Both of my sisters have already posted, remembering our Mother, who died on Mothers Day in 1991. Sixteen years ago, 12 May, 1991. Donna tells the story of Mother's last months: surgery on the day after Easter to replace a defective valve; complications after the surgery including a staph infection that eventually took Mother's life; the last days as family and mother knew that she was dying; her death on that particular Mothers Day.
It is a story worth telling, worth remembering. Mother was the centre of our family, as we knew well. Dad has told us often that his life would have been less fulfilling, less significant without her. I have often thought that Dad and Mother complemented each other particularly well. She grew up in dairy country in western Pennsylvania. Morrison's Cove: a beautiful place, which always remained as her heart's home, I think; yet a place that would have been too small for her if she had stayed there all her life. Dad grew up in Zimbabwe, and Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, and California. He has told us how he once filled out his address on the front of a map, reflecting his own sense that the world itself was his address, and that he could not call any one place, this one or that, his home.
She gave Dad roots; he gave Mother the world. Both benefited and their lives showed it.
Donna told how she and Denise both spent time with Mother before she died, but on her advice I stayed in school in Kentucky, waiting for the end of the semester to come home. I have never (that I remember) felt as though she gave me bad advice, or that Lois and I made the wrong choice. But of course not seeing Mother in those last six weeks remains a loss in the whole experience. Some years later (1995, I think it was) I did have an experience that helped bring further closure.
Bethel was a member of the congregation in which I was the pastor, a small church of 40 or so people gathering each Sunday morning. Bethel had three daughters in the church as well. She was in the hospital, and I knew from the family (the daughters were close to my age) that their mother was in serious condition. One afternoon they called and asked me to come quickly; I drove to the hospital and joined them for the waiting that precedes death. The medical personnel had said that they thought Bethel would die that evening, and the family asked if I would be with them.
I remember well enough how the evening went. We waited sometimes at Bethel's bedside. She had been in a coma and unresponsive. We waited outside of her room in the "waiting room", talking as people do in the presence of death: mundane conversation, as we cloak our deepest thoughts with everyday realities.
Then the nurses called us, hearing the distinctive breathing that heralds the last moments of physical life. As we stood beside her, I took Bethel's hand. She looked up at me, focused clearly, and a tear came from her eyes. Her daughters became very excited. (I normally avoid the use of "very": a weak word, but the only one I can think of for this account.) "She recognizes you!" Their mother had been gone from our awareness for more than a day, but she was clearly back with us. Holding her hand, I prayed aloud for her, for us, for her family, for her church. As I prayed, the monitor beeping in the background went flat -- I now know what "flatlining" is. She stopped breathing, and she was gone, at least gone from us.
In some indefinable way, as I held Bethel's hand while she died, I held my mother's hand also. They were two different people, but they walked the same path, the path that we all walk. It is a strange path from our perspective on this side of the curtain. I and her daughters and their husbands walked with Bethel as far as we could, and then she was gone. She walked through a door, or behind a curtain, somewhere where we could not see or go. One moment we were in each other's presence; the next, we weren't.
The old song says, "You've got to walk that lonesome valley, you've got to walk it by yourself. Nobody else can walk it for you. You've got to walk it by yourself." True, but not completely. Bethel, and Mother, and each of us goes on alone, at least alone so far as our eyes here can see. But we all walk the same path. And Bethel gave me the great gift of seeing where my own Mother walked, and taking me as far as anyone can be led on that path.
I think also of C.S. Lewis' words when his wife died -- something like: "She smiled, but not at me." Mother, and Bethel, and all who truly walk with God, walk the valley with a kind of joy you can't get here. Perhaps that sadness and joy were mingled in the look Donna describers from their last Thursday together. Mothers Day is bittersweet indeed, but I'm not sure that the bitter remains forever bitter. Always grief, always sorrow, always on this side of the grave an emptiness that only Mother could fill. But also always, on both sides of the grave, a joy deeper than any sorrow. "For all the saints, who from their labours rest; Who Thee by faith before the world confessed; Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed: Allelluia!"