Friday, July 22, 2005

A Mother's Passing--Tuesday, July 22, 2003

(The previous post is here.) On Tuesday morning, the sun broke through the clouds. Which is as it should be. Today was the day of the funeral. Crystal and I were sleeping in the living room, so I was awakened when Elder Swanson stopped by to leave us a letter of encouragement. I wish that could remember what it said so that I can share it with you, but I cannot. Mike Ross, who is a member of the church and a friend, was unable to attend the funeral and so sent an email expressing his sorrow and offering words of encouragement. But the strangest letter that I received that day was from...Mom. I was passing through her workroom again, when I decided that I should check to see if there were any more library books left back there. We had already made two trips with books, and I wanted to see if we had missed any. So, I was poking around. First I found Mom’s notebook where she kept her “to do” list. Saturday, July 19, had only a couple of entries. “Glenn called.” “Stake tomatoes.” The next day was empty, and I saw, in those blank lines, the fragility of life.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)
Then, my eyes lit upon a piece of stationery with my mother’s handwriting. It was a letter that she had written but had not yet sent. As I read it, I was shocked. It was addressed to my Uncle Don, but it could have been written to me. Part of the letter read something like this:
“We struggle to find the words to say at times like these, because we are trying to find the words that will fix the pain. But there are no words that can fix it….There is no good time to lose a parent. Love, Linda.”
God, in His Providence, had allowed my mother to leave a letter to comfort her children. It was like getting a hug from Mom, telling me that she was feeling my pain with me. Strange, since it was her death that I was mourning. But it was what I needed, and so God provided. I was left with awe at the ways of God. In traditional manner, I still had not written what I was going to say at the funeral. So I wandered out into the garden to write what I would say. It was so beautiful. The raindrops were still clinging to the flowers, and the sunlight made them sparkle like precious jewels. And suddenly I knew what I would say. So I wrote and I cried and I wrote some more, scribbling down my notes. And then, before I knew it, the time had arrived. We left the house and went to the church. It was time for the funeral. My father waited at the front door to be greeted by those who wished. He had asked Jonathan and I to stand with him, in case he could not deal with it. But he did fine, as the people began to fill the church. There were so many. They just kept coming, and coming, and coming. People from the congregation. People from other congregations. Other local pastors. People from the neighborhood. All of them people who Mom had touched. And they just kept coming and coming and coming. We ran out of room in the sanctuary. More were seated in the cry room. Others were seated in the foyer. Others still were seated on the stairs. Adiel and I later estimated that there were easily one hundred sixty people at the funeral, and there could have been many, many more. It would not surprise me to discover that there were over two hundred in attendance. I lost it a couple of times during the receiving line, but generally I did okay. And then we heard the piano begin to play. Rich Mullins. “If I Stand”. I walked by my father down the aisle. Both of us started sobbing halfway down. I remember carrying him and he carrying me: the two of us leaning on each other for support as the music welled up and rolled over us. Somehow, by the grace of God, we reached our seats. And then, we sang.
Whate’er my God ordains is right: Holy His will abideth; I will be still whate’er He doth, And follow where He guideth. He is my God; Though dark my road, He holds me that I shall not fall: Wherefore to Him I leave it all. Whate’er my God ordains is right: He never will deceive me; He leads me by the proper path; I know He will not leave me. I take, content, What He hath sent; His hand can turn my griefs away, And patiently I wait His day. Whate’er my God ordains is right: Though now this cup, in drinking, May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking. My God is true; Each morn anew Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart, And pain and sorrow shall depart. Whate’er my God ordains is right: Here shall my stand be taken; Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet am I not forsaken. My Father’s care Is round me there; He holds me that I shall not fall: And so to Him I leave it all.
And then it was time for the children to speak. I am the eldest, and we were going in age order. So I took my notes and began to speak. I have been told that my words were moving. I am just glad that they were coherent. What I wanted to say made so much sense in my mind, but it did not seem to come out right for some reason. But I tried to draw on the metaphor of the garden. I spoke of being out in Mom’s garden. I told the people how Mom had told me that it had been a wonderful year for flowers. The vegetables weren’t doing well, but the flowers were blooming everywhere. This is obviously a gift from God. And so I explained how, very soon, we were going to go out and plant my mother in the ground because we believe that, one day, new life will bloom from that which we have planted in the graveyard. Just like Mom’s beloved flowers. I also commented on the time of Mom’s death. When I lived at home, the end of the work week was 11:30 on Saturday night. Then Mom and I would sit down together and watch Star Trek together. In a way, her Sabbath started a little early. And so I said that it was appropriate that she died at that time. God was calling her to her rest. And then I told the people that Mom had not just worked at gardening in her back yard. We, her children, were her garden, and she had been blessed with the chance to see us bloom. She had seen five grandchildren. She had ministered in the community just by reaching out to those around her, and so, I told the people, that they were part of Mom’s garden as well. And I spoke of how Mom would sit on the back patio in the cool of the evening, enjoying her garden, enjoying the fruit of her labors. And it is as if Jesus called to her from the back door, “Linda, time to rest.” I had considered ending by reading a passage from Lord of the Rings, one of Mom’s favorite books. Instead, though, I had remembered a poem that Mom had found and had given to me in jest. So, I read it instead, over the body of my mother who had fallen asleep in the Lord.
Moving In With My Son When I'm an old lady, I'll live with my son, and make his life happy and filled with such fun. I want to pay back all the joy he's provided Returning each deed~ Oh, he'll be so excited When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ I'll write on the wall with red, white, and blue and bounce on the furniture Ya, wearing my shoes. I'll drink from the carton and then leave it out. I'll stuff all the toilets and oh, will he shout! When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ When he's on the phone and just out of reach, I'll get into things like sugar and bleach. Oh, he'll snap his fingers and then shake his head, and when things get tuff I'll hide under the bed. When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ I'll sit close to the TV, thru the channels I'll click, I'll cross both my eyes to see if they stick. I'll take off my socks and throw one away, and play in the mud until the end of the day. When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ And later, in bed, I'll lay back and sigh, and thank God in prayer and then close my eyes; and my son will look down with a smile slowly creeping, and say with a groan, "She's so sweet when she's sleeping." When I'm an old lady and live with my son
I was surprised at myself. I only choked up once while reading the poem and actually managed to finish it. I hadn’t been sure that I was going to be able to do so. I was in tears as I returned to my seat. My father stood to receive me and embraced me. My wife took me into her arms. It was so hard, so hard. Others followed me. Crystal spoke on how Mom had become her mother, giving her a Godly example of motherhood when she so desperately needed one. Jonathan remembered spending special time of his own with Mom and read the lyrics of a song by one of his favorite musical groups. All I remember is one line. “Why did my mommy have to die?” Jonathan’s wife Carrie offered some expansion on the obituary by explaining some of the things that Mom was. “Unlicensed medical consultant”, “wedding planner”, and “interior decorator” were only a few of the entries. She said, “She was the one you called when the weird or unusual happened, because the weird and unusual happened to her.” So true. So very, very true. My sisters had their own contribution, although they went up together. Adiel read from another hymn, and Elizabeth and Gabrielle both had selections from The Chronicles of Narnia. Each time our father stood to receive us from the platform. I was honored by his respect and concern for us. And then Pastor Hughes preached the sermon. And it was wonderful. The blessed hope of the Gospel was soundly declared and proclaimed to all who were there. All were challenged to consider the realities of life and death. The irony is that I had been doing just that, during the past week. In retrospect, I see that God was preparing me for what was to come. However, at the time, all I knew is that I was working on memorizing the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth Of all things visible and invisible And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By Whom all things were made; Who for us and our salvation Came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, And was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets; And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church; We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; And we look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come. Amen.
As I type this, I am listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor. In fact, the specific part that I am listening to is the “Symbolum Nicenum”. The Nicene Creed. It’s in Latin, but it is so beautiful. The exultation when they sing “Et resurrexit tertia die”. “And the third day He rose again.” It makes me want to fall on my knees. It makes me want to cry. It makes me want to sing. Why? It’s not because the music is so moving, although that’s true. It’s because the truth is so moving. Jesus Christ was resurrected. That is the hope! Can there really be anything else to look to? On Saturday, my family was cleaning the Samaritan Ministries building. So I was listening to the Symbolum Nicenum with the volume turned all the way up. The building is a converted church, and the acoustics are pretty good. So I was enjoying listening to the music and considering the truth that it was conveying. In particular, I was mulling over this phrase “And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” As a Christian, this is not my home. Rather, we look to a future land, where the dead are raised to new life and together all who are found in Christ enter into the world to come, where no shadow or stain shall ever touch us. And we can know this, because Jesus has gone before us. As Pastor Hughes said, “He really died. He was as dead as Linda is.” Yet He rose from His tomb and was resurrected. And our hope is sure. Pastor Hughes reminded us that many saw Him after His resurrection. Five hundred, in fact. The reality of the Resurrection is sure, and because of that, our hope is sure. As Pastor Hughes preached, the sky began to cloud over and thunder began to rumble. As the funeral was ending, it began to rain. As it should be. I was a pallbearer. I carried my mother to the hearse. The procession was the longest that I have ever seen. You would have thought that a queen had died. And perhaps that is truth. Indeed, a queen had died, and it was right that all should mourn her. At least, so said my heart. Even the skies wept as we bore my mother to her grave. I was a pallbearer. I carried my mother to her grave. The people from the funeral home didn’t understand. They kept offering me an umbrella. I didn’t want one. If God had seen fit to send the tears of heaven on us, then I was content to bathe in them. There was comfort in the rain. Our God wept with us. At the graveside, we committed Mom to the earth and into the hands of God. One by one we filed by her casket. The single rose was joined by carnations that we placed there. And, after I had passed by, I stood to the side, holding my wife, and I read from Luke:
Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bondservant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32)
As we left the cemetery, the rain slowed and stopped. By the time we had returned to the church building for the dinner that had been prepared, the sun had returned in all its glory. As it should be. Adiel’s husband, Josh, had a different explanation for the rain. He reminded us that Mom loved to dance in the rain and so the rain came to remind us of her joy. Perhaps we are both right. I’m sure that I wasn’t nearly as social at the dinner as I probably should have been. But I was weary. The food was wonderful, though, and I appreciated greatly the care that it showed for my family. Soon, however, we returned home. The rest of the family gathered at the house later, and that was good. The New Jersey contingent was returning home the next day, and so we were able to be together. We laughed a lot. I was teased about my receding hairline, but that’s normal. We enjoyed the pistachio fluff that one of the neighbors had made. We gathered around each other. It was good. But then it was time to go. We said our goodbyes. We hugged and kissed. And then we went our separate ways. And that night, I found that I could sleep. I had buried my mother, but there was still the peace of God. In Him I found my comfort, a shelter from the storm, and there I drifted away into slumber. (The next post is here.)

2 Comments:

Blogger Gabrielle said...

I don't remember what the letter said, but Elder Swanson picked a leaf of Lamb's Ear and rolled it up with the letter. He wrote at the bottom of the letter, "A gift from Linda".

7/22/2005 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger glorybeam said...

Beautiful, heart-wrenching! May God comfort you in your loss.

7/24/2005 12:15:00 AM  

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