ELK RIVER, MINN. – As a boy, Brady Erickson rose early every Mother’s Day for seven years straight in pursuit of fresh tulips—his mom’s favorite.
“I’d get up before the sun came up and run down the street to a neighbor’s house,” says Brady, the oldest son of the Erickson siblings. “I’d either steal or cut some tulips and have those waiting for her when she woke,” spelling “I love you” with the florals. “She got a kick out of that.”
He strains now to encapsulate for his children the many beloved traits of his mother, Pam, who died unexpectedly in her sleep at age 60 in her Fargo home in Nov. 2019.
“You can never replace your mom,” he continues, noting the heart connection a child has to his mother. “I still think of her today, at 42, like I did when I was 10.”
She had “the best of both worlds in her,” he says, recalling her intensive caring for people and pets alike. “But she was also this goofy, sometimes crass, flawed person.”
Her greatest gift, perhaps, was meeting people in their need, he says. “There was always somebody she would coax my dad into sharing (Thanksgiving) meal with us,” whether an exchange student, foster child, or homeless person.
While on a family drive in their station wagon when he was around six, his mother spotted a woman walking in the rain with a bag of groceries, and yelled out, “Jon! Stop the car!” “I remember thinking, ‘Why are you bringing this wet old lady into our car?’” Brady recalls, as they offered her a ride. “But I also remember her being so grateful, and Mom never brought it up afterwards.”
As a youngster, Hannah, the fourth-born, would draw comfort from her mother’s hair. “I would suck my thumb and hold a chunk of her hair on her head,” she says. Years later, the kids would find her hair in their food and other places and tease her about it. Now, Hannah says, she’d do anything to stroke her mother’s hair again.
Relief in a mom’s presence
She also remembers peering out the window, waiting for her mother to return from an errand. “I would miss her so much, even if she was gone for a short amount of time.” Hannah’s excitement at seeing her mom reappear never left her, she says, even after becoming a mother herself.
Hannah especially loved their after-work visits, her mom in her recliner, holding a glass of white wine with ice cubes, scrolling through her phone and bursting out with laughter at funny memes. “Sometimes she’d close her eyes so tight laughing that one of her eyelids would flip inside-out, and we’d make fun of her, but she’d just keep on laughing.”
Her mother’s sense of humor made uncomfortable topics seem normal and relatable, Hannah says. Recently, she found a message her mother had sent with an article about a company that mixes cremated remains with other things. “Forget coffins,” she’d written. “I want to be swirled into a paper weight, and you can send me to a thrift store.”
Pam had requested a party to commemorate her life’s end, so her family hosted a celebration at the Sanctuary Events Center comprising stations for kids to do artwork, celebratory music, and the sharing of good memories.
Despite her deep faith and love for others, Hannah says, her mother was inwardly insecure. “She didn’t think she was qualified enough or good enough. She didn’t think she was beautiful. But we saw all those things in her.”
Pam died around midnight. Her husband, Jon, had been at the lake the night before, and, not wanting to wake his wife, slept on the couch downstairs. In the morning, he found her unresponsive.
‘I couldn’t let go’
When Hannah reached her parent’s house, the police were there, and wouldn’t let her see her mother right away. “It was torture,” she says, but eventually, they let her say goodbye. “It was kind of like our roles were reversed,” Hannah shares. “She’d always been there for me, and it was just this moment where I couldn’t let go. It was me holding her instead of her holding me.”
The phone call that morning had come from Drew, the youngest son and self-professed “difficult child” of the family. He now works as an evangelical youth pastor—a role his mother had predicted. “She used to tell me how much potential I had, but I always took that as a negative, like I wasn’t good enough yet,” Drew says,
later realizing it was authentic encouragement from a mother who saw her child’s gifts.
Not long before her passing, he called her with news about his new ministry job. “Being able to tell her that I get to reach the unreached and care for people with the exact no-strings-attached as she did” was a profound moment, he says. “She wasn’t a huge evangelist, but she was the biggest evangelist I knew, just by the way she lived.”
It was in the simple things, like taking him out for chicken-tortilla soup after bringing him to his allergy-shot appointments during his school years. “We would just sit and spend time with each other,” Drew says. “She would take time out of her day to make sure I knew I was loved.”
Sarah Link, the firstborn Erickson, knew her mother the longest—during her years working at home. Pam would later work at the YMCA in childcare and at a low-income housing facility.
“She would walk me to school every day,” Sarah says, with snacks waiting afterward, going all out for birthday parties with obstacle courses and other fun activities. “She was just uber creative.”
Grandma with gusto
When her oldest, Beckett, was a toddler, Pam watched him while Sarah worked. “And oh, the shenanigans they would get into!” she says. Beckett enjoyed talking to “grandpas,” so Pam would bring him to the Fryin’ Pan restaurant every week to chat with the older gentlemen there.
Another time, Pam asked him what he dreamed of doing. “He said, ‘I want to ride the bus and eat cheese!’” Sarah says. “So, she got a baggie of cheese and they went and rode the bus. It made his heart happy.”
As a young adult, Sarah began to especially appreciate her mom after moving out to California to work and be with a guy who didn’t treat her the best—against her parents’ wishes. Near a breaking point, she finally called her mom, and without hesitation, Pam flew out to bring her daughter home.
“I just remember feeling this sense of being saved, like, ‘Now that I’ve talked to my mom, everything is fine; she’ll make everything better,’” Sarah says. “And she did.”
When Hannah’s first child, Benji, died in infancy, her mom swooped in. “I remember her holding Benji and her being so beyond loving,” Hannah says. “She was just taking in his little fingers and toes, admiring and memorizing every part of him, saying, ‘I can’t wait to kiss your fingers and toes in heaven someday.’”
Now, Hannah imagines those words as reality, she says, bringing her comfort.
Keeping her spirit close
The Erickson siblings, including their adopted sister, Elthyah, 15, try to keep their mom near, bringing fun into their family gatherings, just like “Grammy Pammy” would have done.
But some days, it’s hard to replicate the feeling of her earthly presence. “Whenever I go through my spells of being hard-headed or losing some of my gusto or drive or anything, my wife just says, ‘Your mom is the one I would call right now.’” Drew says. “Not only did we lose a mom, but a whole support system.”
Thankfully, they have videos of her, and a photo album Brady’s wife, Apryl, made filled with her Facebook posts, and a father who does his best to fill in the gaps. “It’s been incredible to watch my dad embracing the chaos,” Drew says.
The song, “My Lighthouse,” by Rend Collective, seems to encapsulate her spirit. “Any time there was a storm in anybody’s life, she was there to really lighten things up, to show the way and give advice,” Drew says. “So when that song plays and our kids are dancing, it’s just amazing to watch her spirit live in that.”
“She was such a unique and incredible woman,” impossible to live up to, he says. “But there are parts of her we each get to carry,” he adds. “She was striving to be more like Jesus, and that’s what we are called to do; she gave us an example of who Jesus was.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on May 12, 2023.]