It’s hard to believe that nearly two months have passed already since the home-going of my mother. At eighty-nine years of age, it was something she had been looking forward to for some time, if not her whole life.
We had three services for her on January 14. The first was held at Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, on Kings Highway in Winona Lake, IN, the church our parents came to help establish in 1948. The co-pastors, Bruce Barlow and Tom Miller allowed me the privilege to preach at Mom’s funeral there, and I thank them for that privilege. After that service, some women of the church fixed a very fine lunch which was served to our family up in the lounge.
Following lunch my brothers and I and our families piled into two vehicles for the three-hour drive to Covington, OH, where we had a second service for Mom. Some family members from Ohio all gathered there, including my adopted daughter Angie and her boy-friend, Rick, a few of our cousins, and my Aunt Maxine. This service was held at the United Church of Christ on Pearl Street in Covington, with the assistance of Pastor Howard Storm. Howard and his wife, Marcia, joined me and a small group of Episcopalians in a pre-trip visit to Central Ecuador back in August 2007. What a joy to have them with us in Quito, and what a friend and colleague he has become to me. He did a fine job with Mom’s Ohio service, including Holy Communion. We then moved onto the cemetery for the graveside service.
By the time we got to the graveside in nearby Pleasant Hill, OH, it was about 4:20 PM, overcast skies hid the sun—well on its way to setting at that point—and it was cold, with a steady wind out of the west. The temperature was in the low 20’s and the wind made it feel even colder. Some snow and ice still painted the frozen ground. As we climbed out of my brother Jim’s van, I said, “I’m going to read the burial office (from the Episcopal BCP), with as much speed as dignity will allow.” It was cold, and standing still at the graveside, you got colder still. I read quickly yet reverently, we prayed, we wept, we hugged our cousins, my aunt and daughter ‘goodbye’ and we got back into our warm vehicles and left for another three hour ride back to Warsaw, IN, stopping for dinner in Fort Wayne, where it began to snow lightly but steadily.
I had a very strange feeling, leaving Mom behind, so to speak. We went there with her body in a lovely wooden coffin, and when all was said that needed saying, we left her behind, in the freezing weather, to be laid into the cold earth, next to Dad and her second son, Johnny. Intellectually, I know that really wasn’t my mother, her spirit, her life, her personality—it was only her lifeless body. But in that body Mom lived her life, loved her family and friends, carried out her life of faith and action in the world—that body begat my body, my life. In a way, I felt I left behind a part of me, my life-giver, my mother, now buried in the earth. Mother Earth; it holds a new feeling for me now.
I’m sure I will think of my mother often and for the rest of my life. All that was ever broken between us matters not now; all that was wonderful between us remains and grows deeper and more meaningful as I dwell on it. For the wake and for use right before the funeral, my brother Dan did a very cool thing. He made a DVD out of over 100 pictures, which played like a Ken Burns slide show over the song “I Can Only Imagine,” by MercyMe. I have watched this marvelous and holy retrospective over a dozen times, if not more. One of the things I have come to realize through viewing this ‘video’ of sorts is that my mother was once a young, pretty, and robust woman. She was tall, she held her family close, and really knew how to handle us boys and her husband, my father. She had a great sense of humor, and lived life joyfully with family and her friends. She loved her grandchildren and the children of our friends. She was a wonderful grandmother, as well as mother. And I miss her.
In many ways, Mom’s life wasn’t so easy, but her faith in God made life good for her—“it’s in God’s hands” was a regular phrase of hers. She really believed that. She trusted God in her life, with her life, with her family, and even though she buried two of her sons before she herself died, she kept trusting and believing and clinging to God in all the times of her life.
I saw Mom alive for the last time in June 2007. Once when we visited her she wondered aloud as to why God didn’t just take her home; she had lived her long life and was ready for her eternal life in God’s presence. I assured her that God obviously wasn’t finished with her yet, that she still had some work to do for God. I don’t think she liked hearing that. I think she felt her increasing weakness and dependence was keeping her from doing things. It may have been difficult for her to accept those creeping limitations.
But I think that in those final years, Mom taught us how to give and care selflessly (though I certainly didn’t live close enough to reap the majority of those lessons), and she learned for herself what it meant to give others the chance to serve God by serving her. At times in our lives, we help others to grow in their faith and action by being a willing recipient of someone’s kindness, compassion and care for her. It can take a lot out of us to learn to give, but it takes even more effort sometimes—after a life of giving—to learn to receive from others. I think that’s what God had in mind, so that Mom could be as opened up as possible by the time her body gave out, so that she could receive heaven and life eternal even more in that space when Jesus came for her early in the morning, January 10.
May we learn to give in our lives and with our lives as generously she did and even more, and after a lifetime of giving, be as willing to receive from others and be opened up by it in preparation for our day of resurrection, as well.
As for you, Mom, I’ll see you again.