See Her- Joey Oehrl

Last week I learned about the media’s #seeher movement. (I’m probably behind the times in this, but I figure it’s never too late to join a crusade like this.) I’ve decided to feature a woman in my life that has been/is a role model, a leader, a trailblazer; basically a positive influence in the world, which is a bit of a spin-off of the #seeher campaign, but nonetheless an important aspect of it. 

So, the first woman my blog is featuring is none other than the woman with the most influence in my world growing up; my mom.  And what an auspicious day for this post: International  Women’s Day!

My mom, Joey, fell in love with my dad in high school, and married him the fall after she graduated in 1969. Between the years of 1972 and 1980, she bore 5 (awesome) children, 1 boy and 4 girls. My dad had a wonderful career with General Motors, but with a 7 person household, my mom was always looking for ways to contribute financially to the family coffers. She clipped coupons and always shopped sales, she made many of our clothes and costumes (she still is an amazing seamstress!), she babysat (and became a second mom to many kids), and she did hair, even getting to the point that she enrolled in Chic University. But for some reason, she was left unsettled by that decision.  She prayed about it, talked to friends, and came to the conclusion that her true calling was nursing. At this point she was in her mid-thirties, and (finally) all five of us kids were in school.  

And so began a new journey for my mom. She enrolled at Grand Rapids Junior college (now GRCC), taking mostly evening classes in the beginning, all while still running a household and raising us kids. Yes, she had help...she gives a lot of credit to my dad, my 2 grandmas, and to her kids. But truly, these are her accomplishments, and I won’t diminish them by giving kudos to her support system. We did it because we loved her and wanted her to succeed. Her success is her own. 

She was a leader in school, part of the student government of her class, on a peer board, always arranging study groups, while also volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospital (now called Mercy Health).  She tearfully remembers her first semester making the dean’s list and one of us kids putting the letter up on the fridge the way she always did with our report cards.  (As a side note, I remember starting at GRJC and sitting in the cafeteria and saying to my friends “hey, there’s my mom”, and if they didn’t know her, they’d laugh, thinking I was joking until I would walk up and hug her. I was (and am) so proud of her.)

At the age of 44, my mom graduated with an associate’s degree in Registered Nursing, and she went to work at Blodgett Hospital in the ER (now part of Spectrum Health). It was a priority one trauma center then, and she dealt with everything from minor walk-ins, to gunshot wounds, to child abuse cases, to heart aneurysms. To most of us, that kind of environment, dealing with life and death on a daily basis, would be scary, overwhelming, even horrifying. Although she struggled with people dying, knowing there was nothing more she could do to help them, my mom not only loved the ER, she thrived in it. 

Something she recently shared with me was that every day she went to work she would pray on the way that she would find someone to minister to. And every day she did. Whether it was just being kind and compassionate, or praying with and for patients, she was the angel of the ER. 

After about 5 years in the ER, due to work schedules, she switched departments and went to IR (Interventional Radiology). There she again worked with patients whose lives were in danger. 

After working in IR for a number of years, she moved to Betty Ford Breast Center at Spectrum Health. While working with many women facing or dealing with cancer, she had a special perspective being there. My grandmother had breast cancer and a mastectomy, my aunt died from breast cancer, and my dad had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

My mom loved nursing. After 20 years working at Spectrum Health, she retired. Although she plans to keep up her certification, as she says “I will always be a nurse.”  And despite her many years of working in other areas, the ER will always be my mom’s first love in nursing.  In fact, she always stops at accidents and helps until first responders show up. 

My mom...wife, mother, nurse, and a missionary put in just the right places at just the right times. She is an example that a woman can follow her dreams, no matter her age. She is a role model that all girls and women can look up to, and she embodies the concept that it’s never too late to be the person you know you were born to be.

On International Women’s Day, I’m always reminded of the quote: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” And that quote, in turn, reminds me of my mom. 

*Special thanks to my brother for introducing me to the #seeher campaign.