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)


  1. You have written this so well. It takes me back to the early weeks after my mother's passing when I had many of the same thoughts. I was cured of "doing the math" when The Lord reminded me that my times are in His hands. I have no guarantee of tomorrow in this life, but that promise of life ever after is all the more precious. Sweet comfort to you as you journey through this season of loss.

  2. I am so sorry that you lost your mother suddenly. Please do not think yourself selfish to suffer through grief. This is a very sad time for you; and I'm thinking of you (virtual hug).

  3. Wish I was near enough to give you a hug! Be kind to yourself - the Lord made us emotional people (otherwise we'd be robots) but it's not selfish to miss those things - they were what brought her pleasure, too. Thanks for reminding me to be more patient with Mum (90) when she gets under my skin! We need to make the most of every day that folks are in our lives - although you're right, we will meet up again one day, with no more death or tears. Hope you have a good week, Chris xx

  4. Angela your thoughts about death and grief have touched my very soul! I sit here looking at the screen pondering of what to say to help you and to encourage you, I am speechless for I think you have said it all. God is your source and strength, I am so thankful he has allowed me to lift you up by praying for you. His Word is so true and His promises are true, grab hold and don't let go.

  5. You have been in my thoughts so much as we share the loss of our mom's this spring. I keep going back to Psalm 121, my mom's favorite. And have been talking to her, I know in my heart that she is happy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully. You are in my prayers, peace and solace. Coco

  6. Dear Angela this post is so moving. Everything you write is so very true and it's just so hard facing the realities of it all. I think our mortality is really the last taboo of our society and everything that gets pushed at us in the media tries to cover it up which isn't helpful when we are forced by personal circumstance to confront it. And losing our parents is always a bit about us losing the last of our childhood as well as the people we've loved longest and who've loved us longest. I do believe that your Mom is going on loving you just as you go on loving her and as you so beautifully say here, in heaven we get to reconnect with all those past generations we have had to say goodbye to here. Living with the unpredictability of life is hard going & I think it's one of the things we all struggle to come to terms with - coming to terms with mortality but also living life to the full. Perhaps that is one of our most basic human and Christian vocations actually. I've got a reflection about that I'll try and look out to send you. Your email was perfectly timed by the way so your Mom and your family were all in our Easter prayers here. I send you a hug and wish I lived rather closer to you to provide slightly more tangible support for you at this sad and costly time. Anyway I send you love and prayers across the Atlantic. E xx

  7. Oh, Angela, your words are so poignant, so well-expressed, so moving. Thoughts and emotions and heart pangs are all over the place, and yet you must return to your responsibilities and nothing seems normal. During a time of my own grief, I remember feeling dull and wondered why it mattered what kind of cereal I bought at the grocery store when my world was shattered...and yet my family needed to eat and so grocery shop I must. Life is hard.

    Even in your grief, I sense your unshakable trust in God and hope for the future. May He continue to guide you one day at a time, one step at a time...

  8. Oh, Angela, this was a wonderful, hard, convicting post to read. I feel we are so much alike. Your paragraph where you described how "selfish" you feel in the many ways you miss your mom -- I could say all those too! I know I do feel them now, and will feel them intensely when she's gone. It makes me ache with dread. 67!! So young. I can't imagine the shock. It seems to me that your thinking and wrangling with all this, and voicing it to yourself, must be helpful in working through it. Yes, mortality is very close. But your instincts about heaven are wonderful -- and to be eternally on the OTHER side of death, never to think of it or dread it again! Think of all those mothers, generations of them, loving and mothering each other there! And they're all thinking of you, the next one to join them, loving you as you do your best to mother. Thank you for all this. It is good to read. I hope it is also good for you to write it, and helpful.

  9. Oh Angie, I didn't know you were going through the loss of your mama. All those things you said are selfish are the very things I've thought about when I'll lose my own mama and daddy. I dread it so much but try to not borrow trouble for tomorrow. I know God's grace will cover you during these hardest days as He is sufficient for all our troubles. I love you and will pray for your grieving to be gentle.

  10. May God continue to bless and strengthen you!

  11. I'm very sorry to hear about this - God will comfort you, but nothing will ever make up for your loss. What you describe as selfish just sounds like normal grief, and you have to live in grief for a while and go through it. It doesn't really help to chastise yourself for not moving through fast enough. It's a work of love you are doing.

  12. I just wanted to offer you my condolences. Loss is hard no matter when it comes or who it comes too. I'm sure it hits especially hard when it is your own mom though. My grandma passed the week before mother's day this year, too. Remembering the good times brings tears to my eyes, but I want to keep her alive in my memories. Take your time with grieving - there is no time limit, and don't feel selfish about any of it.


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