On June 11, 2008, Jane Mulvihill, mother of three Northwestern alumni and one current student, passed away just six months after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
The Mulvihill family gathered with Pilot editors Jenny Collins and Nancy Zugschwert to talk about their family’s experiences. In the context of this issue’s theme of identity, the interview focused on the question: What creates a family identity? How does it develop over time and what happens to the family identity in times of struggle and loss?
Meet the Mulvihills
- Joe - dad; a staff member with Faculty Commons, the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ
- Josh '00 - son; youth pastor in Rochester, Minn., and his wife, Jennifer (Steele '01)
- Jake '02 M'08 - son; teacher at Meadow Creek Christian School in Andover, Minn., and his wife Amy (Enerson '02)
- Amanda (Mulvihill '08) Westphal - daughter; teacher in the Anoka-Hennepin School District and her husband Brady Westphal '08
- Jared - son; currently a junior at Northwestern
If there is one word that could sum up Joe and Jane Mulvihill’s family identity, it would be “intentional,” defined as “done with purpose, not by accident.” And you can quickly see that in raising their children, in living their faith, and even in Jane’s dying, being intentional has left a lasting mark.
“We were focused on intentional living —as parents, as far as what we were trying to build into our children and our family life,” Joe said. “Jane and I would try to get away two to three times a year to assess how we were doing personally, as a couple in our marriage and in our parenting. We would write up and then carry out what we believed God was leading us to do regarding our next steps in each area.”
Their children may not have been aware of their parents’ strategies, but they know now that they had some unique experiences because of it.
“Our parents would have us read certain books at certain points in our development and we’d have to come back and report on them,” Jake said.
Josh chimed in about how they were trained as young drivers: “Dad would drive us to the middle of nowhere, ask us to pay attention, give us a map and tell us to find our way home.”
Amanda was embarrassed at times by their approach to dating. “If anyone wanted to date me or take me out, they had to have an interview with my parents.”
Her newlywed husband, Brady, agreed that the experience was unusual, but he understood its purpose. “The first time [I met them] I was a little taken aback…but I went through that night and thought it was amazing to see two parents who loved their daughter so much.”
Beyond the fun stories of how they were affected by their parents’ approach, the Mulvihill children learned through their mother’s illness the value of their family identity, in deep and profound ways. “It’s not too often you get to teach someone how to die well,” Jake observed. “Mom was not only intentional in living and in parenting but also in dying.”
Upon learning of her diagnosis, Joe shared that the family adopted this attitude: “If God exists, and we believe He does; if He is sovereign, and we believe He is, then we as a family have chosen to thank Him and embrace this blessing and His timing in each of our lives as the greater glory unto Him, even though we would never choose to walk this path.”
Jane also embraced her situation by giving all she could while she was able. “On her last Mother’s Day, we had assembled a collection of tributes to her and were honoring her,” Jake recounted, “when all of a sudden she pulled out a bag for each of us with 18 books in it…on prayer, grief and parenting. When she passed away she had a box prepared for each of us, with a personal letter.”
Josh noted that the fruit of their parents’ efforts “shows in the growth each of us has experienced; Mom and Dad didn’t just want to raise kids who were converted to Christ and happy citizens, but kids who would really live for Christ.”
As adults the Mulvihill children are determined to carry the family’s identity of intentionality into their work and their own families.
“In all of our lives, intentionality is a pretty big deal,” Josh expressed. “It drives us and the ministries we work in. We work with students and see the other end of the spectrum, where there are very few families who are intentional about what they want to become.”
Jared, the youngest, said he has felt the impact of his parents’ intentionality in practical ways.
“I’ve noticed it in college with other guys who don’t know how to clean or cook or fix anything. Mom and Dad would teach us those things along the way. I was surprised not to see that in others.”
Most people with ALS will live with the disease for three to five years, but Jane experienced a very rapid course and died just six months after she was diagnosed.
Josh noted that she had three prayers throughout her illness: she wanted to keep her voice (ALS patients typically lose their ability to speak along the way), she wanted to make it to Amanda’s wedding on June 7 and she wanted to die at home. God answered each prayer.
“Her last major event was Amanda’s wedding,” Jake noted. “One of the big things was that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, and Dad’s living example exhibited that spiritual reality in those last six months… in his commitment to her and serving her,” he continued, emotionally. “Dad never left her side. It was so amazing to culminate their marriage covenant with Amanda’s wedding.”
Jane Mulvihill’s family asked her what she wanted her grandchildren to know about her, and she replied that she wanted them to know “that I was a person who walked with her God and had an ongoing intimate relationship with Him…that I lived in light of eternity. And that I was a great mom.”
Of that, there is no doubt.
Written by Nancy Zugschwert.
You may also wish to visit the Caring Bridge website created for Jane Mulvihill.
"A Life Well Lived: A Collection of Writings Celebrating the Life of Jane Mulvihill"
Jane Mulvihill's family has put together a special collection of writings about Jane, including interviews, words of wisdom and reflections by those who knew her well. They invite you to read this collection and discover more about the impact Jane was able to have as she lived her life "in light of eternity."