Seasons of Love

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Seasons of Love

Rent Soundtrack

I knew this song long before my mother died, but now all I think of when I hear it is her. The winter she died, as the days grew shorter and colder, I ran at night and cried my eyes out.

“In truths that she learned,
or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned,
or the way that she died?”

I’ve written so many times about how my mom was like sunlight to me. I’m sure this is a story I will continue to write as long as I exist. There was no place as warm or as light as being with her. I hope I can be as good a friend to my children as my mother was to me. Sitting at her kitchen table, talking for hours about everything and nothing, laughing, eating, being. The good thing is that I knew how much she meant to me and treasured her while I had her. The bad thing is that it’s been nearly six years since she died. Think of all the cups of coffee, the drives in the country, the moments big and small we could have been sharing in those six years. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her.

She would say I need to focus on my own children now – and I do. Life is good and happy. But sometimes it is so good to write about her, because when I write about her, I weep – and I remember all that I lost when I lost her. Not that I forget – I still think of her all the time – but I don’t cry about her hardly at all any more, except when I write about her. The words pour out and my heart pours out and the tears pour out.

In all our pictures, she looks the same, but now my reflection in the mirror looks older than any photographs I have with her. What would she think about her gray-haired daughter? What would she think of her long-haired grandson? I know exactly – she would smile and love us. She would laugh and live in her grace-filled way.

It’s the little things, the little heart-breaking things…how whenever I would come home late, if she woke up she would come downstairs just to visit with me a little bit. Or how when she would go to bed but dad would still be awake, I would go upstairs to talk with her. No matter how tired she was, she had time for me. I miss her.

But now my sons come to visit with me. They come in the sunroom when I am writing or watching TV and we talk. They come in my room if I have gone to lie down and they tell me about this and that. I hope they feel the same kind of unconditional, grace-filled love and light with me that I knew with my mother. If so, then this life is such a great success.

How lucky I was, how thankful I am, I had her.

 

mom and me

Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?

In daylights?
In sunsets?
In midnights?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a year in a life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love…
Seasons of love…
Seasons of love…

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned,
or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned,
or the way that she died?

It’s time now to sing out,
though the story never ends.
Let’s celebrate remember a year in a life
of friends

Remember the love…
(Oh, you’ve got to you’ve got to remember the love)
Remember the love…
(You know the love is a gift from up above)
Remember the love…
(Share love, give love, spray love, measure your life in love.)
Seasons of love…
Seasons of love…

Don’t Leave Me Breathing

(I wrote this on September 26, 2012 – about ten months after my mom’s death. Everything I wrote then felt too personal to share, but now after time has gone by it feels good to look back at the healing that has happened and also to remember how raw the grief was for so long.)

I am so afraid of the grief leaving me.

The weather is starting to cool off a little bit here in Texas. Funny that it being in the eighties is cooling off, but that’s how it is here. September is nearing an end. Last year at this time mom and I were dancing together from the nursing home to the cardiologist to different hospital stays. It was like a terrible jig in which the steps got harder and the music got terribly unpleasant and we tried to stay together until ultimately, we collapsed in a heap of silence and stillness.

I miss her so deeply and fully. It’s the biggest feeling I can feel anymore – this grief and this emptiness. I can feel other things, surely – pride in my children and joy in the things they do. I feel love for them and Chad. I feel peace in my work and my church and I can feel annoyed when people disagree with me or if things don’t move at a pace I enjoy. But the only feeling that has really defined me for the last year is this grief.

But sometimes now, and this is the scary thing: I feel like I might actually survive it. And if I survive it, then I will come out on the other side somehow. I feel like the strands of this darkness are getting more slippery and I know it is God healing me – but I am terrified of it.

“Don’t leave me breathing,

no, not alone,

There’s so much more I meant to tell you.

I went by with flowers just to see,

But the granite told me you’re still gone.” 

(from the song, “So It Goes” by Chris Pureka)

As long as I keep carrying this sadness I’ll know it was true that I loved her. The empty place inside me is proof that maybe it is possible I can slowly disappear, too. Sometimes I wish for that. Or I wish I wished for that. It’s just this beautiful life distracts me. It’s hard to wallow too much when there are little boys to love and blessings all around.

The part of me that died when she died is dear to me. I don’t want it to live again. I want that empty space to remain as a monument to her. I don’t want it to be filled. The ache of it reminds me of all I have lost – all that I had when I had a mom so beautiful.

 

Pastrgrrl – September 26, 2012

 

Seeing the Miracle – Sermon from 6/5/16 – the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)

Before my Grandma Hetland’s funeral in 1984, the whole family gathered in the basement of our church while we waited for the pastor to come in and pray with us before we would be seated in the sanctuary.  I was fourteen and in addition to me and my immediate family, there were tons of my cousins and aunts and uncles stuffed into that room – most of whom I had never met before.  I had grown up living just down the road from Grandma.  I spent time over at her house most days – talking at her kitchen table and usually eating something good she had just baked. I was very close to my grandma but since my cousins had always lived far away, I wasn’t close with them and I remember feeling strange gathered with them there. We were family, but we didn’t feel like family.

So we all sat in that basement room on the light green vinyl chairs and scratchy orange sofas and waited.  The room was completely silent.  Every now and then there was a sniffle.  I could hardly bear it – the silence, the sadness.   In the corner I heard a muffled sound that at first I thought was someone crying – but when I looked over I saw my cousin, Cookie, who was a few years older than me, was completely red in the face, her handkerchief pressed in a ball against her mouth, and she looked like she was about to explode.  Her shoulders were shaking and as she wriggled uncomfortable it only took a few moments before I realized she wasn’t crying – she was desperately trying not to laugh.  Her mother realized, too, what was happening and she was whispering at Cookie to behave and to ‘Shush”. But of course, trying to hold in a good laugh is about as easy as herding a group of cats – and within moments, Cookie burst into laughter.  Even as she did it she said, “sorry, sorry, sorry…” but we knew she was a goner.  The laugh had to get out.  I looked at each of my cousins then, and bit by bit I could see each of them observing Cookie and trying not to smile themselves…but she really had become a funny spectacle, and one by one they started to giggle.  Then the laughter spread to Aunt Vivian, then Aunt Marilyn, my mom, and suddenly the whole room was enveloped in laughter…and that is how Pastor Vetter found us, the grieving family, when he walked in the room.   

There were two things I loved about that moment.  First, as I looked at Cookie and her round face turning red and her robust laugh – I kept thinking about how she reminded me of someone when she laughed.  In a moment I realized she looked just like our Grandma when she laughed.   And second, I couldn’t help but think that if Grandma could see all of us in that moment she probably would have been pretty happy.  To see the country cousins and the city cousins, the unfolding generations of her offspring just laughing together.  It felt like such a blessing and a miracle, that laughter shared in that moment with our family.

How remarkable, I remember thinking, to be surprised by joy and laughter that day at my grandmother’s funeral. It blew into that sad room out of nowhere and helped us through that day – reminding us of things like possibility and love and peace that passes all understanding. I felt it then – Life as we knew it was changing, some things never would be the same, but still, God was near.

As we meander into these summer days, each Sunday now we get to witness miracles wherever Jesus goes. Today we read about how he came to a small village called Nain. There is a widow there whose son has just died. Likely for her it felt like she might as well die, too. We remember that during this time, women’s value depended a lot upon their relationships to the men in their lives and this woman no longer has any – a widow, so her husband is gone, and now her only son as well.

I don’t think it is any stretch to say that perhaps her hope is gone. Notice she doesn’t even ask Jesus for help. Why bother? What good could possibly come now? We don’t find any greater hope in the Old testament reading for today.  Right before the place where our reading begins I Kings, as I shared with the children a few minutes ago, Elijah was told by God to go and stay with another widow. Her situation is terrible, too. Elijah comes to her, he asks her for something to eat and some water. She responds, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die.”

It’s grim times for these widows – death and near death. Hope all gone.

But the story wasn’t over for either of them – because God can surprise us anytime God pleases. Because at any time, that which seems to be a dead end, can become the farthest thing from it. Not just for folks in Biblical times, but for us, too.

In the gospel, Jesus sees the widow, she might not see him, but he sees her and he says simply to her, “Don’t cry” and then his actions show her why. He raises her boy from the dead and he begins to walk around and talk.

In the Old testament reading, Elijah tell the widow to trust – that somehow, if she just shares with him out of the little she has, God will make sure she never runs out of that flour and oil.  I can imagine her shaking her head as she puts together the ingredients and creates a little biscuit for him. “Who is this man to come and take the tiny bit we have left? And using God’s name to convince me to trust him? With a weary sigh, “Fine, then, take what we have, let death come even sooner to me and my son.”

But she finds that Elijah had spoken true words to her. She found that her jar of flour and the oil, they never ran out. God daily provided what they needed. Then, this widow receives an even greater sign of God’s presence with her when a short time later her son becomes gravely ill and dies. Now the first miracle almost seems like a cruel trick – why did God provide for them if only to take her boy now. But Elijah calls on God to help and God does – this boy comes back to life as well.

Surprised by joy again and again. God provides, God heals, God brings laughter in desolate times, unexpected friendships to inspire and strengthen us. Yes, we all know painful experiences – grief, illness, losses of so many kinds, but still, God has always been and is always still in the process of bringing about resurrection in our lives in the most surprising ways.  In Jesus, there is new life always, always, always around the corner. Expect a miracle.

You remember that old saying, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

How do we live our lives?

In Texas, there was an elderly couple, Joe and Audrey. Inseparable – they were one of those couples who went everywhere together. At the grocery store – if you saw Audrey, Joe was around there somewhere. At church, they sat together in the third row from the back on the right. Neither of them were in great health by the time I met them.  I was often visiting one or the other in the hospital, a couple times they were hospitalized at the same time and even then they shared a room. Everyone knew they belonged together.

Finally, Audrey became very, very sick and she died. It was the biggest, saddest surprise of Joe’s life that she died before him. He kept saying in the hours and days that followed, “I always thought I would be the first one to die.” I can still picture every step of the walk with the family from our little parish hall, outside and down the sidewalk to the front door of the church building as the funeral began. It was a sunny, warm autumn day. Joe was dressed up in his Sunday suit and walked in those church doors he had hardly ever entered without her. He leaned hard on his cane. His children and grandchildren filing in behind us. Every time I looked at Joe during the service, he looked as lost as I’ve ever seen anyone look. He didn’t know how to do life without her. Everyone knew the road ahead was going to be very hard for him.

The next week, I went to visit Joe to tell him I love him and pray with him, sit with him a while. As we sat in the front room of the house he and Audrey had shared for nearly all their married life, he began to talk about how they had met. This beautiful love story, one they had shared with me before, but I always loved to hear it. They had been in high school and right before Valentine’s Day of their senior year, Joe had told his friend Earl that he was going to marry Audrey. They hadn’t even been on a date yet but he said he just knew. Their first date was on Valentine’s day and by the fall of that year they were married. His face softened and the lines of worry on his forehead disappeared as he remembered out loud to me about fishing trips and raising their children together and how it had been such a good life with her.

Because it was good to see how the remembering looked like it was comforting to him, I said simply, Joe, you need to write all this down.

I don’t know why he listened to me, but he took this task to heart. He began to write and write and write – memories spilled out of him and he asked his daughter to type them up and each time I came over, he showed new pages to me and asked me to read them out loud. He added in pictures and this project of recording a lifetime of moments he shared with his dear Audrey became his priority. And something about his grief evolved during that time. I asked him about it some time later and he said thoughtfully, “I’ll always miss Audrey. She was my whole world. But I don’t want to spend the rest of my days dwelling on the sadness of losing her, I want to spend the rest of my life being thankful for the miracle that she loved me all those years.” He smiled slowly with tears welling in his eyes and said simply, “It was a beautiful life together.”

Joe chose to see the miracle. And every day, we get to decide if we will see the miracle in nothing or the miracle in everything. What will you decide today?

Joe

I was not surprised when I heard Joe’s heart stopped beating.  We all knew that his heart beat in time with Audrey’s heart and when she died a few months earlier, it seemed so had the spark of his own life.  He spent the last few months journeying through the motions of his days.  He sat in church as usual, but without her by his side he always looked a bit lost.  He welcomed us into his home to sing Christmas carols but he wept as we did so – everything reminded him of her.

When I would come to pray with Joe, I told him how when I lost my mom it helped to write down my thoughts about her.  Joe was raised to believe his pastors had wisdom and so he listened to me.  He poured his time and tears into writing down their love story.  With his failing eyesight he recorded the treasured sum of his days with her – his words spoke of true love, pure and sweet. They were married sixty years.

Joe had always known Audrey was the one.  Joe told his friend, Earl, that he was going to marry Audrey shortly before he even asked her out on their first date.  Sure enough, by September of that year they were married.

What followed was a good life – not an easy life, but a good life made beautiful by two people who knew how to be thankful for all they had, to see the blessings all around them, and to pour out generosity and positivity to all who knew them.

I was Joe and Audrey’s pastor the last five years.  I visited Audrey in the hospital and at home many times as her health failed. I presided at her funeral where her grandchildren sang beautiful songs to honor her memory. My sons and I visited her grave often and picked wildflowers to adorn her resting place.

I moved away to a new call at a church in Minnesota just a few weeks before Joe died.  He had been hospitalized with a heart condition and I came to see him in the hospital up until it was time for the moving van to come.  The last time I spoke with Joe it was right before he had a major surgery.  I told him I loved him and I would see him later.  I meant after the surgery was over but he never woke up again while I was still in Texas.

Nobody tells you when you become a pastor how your heart will break for your congregation.  Nobody tells you how you will love them like family and no matter how much you might like to treat your work like it is just a job, it is never just a job.

Today some other pastor gets to commend Joe to God’s care and keeping.  Today some other pastor gets to gather with this family I grew to love and remind them of God’s eternal promises.  While I am certain God has called me to be right where I am, it doesn’t change how hard this is for me.  I want to be counted among those who grieve.  Because I do.  So much.

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face shine upon him and be gracious unto him.  The Lord look upon him with favor and give him peace.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday

In many ways, this is the darkest night of the church year.  One could argue that Good Friday is darker and more solemn as it closes with Christ in the tomb, all hope lost – and yet, I would argue that it is this evening, Maundy Thursday, when the darkness presses in most deeply – it is nearly suffocating when we pause to consider it long enough.

It is this quiet evening we remember Jesus, vulnerable and sharing a final meal with his disciples.  Here he is, experiencing final words and moments with those who were the closest to him.  Here he is, knowing that the end was coming, and that these events that would lead to his death were set in motion by someone from his inner circle.  While on Good Friday we can imagine the crowd of strangers noisily shouting, “Crucify him,” – somehow the shouts of an angry mob are easier to understand than the betrayal of a friend, a loved one.  I sometimes think that while the beating and torture he endured on Friday was horrible, the cruelest blow was that of the kiss of his friend, Judas.

Have you ever betrayed someone you love?  Whether on purpose or by accident – have you caused harm to another?

If you have, you know that there are the stories we don’t like to tell.  These are memories that haunt and the stories that we try to shove deep inside and put on a smile and pretend they don’t exist. Try to drown them with drink or soften their edges with pills- yet, they remain.  Their truth cannot be dimmed.  The stories of our deepest failings feel like they need to be shut up tight and never spoken out loud – and yet, I have found in my own life that there is a certain healing that is possible only with admission and confession. 

I’ve spoken many times to you over the years about my mom. Many of you met her during the brief time she lived here before she died.  You know she went through a time of major depression and that was why she came from Minnesota to live with us.  Her depression had gotten so overpowering that she would no longer make the effort to eat or take her medicine or do anything without someone to make sure she did so. 

When mom came to live with us, I was so glad to try to do whatever I could for her.  The ways that she had lovingly cared for us as kids and then took care of my dad when he got older, I wanted to extend that same kind of care to her when she needed it.  We moved her into a room in our house, we loved having her with us even though she really wasn’t anything like herself anymore.  Her anxiety and depression were so deep that days with us were spent mostly sitting by the kitchen table, not speaking.  I would make her breakfast and go to work and then come home and make her lunch and then go back to work and then make her supper and three days a week I took her to a support group for seniors who were going through severe depression.  At the same time, the boys were in preschool and my final project for my doctorate was reaching its’ deadline. 

I took her to doctor’s appointments and checked her blood sugar twice a day.  She had diabetes and liver troubles and a heart condition that required that she get the thickness of her blood checked monthly so she wouldn’t get clots.  These were all things that she had tended to doing diligently before this but now that she couldn’t, I was determined to tend to all of it for her. 

And after a while, it felt like we were finding our way.  It was a strange new normal that we had as a family, but as I said, I was so glad to have her with me and that my boys could get to know her – even though her newfound anxiety and nerves made it hard for her to tolerate the loudness and chaos of a house with little boys.  It seemed like the support group was helping mom and now and then I saw glimpses of the mom I grew up with.  I was getting my work done and getting my dissertation done and getting the boys and mom where they needed to be.  It was a blur of days and I wasn’t sleeping much, but it felt like everything was going to be okay.

But then one afternoon I noticed mom was shaky and she went to lie down in her room.  I went in to check her blood sugar and I saw she had thrown up and was disoriented and couldn’t speak.  We called the ambulance and she went to the ER in Waco.  In the emergency room, the doctor was asking me many questions – about her medications, about when was the last time she had her blood checked.  You see, mom had just had a stroke because a clot had developed in her heart.  A perfectly round clot the size of a walnut.  And the clot was there because her blood had gotten too thick.  And her blood had gotten too thick because her medication dosage was apparently not right anymore.  And her medication dosage was not right because, as I ticked back through the days and weeks in my mind, I realized it had been well over six weeks since we had gotten it checked, instead of one month as it was supposed to be.

Because of that clot, mom had to have surgery to get it removed, a surgery from which she never recovered, and died a few months later.

I often used to joke about my forgetfulness, how I have to write everything down in order to remember both small and big things.  I figured if being forgetful was my worst flaw, then it wasn’t so bad. But in all my juggling of life and family and work and school, I had forgotten an astronomically important thing – to make sure she got her blood checked – and the consequences were catastrophic.  I’ll bear the grief and guilt and sadness about this until the day I die – because even though I would never, ever willingly have betrayed or harmed my mom, I did.  She had needed me to watch out for her, and I blew it.  Utterly and fully blew it.  There are no words to express the remorse I feel about this.

It’s a confession, that’s what it is.  God and I have talked about it an awful lot over the years.  As I proclaim the forgiveness of sins each week, I try to remind myself that forgiveness extends to me, too, and hopefully one of these days I will believe it. 

I share this story with you not just out of my need to speak it out loud, but to hold up the truth that we so deeply need what this night is about.  We come together as a big group of imperfect people, people who have histories and secrets, failures and longings, regrets and sins.  We may do a great job of hiding all these things so that no one would guess how broken we are inside, but we know.  And God knows.  And in this meal we share tonight we remember that even so, we are loved.  We are treasured.  It was because of our brokenness that Jesus sacrificed all for us.  He knew exactly what he was doing. And even though nothing can erase our brokenness, or fix all our mistakes, that God is able to always, somehow, still use us for good.

It seems too good to be true.  Judas couldn’t imagine it.  He was so overwhelmed by what he had done that the scripture says first he went and tried to give back the thirty pieces of silver he had gotten for betraying Jesus and then immediately went and hanged himself.  He couldn’t bear the thought of what he had done.

It’s human beings who feel such a greedy need to hoard guilt and shame – it’s not God.  Judas couldn’t forgive himself, but Jesus could. He did. On this Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus the Christ knelt and washed the feet of his disciples, even Judas.  He begged them to love one another, even as his heart grieved knowing how they would fail.  He loved them through his tears, even Judas.  His forgiveness so great that the cross would not extinguish it.  His forgiveness so great that it was for everyone for all time, even Judas.  Even you.  Even me. 

May God grant us grace to believe in this truth, in this Jesus, now and always.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

At Two Years

(Written November 1, 2013)

For the last two years I have not preached on All Saints Sunday so being in the pulpit this coming Sunday feels like a big deal. Two years ago on All Saints my mother had just died – I was in Minnesota preparing for her funeral the next day. Then, last year at this time I took a trip to Nebraska to see friends because I knew I could not lead worship or preach on the first anniversary of her death. Instead, my friends and I stayed up late drinking wine and talking, we got some new tattoos, took the kiddos to a movie, bought shoes, and ate good food. That time together with them was good medicine for me.

And now, in just hours, it will be two whole years since mom died. Even now there is a part of me that would happily never talk or write about anything other than her and how bad I feel without her. No one tells you that grief makes you terribly boring and interested in little aside from what you have lost.

I suppose I am getting better. I imagine with every day that goes by I am still gaining some strength, some perspective. But there is a part of me that hates that. The feverish little mess I was in the first months after her death was my proof that no one else loved their mother as much as I loved mine! I was the winner in the loss category.

But the sun keeps rising and setting and rising again. I can either keep adding onto my monument of pain and loss or I can live. I’ve always known I would choose to live –and yet I have been surprised at how comfortable I have grown with grieving. The sorrow has very nearly become a pillow I rest on, a familiar place for my heart to go. I know what to expect there – a canvas painted with pictures of how she looked and the things that filled her last days and months: pale arms resting on a prayer shawl, a fingertip with a heart monitor clipped to it, a spider web of tubes connected to her veins, sad-blue hospital gowns, and her weary visage. She was so deeply and truly tired at the end. Her heart had been sliced open and stitched back together twice, her liver mostly useless – I shouldn’t have been surprised she could die and yet her death was the great surprise of my life.

I’ve written so much about her these last couple years. I’ve filled notebooks and journals, countless status updates on Facebook, church newsletter articles and sermons, I keep spewing out volumes about how I felt then and how I feel now and documenting every move we made in those final months – as if I think that if I write it all down clearly and with enough depth I might be able to rewrite how it ended. I keep lining up words, stacking sentences one on top of another thinking perhaps if there are enough of them I can fill in the empty part of my heart. But there just aren’t enough words. That is what I have found in two years of missing my mother. There will never be enough words to describe how it is.

I have lost her. Surely I will always have things that will connect me to her – her wedding ring I will never take off, her china closet filled with the cups and dishes she loved, even looking in the mirror I see a bit of her staring back at me. And my voice – the sound of her voice has always come out of my own throat, too.

But she is gone. And there are no words. It’s taken me two trips around the sun to realize it.

I write sermons a lot and a good rule of thumb in writing a sermon is that it needs to end with the gospel, not the law. Even if the rest of the sermon is entirely depressing with talk about our sinful natures and the multitude of ways we have failed in life – at the end, the Christian sermon always points back to what Jesus has done for us and that there is hope. It’s what Christians believe – the end of the story is always one of hope.

However, what my mother’s death has taught me is that even though I have great hope and joy in God’s promise that I will see her again someday, there is still a sorrow I’ll carry now as long as I live. Grief is not an event but a journey. It is exhausting and ongoing and travels a path that makes no sense whatsoever. It sucks.

And I’ve also learned I have a lot of company on this path. At my church, the cemetery is filled with stories of loss. I’ve presided at some of those funerals as we said “goodbye” to the parent, spouse, friend, sibling, or child. So many tears have soaked into that ground. Over the years my parishioners have stood together over the graves of the people they loved, over and over again. They have become well-seasoned at grieving and at helping one another to weather the seasons of loss. They help their pastor, too. When my voice cracks, when the tears well, even if I’m all the way up in the pulpit, they look at me only with compassion and understanding. They know this path I’m on, they have walked it, too – and now we’ll journey it together.

So, anyway. Two years. An eternity. A moment. She was pretty great. Her name was Betty and I will not forget her. She liked to sit outside and enjoy the quiet. She loved sweets. She kept a little notebook where she wrote down every penny she spent. She always wore a scarf (or “kerchief” as she called it) on her head when she left the house. She was tall, like me. She was kind and loved a good Hallmark channel movie or a game of Scrabble. She took care of my dad even when he became very sick and not very nice. She always had time to talk to me when I called. I think I miss that the most – just hearing her say “hello” when I dialed her number from wherever I was.

Blessed be the memory of all the saints in light.

Amen.

The Jewelry Box

The other night I remembered the jewelry box played music – the tinny notes it played had been part of its’ “magic” to me when I would admire it as a young girl.  The box has been sitting in my bathroom since I brought it home from Minnesota a few months ago – Jesse likes to open it and look at Grandma’s bits of jewelry.  He calls them her “shineys.”  I turned the key to see if it still worked and there was only silence.  I wish I could remember what song it used to play.

My mom did not have a lot of fancy things.  She and dad lived very simply – partly out of necessity – money was tight since Dad couldn’t work for most of his adult life due to his disabilities, but also because of a fierce thriftiness they both held.  If they could make something keep working, keep serving its’ purpose, no matter how bad it looked or how many times it had to be taped together to keep functioning, they kept using it.

Every penny mattered.  They didn’t say things like “it’s just twenty bucks, why not get it?” – they said things like, “waste not, want not.”

There were times I felt my dad took this to the extreme – like when the window in my upstairs bedroom (which had a beautiful view of the hills and woods in the distance) broke and rather than get a new window, he just told my brother to nail a board over it – first stuffing the window frame with insulation so that it could now keep the cold air out more efficiently.  The fact that my room was now a dark tomb with no natural light was not a consideration.

Or there was the car we had when my brother and I were small – it needed a screwdriver stuck somewhere in the engine in order to get it started.  Rather than fix whatever was causing this, mom and dad just dealt with it and drove it that way for years.

And particularly unforgettable were the years when there was something wrong with our well and we used the outhouse out back and washed clothes at the Laundromat in town and filled jugs of water at grandma’s house to use for drinking and bathing.

Some people had more than us and some people had less.  Us kids might have thought our inconveniences were terribly lame, but we knew we weren’t deprived. We had no frills, but we had enough.  Mom and Dad would always figure out a way to make do.

There’s so much of this I admire.  I imagine I would have all my student loans paid off by now if I managed my money and “made do” half as well as my parents did.  As it is, I lean toward the frivolous more often than I should.  Particularly with my children – I like to buy them things.  I think it shocked my mom when she came to stay with us how much stuff we bought for the kids.  I remember admitting to her, “They are spoiled.”  She did not deny it, she said simply, “Yes.  But they are cute.”

For however little material possessions mom wanted or needed during her life, it became even more extremely this way the last year of her life.  When she came to live with us, I ached to be able to ease sadness that she was carrying.  Since I didn’t know what else to do – I would try to bring her little “treats” – things that she would normally have enjoyed – some nice soap or a pretty cup, some fresh stationery or even a tall, cold bottle of diet coke.  She would politely thank me and bring them into her room where she would place them carefully in her bedside drawer or closet.  She did not need them or want them or even barely consider them for longer than it took to store them away.

Sometimes I think, whether she realized it or not, her vision was already set on the Next place.  Her whole life she had needed so little but for where her journey was leading her now, there was absolutely nothing she needed or wanted.

After mom died, my brother and I went through her house in Minnesota and took care of what was left behind. There was nothing of great value – but much that was precious, of course, including that jewelry box.  It is pink with pink satin and velveteen on the inside.  I remember as a child creeping into my parents’ room to open that pretty box and look at her treasures.  When I came across it after her death it still contained many of the same things I had remembered she kept in there – some earrings she used to wear when she was right out of college and worked in Minneapolis, her high school Letter, a locket with a picture of dad, and dad’s wedding ring.

I took dad’s ring and slipped it onto my thumb.  It was just a few days earlier that I had put on mom’s wedding ring.  When she was in ICU they had to take it off her since her fingers were swelling so badly.  I put it into a plastic bag along with the only other piece of jewelry she wore, a black hills silver ring I had given her some years before.  I told her I would hold onto them until she got out of the hospital.  The night she died, while I was still in the hospital room trying to gather the strength to stand and leave and go home, I kept looking at her hands and seeing the indentation on her ring finger. I remembered the rings still in my purse.  I took them out and slipped both those rings on my finger.  I had planned to just bring them back to Minnesota and give them to the funeral director to have them buried with her – but when I got there, I couldn’t do it.  I felt guilty about that because her thin gold wedding band had been on her hand her whole life.  She had held us as babies while wearing that ring.  She had cared for my father wearing that ring.  It rightfully belonged buried on her finger, but I couldn’t part with it.  Mom would have to forgive me for that – because I knew I somehow needed it to help me get through the rest of my life without her.

It makes no sense that a thin gold band should help me feel near to my mom who cared so little for material things.  Yet perhaps it does.  This ring was one thing that did matter to her.  It stood for a promise she made that mattered to her more than any other in her life.  I look at it and I can see her hands still.  Truthfully, I would give away every single possession I have before I would get rid of this ring.  It rests on my finger just below my own wedding band.  Like a firm and gentle reminder from my mom about the things that matter most: persistence, promises kept, and love.  Always love.