There is a wonderful sense of expansion – endless expansion – about our love for those who are gone, as if it had escaped earthly fettering. The pain of the parting is just the rending of the sheath, as it were, to let the flower have its way. And their love for us will have grown in the same way, only in fuller measure, into something pure and fathomless and boundless and inexhaustible because it is “in God.” 26 May 1918
One year ago this week, my mother went to the “Home” for which she longed. This first anniversary of her death brings close the last months of her 98 years.
Telephone calls had become almost a daily ritual. Often my creativity was challenged by “topics to talk about” as her world became increasingly limited (along with her hearing). There was something that would inevitably resonate: a shared memory… a scripture verse… favorite songs sung, in duet, over the miles… . events in her life (a health flare-up, a visit or letter, flowers outside her window, sometimes a tidbit of breaking news)… events in the lives of her grandchildren and “great-grands” as she loved to call them.
Often our conversation would end with a prayer. “What would you like me to pray for you?” I would ask this person who had faithfully prayed for me (and mine) through the decades of my life. I would brace myself for what was increasingly becoming stock answer: “Pray that God would take me Home.” Stab to heart. I’d try to affirm her value. Now. Her prayers, her listening heart, her simply “being there” for her family, for me in recent transitions, her continuing to pioneer each life stage, modeling now what it looks like to “grow old gracefully.” And when my attempts seemed less than convincing, I would tease, “Well, I guess God just isn’t ready for you quite yet.” Invariably that brought a rueful chuckle, “I guess not.”
And so it was, one evening, the same routine – but this time with a surprise twist. To my “What do you want me to pray for you?” she paused, drew a deep breath and answered: “Pray for me to have courage.” Was it a health crisis she feared? Death? “Courage for what?” I asked. “Courage for living.”
Courage for living. Is that not really the challenge we all face to one degree or another and in various forms? Joan Chittister observed in Illuminated Life, “One of the most difficult, but most seasoning elements of life is simply the fine art of getting up every morning, of doing what must be done if for no other reason than that it is our responsibility to do it. To face the elements of the day and keep on going takes a peculiar kind of courage. It is in dailiness that we prove our mettle. And it is not easy. ”
There are so many escape routes from, well, life. We have, as a culture, become escape artists from reality, numbing our feelings in substances or activities or people or things. We look for ways to avoid the source of our fears by skirting around the issues at hand or denying their very existence. Often it is only when we have no other option that we are forced to look at our circumstances and ourselves confronting, at last, what it is that we fear.
My brother identifies “Life’s Two Greatest Fears” – dying and living – in a sermon by the same name. I am grateful that we have had the unique privilege of having a mother who lived long enough to show her adult children both how to live – and how to die. With courage. Whether it was in the big trials and tests of life or merely the tedium of seemingly endless days. Courage.
At the end of the day – literally our days on earth – comes “a wonderful sense of expansion” – the “endless expansion” of Eternity with God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:4) Yes, Mother has escaped earthly fettering – at last. And “the pain of parting is just the rending of the sheath, as it were, to let the flower have its way.”
Her legacy to us is her life – and more. The witness to God, testified to in the words of one of her favorite hymns:
“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy Faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided –
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
Painting: Algerian Pocket Sketchbook 1888