René Thornton Jr. American Shakespeare Center. Photo credit Jay McClure

You wouldn’t know by this photo that “the most important person in the world isn’t here any more.” My friend, René Thornton Jr., was the only child of a single mother, and she was his anchor. Death of a mother is devastating, and was especially so in his case. But her support shines in his face in the header photo to this article. Read why.

He couldn’t know he would face the death of his mother when he posted on this on Facebook:

Rene and his mom vacationing. He couldn't know that just he would face death of a mother just two months later.
René and his mom vacationing just two months before she passed.

“Hey loves, I’m writing you from the Charlottesville Airport, as I sit here waiting to catch a plane to Miami. I’m headed down there because at some point last night, Mom was admitted to the ER. There are more questions than answers…Full disclosure- I’m scared. I’m sad. I’m trying to remind myself constantly that my Mom is the strongest person I know and if anyone can pull through this, it’s her. If you are fortunate enough to know my amazing Mom, I ask that you hold her in your hearts. If there’s any power to communal energy, I beg that you send her your healing thoughts, prayers, meditations – whatever works for you. I’ll update as appropriate and as I know more but for now be kind to each other, give someone near you a big hug, and spare a moment’s thought for me and my family. We need your strength. I need your strength. Love, René.”

The next day, this:

“At around 4:30 this morning my beloved mother, Hada Nilda Flowers, passed away. It all happened very quickly…. I’m glad I got to see her, be with her, and that I was here for her passing. I brought her our collective strength, and she fought (but)…it was just too much and they couldn’t bring her back. I know we all lose our parents. I know some day this will be easier. But for now that knowledge isn’t helping me any because the most important person in the world isn’t here anymore. It’s unbelievable, yet the agony I feel deep inside assures me that it’s real.”

She was just 61, and they must have believed they would enjoy many decades more together. Why shouldn’t a woman so luminous and full of life be blessed with that? Hada, the master gardener who loved books and people, helped others flourish in her presence.

Rene's Facebook post, "I miss my mom." Death of a mother can send the whole world sideways.

Rene's mom Hada when she was pregnant with him. Death of a mother often brings memories to light. In this case, Rene had never seen this photo until she passed and a family member shared.
René’s mom Hada when she was pregnant with him

As one of René’s friends growing up, I thought his mother did the most marvelous job raising him on her own. She had worked two jobs to support them and was working at Hill Air Force Base at the time I met René in Junior High. She had earned her way through a Master’s Degree, and being around them you could feel her adoring love for her son. It occurs to me now that even the choice to live in our unexciting but wholesome neighborhood in Utah, far from where she grew up, helped lay the foundation for his life. It may not have been easy on him being a minority in a predominantly white, Mormon high school, but it placed René in the same group of good kids that made the difference for me too. As a note, she later married the kind and jovial Jim Flowers and they enjoyed many great years of travel and companionship. He deserves a mention here too.

Death of a mother highlights how encouragement lives on

I remember talking with René after college about his mom’s encouragement. When he went into acting, her emotional support was unequivocal. He was born to do this (we all saw it) and she didn’t flinch or give the lecture about earning potential.

René Thornton Jr. Photo credit Miscellaneous Media Photography. Death of a mother can leave a person reeling, but Rene found strength in a lifetime of her encouragement.
René Thornton Jr.   Photo credit Miscellaneous Media Photography

Interestingly, I don’t believe he has ever been out of full-time acting employment since being admitted into a prestigious program at the University of Utah and the University of Delaware. He acted with the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City for several seasons, then the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Oregon, and now is part of the extraordinary American Shakespeare Center in Virginia. He works very hard and jokes that maybe someday he will have a grown-up household with real bookshelves.

René Thornton Jr. American Shakespeare Center. Photo credit Jay McClure. Death of a mother, especially unexpectedly, can leave one in a heap. But here Rene smiles again by following the passion she encouraged him to develop.
René Thornton Jr. American Shakespeare Center. Photo credit Jay McClure

René’s mom supported him in that, and when he told her that he was gay, she did not express disappointment. I remember him telling me that her only concern was his happiness: he was in a non-traditional career, a minority and gay. Would this combination make his life harder? I believe the cover photo in this article answers that question.

His grief must have been all-consuming for a time. Then, after the winter theater season closed, he took a brief vacation. The cover photo was taken right after he got back to work. Here it is, his whole-soul smile. His face is sunshine after such a dark storm. He is alive when engaged in his passion.

What if René’s mother, Hada Flowers, had not instilled in him the sort of unshakable self-worth required of someone going into a profession fraught with insecurity? Would a photo like this be possible after such a loss?

I believe she gave him enough joy and confidence to do what he loves. She lives in him, and her spirit will radiate through her gentle son through a lifetime. This cover photo is a photo that is a tribute to Rene’s mother, Hada Flowers. My heart has been breaking for René’s loss and I have thought so much about the joy that Hada brought into the world through her son. When I saw this picture, it reminded me how death of a mother can send the world sideways but we can still smile again.

Related: Losing my mom

I leave you with René’s own thoughts that he delivered at her funeral:

“Words keep feeling too small, too limiting to capture the fullness of my heart, but here goes – My strong, smart, loving, sweet, beautiful mother and I, no matter how old or how tall I got, still her baby. During a portion of my childhood years, until Jim came into our lives, it was just me and Mom. And what a team we were. What an example she set during those years when you are trying to figure out who you are going to be in the world. There was my mom – working two jobs, working on her bachelor’s degree, still finding time to be with her friends, and managing to provide for me in such a way that I never for a moment felt like we were lacking…My entire life my mother never hesitated for a moment to tell me that I was loved. That she was proud of me. That I could do anything I wanted to do, as long I was willing to work hard for it. It was important to my mom that I have the space and support to follow my dreams and passions, that I lived fully the life that I wanted to live, and not one that she had prescribed for me. Many parents balk or stumble or even shut down when their child says they are going to pursue a life in the arts. But not my mom, she stands by my side filling me with love and support every step of the way. I feel so fortunate to have had such a woman in my corner and I hurt deeply knowing that she is no longer there to catch me when I fall.”

Rhonda Lauritzen

Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden, Utah and work together in it, weaving family and business together. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her latest book Remember When, the inspiring Norma and Jim Kier story.

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