Leave the Light On

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

The season of white, gray, and cold has begun. The wind is whirling snow past my window and clawing at the front doors of the church. Every now and then, the building creaks, but my office is warm.

It is the brief lull between Reformation Sunday and All Saints Sunday. My mother died during this lull in 2011. I remember leaving the Fall festival on Reformation Sunday at our church to go to the hospital to see her. By that night I knew she was dying. She was so weary, so frail. I stayed as close to her bedside as I could while gracious friends watched my little boys. In the brief moments when she was awake, she was no longer speaking to me, but to loved ones beyond time and space. She smiled and laughed as you do when you see old friends. If I tried to interject and say something, she almost looked dismayed. Her sights were no longer set on me, on this realm. She was looking ahead, looking forward, already gone in so many ways. Her body just had to catch up.

It was a Tuesday night when she died. It was an early Wednesday morning when she died. It was All Saints Day. It was All Souls Day. It was November 1. It was November 2. Both are true to me because when I fell asleep on the hospital couch in her room on All Saints day, my mother was still breathing. When I woke up on All Souls Day, I could no longer hear her breathing in the darkness and I knew she was gone. I waited a few minutes before I went to turn on the light.  I knew as soon as I saw her it would be real that she was gone.

Finally, I got up and moved toward the light switch. I turned on the light and looked toward the bed and there she was. Her skin already yellowing, her life had slipped away while I slept. I sat next to her as the nurses came in and out with their questions, helping me process what needed to happen next. Looking at her face was so hard because she really didn’t look like her already – so I looked at her arms, her hands. I thought about all those hands had held – me and my brother when we were babies, they had cared for my dad all the years he was sick, they had typed up church bulletins and newsletters, manuscripts, they had done countless loads of laundry and dishes, baked bread and birthday cakes, they had journeyed to beautiful places and hard places, they had held the handkerchief she carried around for when tears snuck up on her, they had held a whole lifetime, and now their work was done.

In slow motion I made the calls I needed to make. It was still the middle of the night and the world was sleeping – my husband, my brother – I left them messages to tell them mom had died. With no one in my family awake to talk to me at that bleak hour, the funeral director from Minnesota, who had handled my father’s funeral the year before, was a warm and welcome voice. His northern accent was comforting as I sat there in that Texas hospital. He sounded like home.

The city of Waco was hushed as I walked out to my car. I think it was raining slightly as I drove and cried and drove some more. The hospital was about an hour from my house. I noted to myself how the world felt so different now, and of course, it was. It was now a world that no longer had my mother’s smile, voice, wisdom in it. This world is still sorely lacking for having lost those precious things.

And now somehow six years have passed since that night/morning. I’ve gone to sleep and woken up thousands of times in a world where mom isn’t anymore. My boys hardly remember her but they know well my stories of her. They know that their mom loved her mom and there’s a well of sadness that still springs up out of me sometimes, and that’s okay. My shiny stone of grief I carry around is precious to me because it’s one of the ways I hold on to her.

But it is just one of the ways. There are so many other ways I remember her, too – and as the years pass, I want to be better at remembering her differently.

I want to remember her with laughter because she loved to laugh. Her laugh was like silver bells over the snow: light and sweet. She laughed easily and often.

I want to remember her with friendship because she treasured her friends. Being married to my dad was hard work and so it was her friends who saved her and brought her joy. She made time for them and they were fiercely devoted to each other.

I want to remember her by being a kick-ass mom. She loved being a mother and she was so good at building a home. Not necessarily the tasks of being a housewife – she hated cleaning, she wasn’t a great cook, she cared little about decorating, but she knew how to make a home. She made time for us kids, giving us herself, always.

I want to remember her by welcoming my years. Mom was not vain. She never colored her hair. She never wore makeup. She was fully herself and present in whatever age she was at. She didn’t have time for nonsense. She lived the life God gave her, neither rushing the years nor wishing for the past to return.

I want to remember her by being me. That’s all she ever wanted for me. She gave me roots and then she gave me wings and she would be so disappointed if I didn’t fly. She was proud of me no matter what I did – when I stayed close to home and when I adventured.

It does me no good to build a monument of pain in memory of her. I didn’t mean to do that, but in many ways I have. I’ll always think of her, miss her, tell stories about her, but I don’t want the narrative I tell about my mom for the rest of my days to be full of sadness when her life was not that way. She was joy and laughter and friendship, welcome, gentleness, a loud “yes” to love and goodness.

Where I grew up, about five miles outside a small town in northern Minnesota, we had a yard light out by the garage. If my brother or I were out past dark, mom would turn on that yard light so that we would have a light to welcome us home. It was such a small thing, but so lovely to turn the corner onto our lonesome gravel road and see that light in the distance. It was mom saying, “I’m thinking of you. Be safe! Come home soon. Welcome back.” She continued to do that long after we had moved away from home – if we were coming for a visit and arrived after dark, the light would be on.

A few years before mom and dad died, they were both in the nursing home for a while and I came back to Minnesota to see them. I flew in at night and drove up to the house. It was going to be the first time in my whole life I would sleep in that house alone.  It was the dead of winter and as I approached, there was no light on to welcome me – everything was silent and still. Mom had told me the heat would be on and to make myself at home, but without the light to welcome me, the place felt alien and I just wanted to go sleep in a hotel. I probably would have if I weren’t already exhausted from travel and if there had been a hotel anywhere nearby. I stayed that night at the house but hardly slept at all. The house creaked in sadness as the wind and snow pelted against it. The rest of the nights I was in Minnesota I stayed on the extra bed in mom’s nursing home room. Being close to her was all the light I needed.

Perhaps the rest of my days, my task is to remember to leave the light on for other people. For my children, by loving them the best I can, giving them a warm and welcoming place to call home. For my congregation, by pointing them toward Jesus and helping our church be a place of grace. For my friends, by being supportive and listening, and sharing of myself. For strangers, by not being afraid to let others in. Offer help. Offer a smile. Offer my time.

Leave the light on. This is how I choose to remember my mom for the rest of my days to come.

light on


Leave the Light On

By Beth Hart

I seen myself with a dirty face,
I cut my luck with a dirty ace
I leave the light on
I went from zero to minus ten
I drank your wine then
I stole your man
I leave the light on,
I leave that light on.

Daddy ain’t that bad he just plays rough
I ain’t that scarred when I’m covered up
I leave the light on
Little girl hiding underneath the bed was it something I did
Must be something I said
I leave the light on, better leave the light on.

I want to love
I want to live
I don’t know much about it
I never did seventeen and I’m all messed up inside
I cut myself just to feel alive
I leave the light on twenty one on the run
on the run on the run from myself

From myself and everyone
I leave the light on, I leave the light on
Better leave the light on.

Cause I want to love
I want to live
I don’t know much about it
I never did,
I don’t know what to do, can the damage be undone
I swore to God that I’d never be what I’ve become
Lucky stars and fairy tales
I’m gonna bathe myself in a wishin’ well
Pretty scars from cigarettes
I never will forget, I never will forget
I’m still afraid to be alone
wish that moon would follow me home
I leave the light on
I ain’t that bad I’m just messed up
I ain’t that sad but I’m sad enough
God bless the child with the dirty face who cuts her luck with a dirty ace
She leaves the light on, I leave that light on










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