Thursday, February 5, 2009

Remembering Mom

I know that I have a few faithful readers of this blog.  You may all be wondering where I have been since about January 25.  I've been in Kansas City.  My mom got to the point that she could no longer live alone.  I moved her into a care facility and decided to stay a few days before returning to Kentucky.  However, she very soon became quite ill and passed away on January 31. The Hospice chaplain conducted her funeral service.  I wrote the sermon, which he read.  So, if you will indulge me, in honor of my mom, I offer that sermon.  Please take a few moments to read it.  Blessings!


Some Thoughts About Gracie

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you?”

I have spent considerable time over the last couple of weeks reflecting on my mom. It’s strange how things you know full-well can so easily escape your attention as you go about day-by-day living. One thing that was very real to me over the last week of my mom’s life was how I tenderly touched her hands, her face, and her hair. It struck me that Mom was almost 88. She was very thin and had grown quite small- almost like a child. I had told Mom a million times that I loved her over the years, but rarely had we touched much. But, that final week, it was as if all reasons not to display love for Mom were suddenly gone. It’s amazing what touching someone you love can do to you.

One day, in the hospital, she reached up her arm.  She could no longer talk, and I didn’t know what she wanted.  I bent over her bed to try to get some notion of what she desired.  She touched me, looked at me in great earnest, and ran her hand over my beard and my hair.  She wanted to touch me.  She wanted me to know that which only touching can tell.  At first, I found it odd.  I said, “Mom, it’s all white now, no more blond left.  You know, I’m getting old.” 

I have reflected on what my Mom meant by that touch.  I wondered if she meant I needed to do more for her, or less, or what she was trying to say.  In the end, though, I think Katy had the right idea.  She was saying- “I appreciate you.  I know you are doing your best.  I know you wish me well.”  A touch can be healing.  Sometimes a touch can say more than words ever can. I am left wondering about all of us. Do we reach and touch enough?  Are we scared of each other?  Are we afraid a touch might show our vulnerability?  My mom’s touch made me cry-- right then and there.  Are we afraid of tears?  

As I touched my mom, the image in my mind was that of a rose. Somehow, in Mom’s case, the vines seemed too fragile for this world.  It seems that she was a rose most delicate.  All of her adult life- or at least all that all I know of- she was a rose vine exposed to the harshest elements.  Petals wilting, tendrils twisted by the winds of fate.  Often, her life was hard, and that does hurt, still.  But even then, I recall my rose had good moments.  After Dad died, she flew to see my sister and me in Colorado, California, and Kentucky.  My mom discovered she loved to fly.  She loved to visit with my sister and her family.  Once, when I was living in Arkansas, it turned out that I was living in Harrison, the town where she and Dad had gotten married.  So, she came back to the place of her marriage again. She marveled at the beauty of California, Colorado, and Northern Arkansas.  She had many years of good travel, good friends in her apartment building, and enjoying her grandchildren.  It seems that even a rose in the harsh desert still blooms.

As I touched her face, held her hands, and stroked her hair over the past week, I knew that her petals were always velvet soft-- even as they fell to the ground.  I realized they always were velvety softness for all who took the time to touch and discover.  A sweet fragrance in the midst of the ordinary.  I began to call her “my rose” while she was in the hospital.  I realized that she was beautiful, and precious, and beyond price. I always liked Mom.  Still, I had never known her beauty, or softness, or precious fragrance.  They were always there, but my eyes didn’t really see these things.

I have wondered, the past week or so, if we realize the beauty that lies in the heart of each other.  Do we stop and notice the fragrance?  Do we see the softness?  Do we see the brokenness and in that very brokenness see the hidden beauty?

One afternoon at Timberlake, Mom commented to dear Katy Raymond that I have wonderful friends.  True enough; she has always told me that.  Sometimes she used to list them- Kevin, Kate, Dor, Doug, Bruce, Annie- she knew many, some I hadn’t thought of in years. I will never forget that day some 30 years after my wedding.  Irene and I were leaving Kansas City to go back to Kentucky when Mom said, “Jim, you have a good wife,” and she held my hand a little longer and looked at me with intensity. She did love Irene; for Irene and I are so much in love.  She could identify a rose when she saw it.  She often spoke of Doug playing Smoke Gets in Your Eyes or some other oldie on his sax on our porch in the old neighborhood.  She often commented on the faithfulness of Bruce Carpenter and the kindness of Dorothy or Katy when she had been very ill.  She told Katy how wonderful it was that we had all stuck together since we were kids.  She thought we were all good for each other. 

My faithful Uncle... Where do I begin?  There are not words to describe the debt owed to you.  All of these years, faithfully, you have kept your eye on Mom.  She told me more than once that you were a wonderful brother.  You have proven that time and again.  She always loved you, you know.  And she knew you loved her.  Maybe you never spoke the words, but your actions say it loud and clear.

My sons never knew Mom as well as I might wish, but all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren were gifts to her.  I know each of you in this room could tell of a memory of my mom and some way you knew her to be special.  Now, I want to close with the thought I began with:

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you?”

What is that place?  Where is it?  What’s it like?  I don’t think anyone can ever really say they know.  I certainly don’t.  I finished seminary many years ago.  I’ve been a minister for years.  I preached many a funeral; preached scores of folks into heaven- you might say- sometimes even folks I didn’t really know.   Sometimes their lives were a bit seedy.  It didn’t matter.  I am a firm believer that when someone passes, the world needs to take note that they have been here.  Mom didn’t want much.  She was clear about that.  But, Gracie, this one’s for you.  So I hope you are listening.

I don’t have the answers about all of these ultimate things.  Still, I rest in the hope of the Apostle,
Eye hasn’t seen, nor ear heard, nor have the minds of humans conceived, the good things God has prepared for those who love God.  Gracie, I know this, and I know it well:  You are a lover of God.  So in that hope, I let you go.  I also forgive myself for all of the wrong decisions I surely made, the mistakes I made, and I give you to God.  You would want nothing less.  Someday, I trust we will meet again.

So, in Gracie’s name, friends and loved ones, I bequeath this gift.  I give you all the gift of each other. Uncle Harvey and Aunt Delores, Doug R., Kevin, Irene, the grandkids, my sister, more folks than I can recite- all of us.   For her I promise to watch your back and look out for you.  And for her, I know we will always look out for each other.  And, someday, that which eye hasn’t seen or ear heard will belong to us all; all of us, flowers in the fragrant garden of God’s roses where all wounds are healed, all things made right, and all is forever and again full of love.

Mom, you live on with me yet.  Ever and always you will.  You will always live in my heart, My Dear One, My Precious Rose.

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