My mother, Doris Mae Staton Sweeney, passed way early in the morning on Saturday, May 21st, 2016. She died in her sleep after having a nice dinner with her husband and friends at a local restaurant. She had been working in the garden on Friday pulling weeds. Her Easter lilies had started to bloom and she was very proud of them. There was nothing wrong with her other than the common ailments of anyone 72 years old. She wasn’t feeling ill. I had spoken with her on the phone that night. She asked me about my dissertation proposal, and finished the conversation with a simple “I love you.” That night, she simply passed away, peacefully, in her sleep.
She was born on May 18, 1944 in Dallas, Texas. She had three other siblings; William (Billy) Howard Staton, Lanny Wayne Staton, and Camelia Anne Staton McBee. She grew up in Dallas and attended Thomas Jefferson High School, from which she graduated in 1962. It was during her high school years that she met and fell in love with Arthur Frederick Sweeney, III. I’ve taken six stories of her early childhood from a family history she wrote several years ago. These stories are taken verbatim from that source:
“Doris as a child was a real tom boy and would spend many hours in trees. At night she and one of her brothers would get in a tree near the street and when a car passed they would scream and the drivers would stop [and think] they hit someone. The two of them were never spotted in the trees.”
“When Doris was ten years old the whole family of six went to Padre Island on a deep sea fishing trip. In total the family caught 250 pounds of red snapper. And that is no fish story. During the day, a large fish was circling around the boat. Doris put her line in and the fish immediately bit the bait. With quite a struggle, she brought the fish in but not before the boat captain shot it in the head. At that time Doris nearly fell into the water with the fish because she was so taken [aback] when the gun went off. She landed the fish and it was a fourteen pound Ling and she is also sticking to this story.”
“Every summer [she] went to Bridgeport Church Camp for a week. When she was around thirteen she met a boy at this camp, and he asked her to go to the camp fire with him at the end of the week. It was a big thing to have a date to go to the camp fire. Since her mother certainly would not have approved, it was a real big thing for Doris. Before the week ended some other boys had told Doris that this young man wrote on the roof rafter, “Doris Above All.” Well you see at the camp they had a saying, “Christ Above All.” When Doris found out what this boy had done, she refused to speak to him and thought this was a very disrespectful action on the part of this young man. Years later when she looked back on this she was sorry she saw it that way.”
“In grade school, Doris and her friends would wear tiny bells on their petticoats, under their skirts, at Christmas time. The teacher one day drug out a huge grocery bag from her desk and made them all go and take the bells off before they could continue class. What was embarrassing was the size of the bag to Doris. To this day she is not sure why.”
“In the seventh grade there was a play and the teacher picked Doris to be the lady that stood on the stage of a bar in Dodge City and sang Frankie and Johnny Were Lovers. Her costume [was] a tight skirt split above the knee. For sure she never let her mother know she did this. But her younger sister was in the school and blackmailed Doris for years over this one.”
“She fell in love the first time in junior high school and was dropped because the boy started dating a cheerleader. This was a crushing experience for her and she cried for days. The next time she fell in love it was with Arthur and to this day it has lasted forty-seven  years. She now assumes that this one is a keeper.”
My dad shared with me his view on mom:
She was a rare combination of a strong-willed, determined woman (sometimes feminist), but also an ‘earth mother’.
By this, he meant that she was loving and considerate, a caretaker and peacemaker, willing to step in when needed and apply love.
She wasn’t always like that. When she was younger, I remember her as much harder, more determined, not at peace. When I was a teenager, she went back to school at El Centro College in downtown Dallas while working full-time as a collector for Drawing Board Greeting Card Company, and later for L. J. Burt, another collections agency. She was very successful at collections. She once told me the secret to being a good collector was to be nice. “You have to be patient and kind. No one wants to get a call from a collector, but you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Working, going to school at night, and taking care of a family was difficult, but she did it. After several years, she finished an Associate’s degree in Business.
She wasn’t finished with her education. At 44, she decided that she wanted to go back and get a four-year degree. She enrolled at Texas Woman’s University in Denton while, once again, working full-time as a case manager for Promise House, a home for runaways and young unwed mothers. She finished a Bachelor’s degree in Family Studies in 1992, which complimented her job at Promise House. I think she found her calling there. This was a job that took focus, drive, and determination while also requiring love, patience, and parenting be administered to the young women in her charge. She spent 18 years at Promise House and retired as the Wesley Inn Director in 2006.
While her father, William Howard Staton, had died in 1967 when she was young, her mother, Sylvesta Alberta Welker Staton, lived until the age of 82. Doris was close to her mother, and it was her death that became a turning point in her life. As her mother became more feeble, Doris came to the decision, not without some trepidation, that she wanted to take care of her mother in the last days of her life. For almost a year, she ministered to her, through the good times and bad, through hospice, to the point of her death as the last minutes of the 20th century ticked away on December 31, 2000. This was fitting because my grandmother, born in 1918, having survived the Great Depression, was a child of the 20th century.
After her mother’s death, a profound change took place in my mother. She had been changed by the act of giving so much of herself for someone else. She told me privately that being able to take care of her mother and being present at her death were the most precious things she had ever received. It was after this that she rededicated her life to Christ. She started to attend church regularly. She became involved in Bible study. She saw members of her church socially, even participating in what she called the “Old Ladies Dance Club.” Recently, she started volunteering at a local pregnancy counseling clinic. My father also became renewed and shared the journey with her. She was active in her church life up until the very day of her death.
This is why I feel strangely at peace. Every day that she was with us was a blessing. While I grieve for myself and my family, I’m confident that she was a strong Christian woman, solid in her faith, and now with God. She is a saint. One more story – at 50, my mother had quadruple bypass surgery. When she woke up, she told me that if she knew that the surgery was going to be that painful, she never would’ve done it. Perhaps she was joking, but in some way, I feel that God knew the pain she had been through and granted her the blessing of a peaceful death. While she was not Catholic, I’m sure our heavenly mother has a special place in her heart for Doris.
The life of Doris Mae Staton Sweeney will be celebrated on Friday, May 27th, 2016 at Sardis United Methodist Church, 640 Sardis Road, Midlothian, Texas 76065 at 2pm. A reception for all family and friends will immediately follow at God’s House in Lone Elm, 150 Lone Elm Road, Midlothan, Texas, 76065.
In Lieu of Flowers…
Donations can be sent to: