Cheryl Farmer was hesitant to be featured for Mother’s Day. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to know her story, claiming she was “boring and uninteresting.” After spending over an hour with her at her home in Benton, it was clear she was anything but.
Farmer graduated from Sheridan High School in 1978 and from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1978. She has been married to Tom Farmer for 39 years, and they have three sons together: Tadd, Josh and Ben Farmer. The couple also have six grandchildren.
“She is just a really sweet, caring and loving lady,” Josh said. “She is just so hospitable to everybody. She treats people with the same care and love that my brothers and I were treated with.”
For 27 years, Cheryl kept children in her house, having up to eight kids there at once. She said she loved it because it allowed her to meet their parents and be a part of their lives.
“I also got to be home and do things like have dinner ready and my laundry caught up,” she said. “I got to be at home and still have a job.”
Rick Grant, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Benton, which Cheryl and Tom attend, described Cheryl as someone who has incredible qualities about her and should be recognized and applauded.
“She loves her family and loves the Lord,” he said. “She sees where her blessings come from and is always thankful for those.”
Grant said Cheryl’s faith guided her during the two most difficult times in her life — the unexpected death of her youngest son, Ben, and her mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
“She was able to get through it because of her faith,” Grant said. “She has a strong belief in the Lord and a strong belief in the ministry of the church.”
Cheryl’s mother, Ann Wilson, died April 21 after an 11-year struggle with the disease.
“She had it for 11 years from what we could really narrow down. We saw symptoms; we just didn’t realize what we were seeing,” Cheryl said.
“It was odd things, but we just didn’t put two and two together,” she said. “She had outbursts. We’d see her get real angry a lot or have what we called meltdowns.
“I just didn’t get it until about six years ago.”
Cheryl said it is unbelievable how many people are being consumed by the disease.
“It seems every family that you know has at least one person who has Alzheimer’s,” she said. “We just weren’t aware of it because they hide it.”
She said her mother would have maps stacked up by her chair, studying them to get around Little Rock or to Jonesboro.
“She was also going to the store a lot because she was only getting a couple of things, forgetting what she needed and not writing it down,” Cheryl said. “Then as [the disease] progressed, it got real ugly for several years.
“Many people that I have talked to said it is a totally opposite personality of what you have seen your whole life, and there is a whole lot of fear in it.”
Wilson had just turned 80 before her death, and Cheryl said she rallied for her birthday.
“We saw some glimmers of her knowing us. She really perked up,” Cheryl said. “She said my name a couple of times, and she hadn’t said my name in two years.”
Wilson was diagnosed with pneumonia in January 2017 and moved in with her daughter that February. Cheryl said her mom had lived with her prior to that, and Cheryl had also spent time driving back and forth to Sheridan every day to take care of her mom and dad.
“There are so many things you don’t know when you go through it the first time, so you are kind of guessing at it,” Cheryl said. “I didn’t know what hospice was. I thought it was for someone near death.
“But I can’t say enough good things about Saline Hospice. They are incredible people. You can be on hospice for a really long time, and it is just a great help.”
Josh said his mom would have sandwiches and cookies ready every day for the nurses who would come over to help with his grandmother.
Cheryl’s dad, Conrad, is 92 and lives with Cheryl and her husband. Conrad is a World War II veteran.
“She is having to make decisions for her parents, and she does so in a God-honoring way,” Grant said.
Next month will mark the two-year anniversary of Ben’s death. He died in a car accident on his way to work in Sheridan. Cheryl said another car was passing a log truck and was in his lane.
“He swerved to miss the car because they were in a curve, and when he swerved, he hit the log truck head on, killing him instantly,” Cheryl said.
Ben, 29, was a chemical engineer and worked at Kohler in Sheridan.
“It was so raw in the beginning and so painful,” she said. “I know where my son is, and I know where his faith was. We know he is in a better place.
“God is taking care of him. As time goes on, you don’t get over it, but you do get more used to it.”
She said one piece of advice she was given by a friend who lost her daughter was, “You just have to live till you feel alive again.”
“It really hit home at the time and was such good advice,” Cheryl said. “In the beginning, you don’t think you can get up or move or go on.
“It feels as if the world is passing around you. Everything else is going on, but for you, life has stopped.”
Cheryl said she is covered with a lot of grace because she knows exactly where he is.
“The weekend before, we had a lot of discussions about things he had gone through,” she said. “It gave us an opportunity to talk and really know what he was thinking and going through.
“I know where his faith was. He is so taken care of. It doesn’t make me miss him less, but it does give me great comfort.”
Grant said that after Ben’s death and service, Cheryl and Tom came up to the church one day and served lunch to the staff, wanting to say thank you.
“It shows the kind of people they are and the kind of person she is,” Grant said. “It wasn’t expected, but cooking is one of her love languages.”
“She just loves feeding people,” Josh said. “When we were younger and playing sports like football, every Friday afternoon, we would eat a good meal before the game.
“She’d make a spread of homemade everything. It was always the best. It didn’t matter if you were the water boy or the quarterback — you’d get the same treatment.”
Josh, who is now 35 and a lawyer in Benton, said he remembers when he was a senior, and he brought over a sophomore for the dinners.
“He ate ketchup on everything,” Josh said, “so my mom would always make sure she had a big bottle of ketchup at the house.
“She always took care of those details.”
Josh said it wasn’t until he was a junior or senior in high school that he found out that not every mom cooked breakfast every morning.
“She’d wake us up at like 6 a.m. and ask what we would like,” he said.
“Then she’d go and make it. And it could be anything from pancakes to biscuits and gravy. And it was always homemade. I thought it was normal. It was awesome. If you were going hungry in that house, it was your own fault,” Josh said.
“I have never eaten anything of hers that I didn’t like,” Grant said, “and she seems to always have a lot of it.”
Tom, whom Cheryl met while in college at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has worked for the Bryant School District since 1990. He is currently the transportation director, but Cheryl said he plans to retire soon. He is also running for mayor of the city of Benton.
She said one of the things that has helped her with the death of her son has been the outreach and memories that others have shared.
“It shows me he is not forgotten and that he existed,” she said. “Some people steer clear of it because they don’t want to make you sad or they don’t know what to say.
“Others will send me messages or funny pictures. They give you those stories, and that has been a real comfort. Just knowing that people care has given me more insight into the kind of person he was.”
She said Ben could speak “sarcastically fluently and was real witty.”
“I am grateful that I have my other children and my grandchildren,” Cheryl said. “I’ve got a lot of life to live, and we are grateful for that. We are grateful for what we have.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.