to be doing something. While watching television, she would be folding towels. She would be sweeping in the living room. To this day when one of us gets out the broom to sweep the living room, others say, “Oh you’re sweeping the room like Irm used to.”. Her house was immaculate. She was always really organized.

Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
I ask Hawbecker if her aunt was humble. “Very definitely. I remember telling her once she looked like Vivien Leigh,” the Oscar-winning actress famed, in part, for playing Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind in 1939, Hawbecker remembers. “[Irm] hit me and said “I do not!” She thought that was the biggest absurdity. She did look like her though, especially when you looked at her pictures as a young woman.”

Irma was a natural-born teacher, someone with curiosity and the desire and ability to share what she learned. “She liked to try new things. I remember going to her house and she’d say, “Now we’re going to try some meditation,” and we would lie on her living room floor and she would tell us what to do,” depicts Hawbecker.

“She was artistic. She liked to engage in crafts and made a lot of different things. She taught us. She liked to go for walks, and she loved going for drives. She was curious about exploring places,” Hawbecker details.

Lifelong Motherhood
For Hawbecker, the lessons Irma Cartigny taught her have had lifelong impact and meaning. “I never knew that I would be in a similar situation where I would not have children of my own. She taught me that I can love other children like they’re my own.”

This Mother’s Day let us rejoice in Irma Cartigny’s life, in Karen Hawbecker’s life, and in the lives of all those mothers and mother-hearts that have made a loving difference in the life of another.

Do you have memories of your mother or someone who has mothered you? Leave a comment below and preserve those memories using stories, photos, audio, and documents in our Memories section.

We rejoice that the call to nurture is not limited to our own flesh and blood – Jeffrey R. Holland, “Because She is a Mother,” April 1997.


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    1. My mom left when I was years old and now I’m 53 she would be 72 I love her still