Just weeks ago I reported the devastating news our family received, that my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive and already widespread pancreatic cancer. I contemplated what it would mean to lose the one who carried me into this world and cradled my early life, as only mothers are able to do. I wondered what it would be like on the other side of this loss.
Now I’m learning.
My son was born on my brother’s birthday – the young man who had lost his life twenty-seven years ago under the waves during a triathlon on the morning he was to walk across the stage to accept his master’s diploma. And now my mother has passed on the same day as my older daughter was born. Deliveries and departures – perhaps it’s a reminder that birth and death are warp and weft of one cloth. The finitude of our condition prevents us from holding the full tapestry all by ourselves. We need the grace of companionship and a supportive community to see the larger meaning of our human experience.
My mother was a searching soul, but not restless. She kept her mind open, but still held strong beliefs – about the present grace and mystery of God, about the beauty of human nature despite its limitations, darkness, and odd quirks. And about herself. She admitted to me that she had struggled with self-doubt all her life. This from a person who had presented countless spiritual retreats, written book studies on the works of well-known authors, and ministered alongside her husband of nearly 56 years, himself a pastor and gentle soul of unimpeachable character.
It had been an effort for my mother to step into the fear in order to follow through on her spiritual calling. But she did it. And the many, many people who were forever changed by the touch of her spirit are in some sense children of her faith. More than ever before, she has become a guide in my own journey of faith through the triumphs and tangles of this short, very short life.
Yes, this life is a witness. My mother, in her passing, has left behind a beautiful presence even in her absence – soft and fierce, patient and forgiving, longing and quietly at peace. What will I do with that space, with that presence? Is it even possible to pick up with my life as it was yesterday, or even earlier this morning?
She taught me to listen before I speak, to observe the flower rather than pluck it from its stem, to love people for their brokenness – not in spite of it. This is wisdom that can only come out of a brokenness that was found by a grace and strength from beyond. My mother wasn’t perfect, and never claimed to be. Later in life she discovered the joy of salvation in the wonderful, really unbelievable fact that we are all loved anyway.
Having released her anchor in this world, I feel that my mother’s word of encouragement to me now would be Let it come. Look for the hand of God. Love what spirit brings into your life. And when the time comes, let it go with gratitude. None of it’s yours, but it is all a gift.
Thank you, mom, for teaching me how to dance. I won’t forget.