Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ponderings on Death this Mother's Day

View from my mom's backyard at sunset April 2014

I want to thank each of you for your prayers and comforting words since my mother's death before Easter. I have been the recipient of so much kindness these past few weeks, from many meals and other helpful deeds being provided for my family, to thoughtful words and prayers from friends I have yet to meet in real life.  It is a great reminder that the truly important part of life is relationships.

In our culture we don't have a lot of time set aside to grieve.  The funeral itself was a blur of making arrangements, greeting all the people who came to pay their respects, figuring out logistics of travel.  Then the next week my brothers and sister and I had to go right back to our regular lives.  In the old pagan days we would have torn our clothes and cut ourselves with knives, or more biblically maybe worn sackcloth and sat in ashes, refusing to eat.  Something.  Because this was a surprise event, we had done none of our grieving early.  I expect it will come when it comes, different for each of us, and we will each have to find a way to make a space for it.

Yesterday my first thoughts upon opening my eyes were about my mom.  It was the first time I actually let myself say to her "I miss you, Mom." But I started thinking about this Mother's Day and the sadness of it, and I realized for my mom it is a beautiful day.  She may be spending it with her mother, and her great-aunt, and her grandmothers, and her great-grandmothers, and on and on.  What wonder to look back through the generations and see the love and even the hardships that had a hand in our past. No longer bound by time and space, able to know and be known by Christ Himself but also by all the generational links back to the beginning of time.  Mind-boggling.

Some of my grief has been shamefully selfish.  I loved my mom, and I miss her for selfish reasons. So that I can tell her something.  So that I can call her.  So that I can hear about everyone else in the family that she kept up with. So that I know I always have a place to go home to. So that my children always have a grandmother who loves them. So that we can go thrift shopping together. So that I have my mother who always wants to give me a small gift. So that there is someone who has known me my entire life -- longer than I've even known myself. So that my mom can be the link back to her mom and her mom before her through all the stories that were handed down. So that my mom can make each new grandchild his/her own special quilt. So that my brothers and sister and I have a link holding us all together, no matter how far apart we are geographically.  I could go on and on.

So that there is at least one generation standing between me and my own mortality.  I have to admit to being shaken up about that.  My mom had had heart problems, but supposedly she was doing fine.  She was always a vibrant, healthy person, active, never overweight.  Her parents died in their eighties.  Her sudden death at 67 from a heart attack or stroke leaves little reassurance for me.  I can't say "if I just don't do this (whatever this is),  I'll be okay".  Her death feels arbitrary, and I guess it somewhat makes me - her oldest child, her daughter who is only 18 years younger than she - feel doomed.  I already have sucky genetics (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) against me on my dad's side.  Yes, I know that God has our days numbered, and there is nothing we can do to add or subtract from that, but this is where head knowledge and visceral reality meet.

I think maybe no matter how old you are when you lose a parent, you still feel like an orphan.  Both my husband (his mother died suddenly last year) and I are surprised to be without the safety net of a mother and her prayers and her "capableness," if that's a word.  I have to say that I don't think I could ever fill the shoes of either my mother or my mother-in-law.  At one year shy of 50, I still never feel mature or like I've got it all together, like I could be the matriarch of a family.

On one hand, I am feeling very grim and sober about this life.  Bad things happen, not just death, but other things too.  Even in these last few weeks, more troubles have headed my family's way. It seems like my forties have been too much about learning that, too much grief.

On the other hand, I feel reckless and extravagant.  Seeing how quickly life can be turned to death, I want to love my husband and children (and others), to actually be alive while I'm here, to put aside all petty annoyances and hindrances and to embrace all the good and the wonderful that also constantly surround me, whether it's watching baby wrens learning to fly or hearing my children laugh.

How to do that, and not be paralyzed by fear or dread.  Not a theoretical problem, but an imminently practical one.

One thing that has helped me.  I have had two very vivid dreams about my mother-in-law since she died.  The dreams were different, but in each dream the feeling was the same.  My mother-in-law was so happy, so joyful, light, almost giddy.  I've thought about that and thought maybe that's what we are like in heaven where we have no worries, no burdens, no fears anymore.  What will it be like to be totally free of fear and the cares that weigh us down, and at the same time know we are totally loved? One day we too will know.  It reminds me of the verse in 1 John 4:18 "...perfect love casteth out fear."

I want/need to wrestle with God through the Psalms, and I want/need to worship Him like Peter:
"Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life." John 6:68 (KJV)