I’m living in the between-time, and I know it won’t last. But while it does, I’m safe.
April 4 my mother died. April 9 is her funeral. The grief jumps out and bites me now and then, but mostly the days are guided by to-do lists: find photos, select paintings, choose Mass readings and songs, answer phone calls, write thank-you notes, and debate about whether I brought anything to wear that’s suitable for a funeral.
The family who were here while Mom lingered have left, busy schedules calling them home. It’s just me and Kay, here in the house she shared with Mom, a house full of Mom’s little touches. That to-do list keeps me from wallowing in the memories that live in the things she left behind, but those things also help keep her close.
Mom was an artist. Her paintings nearly cover the walls of one bedroom–minus
the ones that were gleaned away by family. The dining room chairs vibrate with color and design. End tables and the coffee table hold artistic touches that were hers alone. In her bedroom, on her painting table sits an array of acrylics and a jar of well-used, paint-spattered brushes. The slant-topped writing desk is where she wrote her letters to me, two a week, to keep up with the ones I sent her.
In her room’s prayer corner, a high-backed wicker chair sits in proximity to prayer books, her breviary, a rosary, and prayer cards for her favorite saints. The prayer shawl I made
her was folded over the arm, but it lay across her chest during her final journey at the hospital, and I’m taking it home with me.
“Do you want to sit in my chair when you do Morning Prayer?” she’d ask, every October when we came here to visit. And so I did. I did it then, and I’ve been doing it through this visit, too. I picked up her breviary, instead of my own, and found her personal notes to the Psalms and her own petitions for family and friends written beneath the official ones. I sat there, in her room, surrounded by all the things that were important to her: pictures of family, pictures of Jesus, Mary and the saints, mementos from early days, and–so precious–her own small notebook with pages of lined paper where she’d hand-written prayers of all sorts, her own and those she’d found and liked.
Beside her living-room recliner is her Bible, well used, underlined and marked with notes in the margin. The rosary that lay there, that she picked up to pray many times a day, is now mine, to be treasured always.
Mom is here in all her things, and that’s both a comfort and a
prod to grief. When I go home, I’ll take the mementos I’ve been given and enjoy the memories they evoke. I’ll look at pictures and smile. There will be joy deep inside because I know that Mom is now happy in heaven with Dad, her brother, my son, her parents, and the people who have gone before her through the years. She no longer needs a prayer book and her rosary to guide her to God, because she is now surrounded by him.
I’ve learned some things through all of this. I’ve learned that praying for a happy, holy, peaceful death “works.” Mom had time to receive the anointing of the sick and the Apostolic Pardon, and she slipped away quietly after the soft exhalation of one last breath.
I’ve learned that Hospice and hospital nurses care deeply and in doing so, show us the face of Christ. I’ve learned that except for God, family is the greatest strength at times like these.
I’ve also learned what to do and not to do when friends, neighbors or parishioners die. “Call me if you need me” is too vague an offer. The man who said, “I love to grocery shop, and I can drive for you” alerted us to needs we didn’t realize we’d have. Bless him, Lord. I learned that bringing food to the house is a major gift when family arrives and no one has the time or inclination to cook. But call first to be sure there’s no overload.
And I’ve learned that when people suffer a tragedy, they don’t want to hear about yours. So many conversations during this past two weeks involved me listening to others talk about when their mother died, when all I really wanted–needed–to do was talk about my own mother. At that point, I didn’t care about their loss, selfish as that may sound. I have promised myself that in the future, when others suffer loss of any kind, I’ll offer sympathy, ask questions, and above all, LISTEN and shut up about my own experiences.
Mom’s funeral is tomorrow and the next day I head back to my own home, where I’ll find the last letter my mother wrote me, waiting to be opened. The between-time will be over, the details tended to, and I’ll have to adjust to living without the mother I’ve had for 70 years. I thank God for the Communion of Saints, the doctrine that says we’re all connected, that those who have died are still aware of and concerned for those of us still on the journey.
I also know that in heaven, Mom is still being a mom. For her, life has changed, not ended. And really, when you think about it, our whole life is a between-time, until, as St. Thomas More said, “we merrily meet in heaven.”