In the Leaving by Jan Richardson
in the letting go,
let there be this
to hold onto
at the last:
the persisting of hope,
the remembering of joy.
the receiving of grace,
the blessing of peace.
When I first started to think about what I would say here today, it was just overwhelming. How do you sum up a person in a few paragraphs or pages? It is a difficult thing to look for the light in dark times, but there have been some small blessings in the past week or two. As part of this process, we were encouraged to tell stories. One story led to another, and it was just nice to talk about Mom, and what she meant to me, and to our family.
There are a few memories that have stuck with me always, but in getting to talk about Mom over the past week, random stories would pop up that I hadn't thought about in years. And while I was thinking of stories to tell, little coincidences would pop up to provide a little wonder and mystery.
One of the silly memories that Jim mentioned was about the bucket of rocks. Mom and Dad would take us on hikes as kids. We of course grumbled about it most of the time, because we were kids. But more than the aluminum frame backpacks, and the false promise that the lake was just over the next hill, the thing that I remember most is Mom coming back with a pocket full of rocks. It was like she was bringing back a little talisman that carried the memory of the time and the place. Soon there were a couple of gallon-sized, plastic ice cream tubs full of them sitting in the garage. She could no longer match a rock to a memory, but I don't suppose that really mattered. The collection of rocks was just a way of marking days well spent.
Mom was not big on speeches or hitting you over the head with spelled-out lessons. She was more subtle, making you sort of work them out for yourself. I remember her somehow weaving in a lesson on empathy when she was teaching me how to drive. Consider others always, see things that they are seeing. But she mostly taught me things by example, by living in a caring way. She had this calm presence, a grounded way that I have tried to emulate.
I was walking through a park an hour or two before she passed, looking at bare trees, gathering my thoughts, and listening to a podcast. Toward the end of the episode, Sister Helen said, "The only way I know what I really believe, is by keeping watch over what I do."
Don’t get me wrong, Mom was no Buddha always floating on a sea of Zen. I remember her chewing out a theater manager when a scene was cut out of the movie The Fiddler on the Roof, and she could write a letter of complaint with the best of them. But she didn’t seem to seek out irritation, and even when she found it, she didn’t hang onto it for very long.
There is one memory that has always stuck with me. It was Christmastime several years ago, when Mom and Dad were living in their house above Eastgate. I was over at the house, Mom was working on something in the kitchen, and "It's A Wonderful Life" was on in the family room. This movie always hits me right in the feels, and I try and watch it every season. I don't remember what scene it was, or exactly what Mom said, but the gist of it was "I don't think when I look back on my life, that I will have had that much of an impact."
I know I said something to the effect that impacts can seem small and hardly noticed at the time, but that all those little moments add up. You can never know what chain of events can be set off with the simplest of actions or moments of kindness. And of course that is the lesson of the movie. George Bailey has no idea what a hole there would be if he had never existed.
While this memory was running through my head, I walked into Mom’s room at hospice. The TV was typically tuned to a station of relaxing music with occasional quotes popping up on the screen, but the TV was off when I walked in. When I turned it on the first quote read, "To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world."
I know Mom had an impact on far more people than she could have imagined, but of course I will always remember what she did for me specifically in all those small moments. Everything she did to make me who I am. All the strength that she gave me. I knew no matter how I faltered in this life, Mom would be there in my corner, believing in me when I simply couldn't.
She will live on in the way that I walk through this life. She will be there in every decision I make, every time I offer a small kindness, every time I try to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
One of the things she taught me in that pile of rocks was that if a rock had a band of different colored minerals encircling it, that it was considered a wish rock. Though I have Mom's tendency to be a sentimental packrat, I have resisted collecting a bucket full myself, but when I am hiking these days I will occasionally pick up a rock, and I have a few wish rocks on a shelf at home.
My wish is that we keep our hearts and minds open, and not shut off in pain. May we continue to see those little reminders and strange coincidences that bring her to mind. May the stories we tell and retell keep her alive in the hearts of those she loved, and those that loved her. May those little reminders and stories bring us joy, even when we don't feel like we are ready for it.
There is a saying that goes "Every dog owner thinks that their dog is the best. And they are all correct."
I suppose the same goes for Moms. My Mom was the best.