My mom passed away last week after falling suddenly and mysteriously ill. They were never able to determine the cause of her illness, and the final cause of death was pneumonia related to being bedridden in a hospital. Many thanks to Northwest Medical Center personnel. All the doctors and nurses were great and did everything they could. It was hard, but I was glad to be there with her when she finally let go and went to be with Jesus.
The services were today at Casas Adobes Church. They were my mom’s church, and they did a great job managing our requests and utilizing their experience to produce a great memorial service. My mom would have hated all the fuss about her, but she didn’t get to vote, and it was perfect. Thanks to Reverend Lee and all the staff and congregation who made it such a great celebration of mom.
I wrote and shared the following prose poem at the service, and I wanted to share it here with you in honor of my mom. I handwrote this over several pages and tore out pages I’d read with each new chapter. You’ll see why as you read it.
My mom travels light. Practical in most things, she’s learned to pack only what she needs, what’s valuable to her. Most travelers start heavy and increase as they go, adding to their weight with useless trinkets, plastic souvenirs, T-shirts that only proclaim where you’ve been. My mom’s direction is counter to this. Where others collect, she sheds: things no longer needed, no longer valuable. The pages of a book lose their value immediately after she reads them. On a long journey, she starts with many books, but as she travels, she simply tears out completed pages, discarding them as she goes. You can measure the distance she’s traveled by the trail of pages behind her.
My mom travels light. She learned early that you need less than you think to survive, to thrive even, with far less. She learned this as a child in the depression, learned how to rejoice over oranges and pocket knives at Christmas. She learned again with embarrassment at her wealth when she traveled to impoverished lands. She learned, painfully when my father left and she was faced with the necessity of traveling lighter than she had ever planned, shedding more than she ever needed before, parts of her self that had seemed impossible to leave behind, but, like a snake leaves its own skin, leave them she did, dropping whole chapters behind as her story moved forward.
My mom travels light. This was newly clear to me as I sat in her apartment, while she lay in the hospital. Much of the book of her life had been read, only a few thin pages remained. Of course her apartment contained more than she needed, but no more than she wanted. Not a single item was a nod to someone else’s expectation, nothing for show, or “just because,” or even just because she had forgotten to discard something. Everything was labeled either “duty” or “desire.” Of the many pages of her life read, only snippets remained, chosen snippets as one might keep favored quotes from a loved book while discarding the rest of the book. Her decorations were limited to truly valuable mementos from travels, not landmarks or placeholders of places she’d been, but people-marks, memory holders of relationships and shared experiences with people who made her journey more. Framed postcards, uniquely culled collections tied together by importance only she knew, handmade African and Native American Art…and a turtle riding a rainbow. Absurd, ridiculous, completely unexpected, and unmistakably unnecessary: the kind of clutter my mom eschewed. Even when I made and gave it to her over 2 decades ago, I fully expected it to be left behind, and yet here it was, 25 years of packing and unpacking. A page kept.
My mom travels light. Some people wear every experience as if every “I’ve been here” t-shirt is simply layered on until who they are is no better established but hidden beneath mounds of fabric. No discernment is attempted regarding what fits, what no longer fits, what never fit. My mom travels light; a page read can be easily tossed without regret; the awareness is enough. The pages of painful betrayal, of anger at that betrayal, sorrow from loss, fear from pain, these pages are discarded, their weight left behind. My mom travels light, and yet she created new pages: folders, carefully organized, of quotes, and ideas, and new perspectives. These new pages, the most helpful to her she put on the wall above her bed. This purging, winnowing woman had a wall dedicated to stuff. But this stuff lightened, rather than added to the weight of her travels. Some days, trim as she was, the weight threatened to overwhelm her, and these pages propelled her journey rather than drag it down. My mom travels light, but at the end even her own flesh was too heavy. She labored, not to breath but to be free of breath. When she went, she went weightlessly, the last page finally dropped. She believed, as I do too, that she dropped this last page and the next is written on air. The weight is gone. My mom travels light.
David, I am so sorry at your loss. You description of your mom gives me more insight into the faith and life I see in you. I was very moved by it.
She seems like a woman well prepared to enter God’s presence. Again, I am sorry that someone who was no doubt a real anchor and friend in faith is gone. May the spirit she traveled in allow you to gently let go of the pages that will, one day, start to be written again.
John, thanks so much for your phone call and your kind comment. It means a lot.
David, I haven’t had the opportunity to know you or your mom … but I relate as a son who still cares for his mom now nearing 100 years of age. The relationship we have with our moms is unique and one-of-a-kind that cannot be replaced. Truly a hole remains once filled with the love and support of that special relationship. Only God can fill that vacancy. I’m sorry for your loss but grateful for her gain as Paul said, “For me to depart and be with Christ is better.” United with you, Tim Cavanaugh
Tim, Thanks so much for your kind comment and support. It means a lot!
My more analytical eulogy is here:
When I think of my Mom, the first thing I think of is Christmases. There are a lot of things about the ways we celebrated Christmas as children that speak of who Mom was.
To start with, we didn’t believe in Santa Claus. Our parents wouldn’t ever have thought it right to teach their children to believe something that wasn’t true. Maybe that was my Dad’s decision, maybe it was Mom’s … but it certainly is consistent with Mom’s sense of honesty.
It’s also very like Mom to be sure that we had just as much fun at Christmas as the families that believed in Santa.
We never knew quite what to expect on a given Christmas. One year none of the presents for we kids were labeled at all. They were just color-coded – and we had figure out the code to know who to give the presents to. I think it had something to do with the combination of the color of the wrapping paper and the color of the ribbon.
Another year, David got a guitar, but to conceal that from him, my parents addressed it to Andy, so Dave would think they were giving him a violin. Andy apparently knew all about it in advance, and when he unwrapped it, he said, “Oh, look – this is actually for David!” and passed it over.
For several years we would get at least one gift from a celebrity. If the gift came from Jimmy Connors, for example, then it was probably going to be tennis related.
Mom’s sense of fun at Christmas was one of the things I loved most about having her as my mother.
Another was her love of culture. Other people watched A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. We watched Amahl and the Night Visitors. For those of you who don’t know it, that’s a one-hour opera about Christmas. It’s beautiful and it’s moving, and in most families I’d never had been introduced to it.
Mom loved to travel. Whenever we went anywhere, she found museums for us to visit. She loved learning about people from other countries. She saw herself as called to care about and be interested in everyone, everywhere. Again, that was a great heritage for us.
Most of all, Mom was the best parent I’ve ever seen at being willing to let her children make their own choices when they moved into adolescence and adulthood. Somehow she was able to balance deeply caring for us with giving us true independence. I didn’t make it easy on her, but looking back, that may be what I appreciate most of all about the way she raised us
That’s Mom as a mother. What about Mom as a person? I think she’s one of the few genuinely good people I’ve known.
She was always generous with her time and with her possessions. Everywhere she moved, she looked for ways to serve in the church or the community. Financially, our family lived much more simply than we needed to, so that she and Dad could give a lot of money to help other people in need. She was never sentimental about her service. It was just a practical Christian responsibility. It was what Jesus wanted us to do with our lives. So she did it.
I’ve also come to think of her as one of the strongest women I know. She faced a handful of very difficult circumstances in her life, and they never defeated her. She just persevered. What really impresses me is how there was never an ounce of self-pity in it.
In general, I think of my Mom as having great integrity. When she thought something was right, she simply did it. I don’t think I can ever remember Mom going against what she deeply believed. It just doesn’t make any sense to think of her even doing so. I’m sure she would have protested that she often failed to live as well as she could have, but in a practical sense, she was one of the most consistently good people I know.
Last night, a friend commented to me I was “tasked with reducing [my] mother’s life to bits of substance.” I’m not worried. Mom’s life on earth is over, but even when my brothers and I sorted out her estate, we weren’t reducing her life to anything. She was who she was. She did what she did. Our task this week wasn’t to reduce that, it was just to notice it and be thankful for it.
Kevin, Thanks for sharing yours here as well.