God helped me see Mom’s wounds—her scabbed but still infected soul sores. I heard her story reverberate in my brain. How she was a tomboy who climbed apple trees and scraped her knees and ate green fruit till she got sick. How she was the one to whom everyone turned for help, for solace. How she was criticized and hurt, over and over. How her father drank too much and how her mother who came from a sophisticated, educated family felt sorry for the 8th grade drop-out abused by his father to such an extent that he left home, for good, at 14, never to return. How her mom married her dad and coached and supported and prodded and helped him become all he became—a tool and die maker who went on to own his own company and how my own white-collared father never wanted to shake hands with a “grease monkey” because it is—just—not—right—to get one’s hands dirty by reaching out and giving a hand to those in blue collars.
And I understand. We don’t like to get dirty, do we? We don’t like to go beyond the fluff and the pretty and the easy to get down and dirty—to deal with the real grit and grime of all we are—the sin and the soul wounds and the downright ugly parts of the heart. And this is how we stay lonely in a world chock-full of people with wounds they won’t show, with ways we hurt and bruise and bleed other life till there’s no semblance of true life left. And who really wants relationship like this? If this is all there is, I guess we all settle, right? We settle for less. We settle for hurt. We settle for death trying to convince ourselves that death is life and who are we really fooling but ourselves? And our selves—our true selves—are NOT fooled! Our selves scream truth.
This is NOT life! This is NOT the way relationship is meant to be!
Somewhere, somehow, we know—there—MUST—be another way.
And there is . . .
God’s way redeems.
God’s way restores.
God’s way gives dignity and purpose and meaning—the true life that, sought by any other way, evades.
By God’s grace, I became aware. I studied His word. I accepted His word as truth and as THE means of healing. And I applied the healing salve of God’s heart in His word to my soul wounds. And when I applied the remedy to mother-daughter wounds specifically, I started to see results—real healing.
The battleship started her turn. She turned her bow toward instead of away. She turned and viewed, first from afar, anchored. And then, the anchor began to rise. And she started sailing in my direction—God’s direction. In response to God’s love and truth tied tightly together in a cord of love that cannot be broken, thrown out to one floundering for love, she started moving, slowly, toward true life. And I was moved too. I was moved toward her, watching in awe as God healed us both and drew us together, finally.
The secret? It’s not secret. God’s way is written for all to read. God’s way is love and truth over time. Love and truth, over time—three cords braided into one, the life-line heals all who want.
Mom retired from teaching when she was 63 and I planned a party. I made a plaque. I wrote in words about her courage in standing up for what she believed. I wrote about how much I admired her character. And she cried as she read the plaque aloud at dinner in the fine restaurant that night. I saw a little girl recognized. I saw a little girl appreciated. I saw a little girl loved for her goodness, not defined by her wounds. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Really?”
Really. I really felt what I wrote. Sincerely. After all the years and tears and pain, I felt what I wrote. I saw her as whole—a whole mixed bag of strength and weakness, of woman and child. And I saw myself. I saw how I was trying—really trying—to be all I could be—just like Mom—with all my strengths—with all my flaws—with all my smiles of strong—with all my tears of weak—we were just women—just two normal, broken women trying to find our way through the muck of life and really, after all, we weren’t so different.
Two years later, her husband died. The man who had received the heart of a young black man who died in a car accident—even this heart gave out eventually. The sudden, unexpected death of his oldest son, then 39, right before Christmas was too much for his weakened heart to bear. Within two months, father was gone just like son and Mom was left alone, again.
What would she do? Where would she go?
My husband and I thought she should move to Wisconsin to be near us, to be near her grandkids, to start life anew, at 65. She could hardly believe we wanted her to move closer to us. But we had been moving closer for years. It only seemed right that geography should catch up.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because we love you,” I replied.
And she cried, “Really? You love me?” Tears filled eyes looking straight into my own and we hugged.
“Yes, Mom, I love you.”
And so the move toward a new life began.
She sold what was no longer needed. She lined up a moving company. We bought her a house. She picked out new carpet and paint and had us trim trees to her liking. Just six weeks following her husband’s death, she could smell new life and I loved seeing her smile. I could see her thoughts of each grandkid in bedrooms and walking across the street to play in the park. I could see us together shopping and walking and talking and biking and baking and gardening and playing croquet.
Mom came to our town a week before Mother’s Day, 2002. She saw her new home. She dreamed. She was happy. And I drove her to the airport and sent her home to pack and plan. She didn’t know that the garden bench we saw in Cedarburg, the one made in 1936—the year of her birth, the pale yellow and aqua park bench she loved at first sight—I bought it for her, as a Mother’s Day gift. Instead of the flowers I sent every year on Mother’s Day, I would tell her of this gift, ready for placement in her new garden, in her new home, in her new town, in her new life.
Saturday before Mother’s Day, I had carnations sent. Carnations were Mom’s favorite cut flower. And I remembered how she always told me that flowers should be given to the living and not to the dead. And I wondered, at 65, how many more years I might have to send flowers on Mother’s Day. She wasn’t expecting because of the bench. I wasn’t planning until the day before when some small voice whispered, “Why not?” Why not bless her abundantly as I have been abundantly blessed? Why not send flowers to the living? And so I did. A dozen red carnations sprinkled with baby’s breath and surrounded by ferns came to her front door the day before Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day, 2002. I called her in the morning.
“You shouldn’t have!” she complained, sort of, about the bouquet sent.
“Just wanted you to know how much I love you, Mom!” I said full of sincerity.
We talked and laughed and planned. Her move was just weeks away. And we said goodbye and see you soon.
But soon never came.
That night, Mom got sick. Her shoulder started aching and her stomach started heaving. Sweat beaded on her forehead. Something was terribly wrong, she knew. She called her doctor who told her to call 911 because it sounded like she might be having a heart attack. Following his instructions, an ambulance took her to the emergency room where the doctor on call diagnosed her with the flu. With no EKG, no blood drawn, the doctor diagnosed her with the flu and sent her home, alone, to her condominium with only her dachshund dog. Her friend drove her there at 1:00 AM, made sure she had what she needed, and left. Mom got into bed and her good friend left.
Next morning, her friend returned with his wife, Mom’s best friend, Alice. She pressed the doorbell. Through the window, they could see the dog running around barking. No answer. They waited and pressed the doorbell again. No answer again. And so they used the key Mom had given them and let themselves in. The condo was strangely silent for the hour of morning. They walked slowly around, calling for Mom, and then Alice entered Mom’s bedroom. She found Mom, curled in fetal position, hands in a prayer pose resting by her head. And she was dead.
Shocked and grief-stricken, they called 911. Police and ambulance came. And Alice was left to communicate the news to our family—my sister in Michigan, my brother in Germany, me in Wisconsin. She was only able to get ahold of my sister who then called me.
At home on the second floor, putting away clean clothes, I picked up the phone.
“Heather. . .” I could hear her voice tremble. “Mom’s dead!” my sister sobbed into the phone.
Legs collapsed right there on the upper stair. And I uttered cries I never knew were inside me.
When news comes so shocking, how does anyone deal? How does anyone not just break down and moan guttural loss?
Friends came quickly and husband tried to console. I have no idea how our kids felt because, to me, they had disappeared in the great cloud of death grief.
We packed, throwing in anything and everything we thought we might need for a week. And we left Wisconsin for Ohio, right then, and I started writing her eulogy through tears dropping on paper, bleeding ink.
Join me tomorrow for Mothering Mother, Part 5? Sometimes the unexpected and tragic can be a good thing . . .