As many know, the Duggar family first found fame through their TV shows 19 Kids and Counting and Counting On. And while Jim Bob, Michelle and their children have been the main focus of these series, over the years fans have developed a soft spot for the family matriarch, Grandma Mary. Naturally, then, fans and the show’s stars alike were left stunned when details of a terrible, tragic incident emerged.
Yes, there was an understandable outpouring of sympathy for the Duggars after they announced that Mary had suddenly died in June 2019. And a number of Mary’s famous relatives paid tribute to their late grandmother on social media, with their sadness echoed by many lovers of the family’s reality shows.
However, in the days that followed Mary’s death, it finally became all too clear just how tragic her passing was. The reality star hadn’t succumbed to natural causes or an illness that had left her family time to say goodbye; instead, she had lost her life as a result of an accident. And as such, her death may have come out of the blue to those who knew and loved her.
Famously, the Duggars are the stars of the TLC reality TV shows 19 Kids and Counting and Counting On. The brood hail from Tontitown, Arkansas, and consist of mom Michelle, dad Jim Bob and their ten sons and nine daughters as well as members of their wider family.
And during the span of 19 Kids and Counting, Michelle and Jim Bob had two children, welcomed four grandchildren and saw three of their kids get married. The series – which focused on the Duggar family and their way of living – was on air for ten seasons between 2008 and 2015 until TLC ultimately ended its run.
Furthermore, as anyone who’s watched 19 Kids and Counting will know, religion plays a big part in how the family operates. It may come as no surprise to hear, then, that Jim Bob and Michelle were brought together by their shared Baptist faith. Yes, the two first met when Jim Bob was out spreading the word of Jesus Christ, and during that work he fatefully knocked on Michelle’s door.
It seems that Michelle made an impression on Jim Bob, too, as he went on to invite her to his Sunday school. In fact, according to Bustle, Jim Bob once asked God of his future bride, “Can she be mine?” Then, after a year of praying, Michelle finally wound up working in his mother’s yogurt shop. Naturally, Jim Bob would drop in on his crush often, and eventually he plucked up the courage to invite her to a high school banquet.
Michelle agreed to attend the banquet with Jim Bob, with the pair finishing the night with four hours of Bible study at her home. And after her date left, Michelle prayed to God, telling him, “I can’t imagine anyone better than this that you have planned for me.” From that moment on, in fact, she knew that her and Jim Bob’s “hearts were knit together.”
Then just a year later – and shortly after they had both left high school – Jim Bob and Michelle tied the knot at the tender ages of 19 and 17, respectively. The couple decided to wait before they started a family, though, meaning they used birth control pills for the formative years of their marriage.
Finally, Jim Bob and Michelle welcomed their first child, a boy named Joshua, in 1988. Drawing on their religious beliefs, they chose the name in honor of the biblical figure. However, little did the couple know that they were starting a tradition – one that would see all 19 of their children given monikers that begin with the letter J.
Yet although Jim Bob and Michelle resumed their use of birth control following Joshua’s birth, they still managed to conceive. Tragically, however, this pregnancy tragically resulted in a miscarriage. And while the couple had planned to name their second child Caleb, the loss led them to discard the name as an option for their subsequent babies.
Then, after their second pregnancy had ended, Jim Bob and Michelle decided to give up on birth control. And soon after, Michelle became pregnant with twins, whom she and Jim Bob would name John-David and Jana upon their arrival in 1990.
Over the next 19 years, Jim Bob and Michelle welcomed a further 16 children. They included another set of twins called Jeremiah and Jedidiah, who arrived in 1998. And the 19th Duggar child was born in 2009, with Josie arriving at 25 weeks and weighing a tiny one pound and six ounces. She has since grown into a thriving child whom her family refer to as their “miracle baby.”
Of course, the Duggars ultimately found fame for their huge brood after a one-hour special entitled 14 Children and Pregnant Again! aired on TLC in 2004. And there were a further four programs focusing on the family prior to 2008, when the series 17 Kids and Counting launched. The show’s name would change to 18 Kids and Counting and finally 19 Kids and Counting as the clan grew.
And as fans will know, the Duggars’ reality show focused on their unique way of life, which is influenced by their strict Baptist beliefs. As a result, then, the series frequently explored topics of faith, modesty and purity as well as how these factors impacted the ways in which Jim Bob and Michelle raised their gigantic brood.
For instance, all of the Duggar children have been homeschooled. What’s more, they’re only allowed to watch films and television shows that are deemed to be wholesome and family-friendly. And, perhaps understandably, the Duggars’ internet service is also restricted.
Then there are the ways in which the Duggar family’s religion dictates their appearances. They are expected to dress modestly, for instance, with tank tops and shorts considered a major no-no. The female members of the family additionally avoid skirts that finish above the knee – an edict that Michelle has claimed is contained within the Bible.
In a blog post Michelle wrote in 2012 on “modesty and bathing suits,” she further emphasized what she considers to be a proper dress code. In the mom’s opinion, uncovered thighs are akin to “nakedness and shame,” while baring the upper legs could be seen as “defrauding” others. In essence, she believes that revealing this flesh could arouse “desires in someone else that cannot be righteously fulfilled.”
Somewhat inevitably, then, the Duggar females stay clear of beaches and do not swim in public. Michelle justified these choices by saying, “It’s just too hard for the guys to try to keep their eyes averted in those situations.” Yet it’s not just the Duggar women who must adhere to such strict standards.
You see, while the Duggar females have long hairstyles, the males are all required to have short hair and be cleanly shaven. And both sexes are expected to date “with a purpose,” as Majorie Jackson – then-girlfriend of Josiah Duggar – told the Daily Mail in 2015. This means that the Duggars can only enjoy chaperoned courtship, where they get to know potential suitors in public settings.
And it appears that audiences were captivated by the ways in which the Duggars conduct their lives. At the very least, 19 Kids and Counting went on to become TLC’s most popular show, with an average of 2.3 million viewers per episode tuning in during the tenth season. This achievement also landed the series a spot in the “Cable Top 25,” as determined by the Nielsen audience measurement ratings.
However, 19 Kids and Counting was abruptly canceled in 2015 after a shocking scandal came to light. During that year, five girls – including four Duggar sisters – claimed that eldest child Josh had molested them between 2002 and 2003. And while Josh publicly apologized over the claims by saying that he’d “acted inexcusably,” his words were not enough to save the reality show that had made his family famous.
The Duggars have, however, gone on to star in a spin-off series called Counting On. Like the original show, it featured the family – apart from Josh – at its heart as well as the spouses and children of the oldest siblings. And just like 19 Kids and Counting, Counting On also enjoyed appearances from the Duggar family matriarch, Mary.
Mary Duggar was born Mary Leona Lester in Gentry, AR, in 1941. She subsequently grew up with three siblings and became a practicing Christian at the age of 15. And while still young, Mary wed James Lee Duggar in 1960 and later gave birth to two children: Deanna, who arrived in 1963, and James Robert “Jim Bob,” who followed in 1965.
Through Jim Bob, Mary became a grandmother to the 19 Duggar children. She also has one granddaughter, Amy Rachelle, by her daughter Deanna. And as of June 2019 she was also the great-grandmother of 13 children. All in all, then, Mary practically became the matriarch of the extensive Duggar family.
And we can only imagine the Duggar clan’s sadness when Mary passed away suddenly at the age of 78 in June 2019. She sadly died just two weeks after celebrating her final birthday on May 26; that special date also saw the birth of her 13th great-grandchild, Ivy Seewald.
The Duggar family would also go on to announce the sad news of Mary’s death on their official Facebook page. The message read, “We are so sad to share that Grandma Duggar (Mary) passed away Sunday afternoon, June 9, 2019. Mary Lester Duggar grew up in Farmington, Arkansas, and was married almost 50 years to J.L. (Jimmy Lee) Duggar, who preceded her in death.”
The post continued, “Mary found great joy in sharing her love for Jesus and her own story of how at age 15 she asked Christ to forgive her for her sins. It was at that time she committed the rest of her life to live for him – a commitment she kept with devotion. She loved to share with others how they too could be forgiven of their sins, live a fulfilling life as a Christian and one day spend eternity in heaven.”
Giving further insight into Mary’s life, the statement revealed that she had enjoyed a successful career as a real estate broker. It added, “She is greatly loved and will be missed so very much! She lived a tremendous life as a follower of Christ, a wife, a devoted mother, a loving mother-in-law and a much-loved grandmother.”
The post concluded, “[Mary] is survived by her daughter Deanna Duggar and her son Jim Bob Duggar, 21 grandchildren [and] 13 great-grandchildren, with several more great-grandchildren on the way!” Those 21 grandchildren include the offspring of Mary’s biological kids as well as Tyler Hutchins – Michelle’s great-nephew, of whom she and Jim Bob have permanent custody.
And the Duggars’ tragic Facebook post was met with an outpouring of support for the family. In the weeks after Mary’s death, it received 70,000 reactions, 15,000 comments and more than 3,000 shares. It seemed, then, that the grandmother had touched many people’s lives in her role as a reality TV mainstay.
One heartrending comment left beneath the Facebook announcement read, for example, “[Mary] has been such a wonderful blessing to see her love of her family all of these years. I am so sorry for your loss. May her memory live on and her love be a reminder through the years and a comfort to each of you.”
Then in the days following Mary’s death, it emerged that she had lost her life as a result of accidental drowning at her Arkansas home. Roger Morris, the Washington County coroner, told USA Today that Mary had fallen into her pool after a slip, and that incident had sadly resulted in her death.
And in June 2019 a representative of the Duggar family revealed more details of Mary’s passing to Us Weekly. They said, “Grandma Duggar has had two strokes over the last year and some other medical issues, and it’s our understanding that [she] had slipped and fallen and passed by the time her daughter found her in the pool.”
A rep for Counting on Family also thanked fans for their well wishes following Mary’s death. They told Us Weekly, “We’ve been really touched by the outpouring of support, and more than a thousand people referred to her as America’s grandma – which is a title we hadn’t even given her.”
And individual members of the Duggar family would similarly take to social media to share their memories of Mary. Writing on Instagram in June 2019, Jill Dillard, née Duggar, said, “My heart breaks. My grandma died suddenly today. She was an amazing woman of God and such a great example to so many.”
Jill’s heartfelt tribute to Mary continued, “Grandma, you are greatly missed by all who knew you! She was a feisty, incredible woman who always took the time to talk about Jesus with everyone she knew! I know she was ready to check outta here and get her new body in heaven before the old one started giving her too much trouble! We miss you so much!”
Nor was Jill the only one of Mary’s relatives to honor the late matriarch on Instagram. Posting on the social media site in June 2019, Josh’s wife, Anna Duggar, wrote, “Great-Grandma Duggar went to heaven today to be with Jesus! What an awesome woman of faith and such a loving example of God’s love.”
Anna’s emotional post went on, “[Mary] was a true soul-winner and loved everyone she met, telling them to turn from sin and trust Jesus for salvation! [We] miss her [so] much, and we cherish each moment we were blessed to spend together! Lots of tears being shed here – grateful for all the prayers!”
Then, on June 17, 2019, Mary Duggar was laid to rest at Arkansas’ Cross Church. As was to be expected, the funeral was a family affair, with many of the Duggars in attendance. And following the service, Jill Dillard took to Instagram to reveal that a rainbow had appeared above the ceremony. She claimed, too, that the band of color was “‘a sign of God’s faithfulness,’ as Grandma would always say.’”