Tag Archives: grief

A White Carnation for Mom


It’ll be a white carnation for me this year.  Some churches turn Mother’s Day into some kind of crazy contest:  the mother with the most kids; the mother with the most kids present that day (the kids, of course, having been guilted into doing their offspring duty “or else”); the mom with the youngest child, etc., etc., nauseatingly, etc. 

The warped part of me always wanted to turn the contest weird:  the mother with most kids present who were also on the FBI’s Most Wanted List; the mother who could juggle at least three of her kids at once (literal juggling, I mean…not the life juggling, super human, yet ordinary feats of mothering).

But this “contest” approach always seemed to spank those with unsatisfactory mom experiences…those who desperately wanted to be moms but couldn’t; those present whose moms weren’t very momish at all; those moms whose life’s horrors included their children preceding them in death. 

Shoving a book in the hands of the “contest” winners always seemed to somehow violate the quiet places of pain in the hearts of the moms who weren’t or the moms who couldn’t (though they tried oh so hard), or those whose moms just weren’t…really moms, that is.  I have seen the grimaces and the winces and the forced smiles on those who had wanted to be (but couldn’t be) moms and on the faces of those who wished that their mom had really been a mom.

That, of course, is not a reason to entirely forgo church-based Mother’s Day celebrations.  So in my grandness of pastoral wisdom (ha!), I decided years ago that if I were planning worship services on Mother’s Day, the celebration would be simpler.  Worship attendees could take a white carnation if their mother had passed away and a red carnation if their mother was still living. 

It’ll be a white carnation for me this year.  It’s been several months since my mom slipped from this life to the next.  It was a final gentle slipping after weeks of discomfort and pain.  It has been several months since I have had to learn to not ask to talk to her when I call my Dad.  I still catch myself on those calls…about to ask for my Mom.  It would be really great to just hear the gentle lilt and pitch and cadence of her voice.  I so still miss the, “Hi! Honey,” when she took the phone.  No matter what was swirling around her, no matter the pain she was in, as long as she could, she still blessed me with those words. 

Missing Mom at Christmas took me by surprise because the missing snuck up on me with such stealth…a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11 surprise attack on my spirit.  I had even been waiting for the Christmas pain and yet it still managed to knock me back on the ropes and hold me down for the count.  On the lookout for the frontal grief attack, I instead got waylaid by grief’s sucker punch. 

So, after that, I thought Mother’s Day might be tricky but I really didn’t expect the slow anticipation of Mother’s Day to swallow up my soul and wring the spring from my step.  I did not expect to succumb so to the vacuum of Mom’s absence, but I have been feeling it for weeks now.  There was a place in my life only she could fill and in that place is now a rusty, droopy sign advertising “Vacancy.” 

I don’t want to transmogrify her into some kind of super saint but she was a great Mom.  The floodgates opened when my brother sent me pictures he had taken years ago when I had the privilege of baptizing my Mom.  Such a precious memory so readily timed in its release. 

I’ve looked into so many expressions of comfort…the books…the poems…the Facebook “Likes” and “shares” and “me too’s!”  There is nothing profound there; there is nothing profound to say in the face of so profound a loss. 

You can’t really prepare for this loss…folks who talk about “anticipatory grief” are just trying to help us think ahead.  But honestly, they have no clue.  Really, before the loss, it’s just so much holding your breath and wondering if the only breath you will have after your loved one passes is the breath you’ve been holding…and you know you will eventually exhale and you wonder what comes next.  And then you try to inhale and you find, in those moments, that you just cannot breathe at all. 

The thing I was most unprepared for was the constancy of the loss.  Perhaps that will fade in time.  Part of me hopes not…please, no.  Even though my Mom and I were geographically distant for the last several years of her life, I always knew she would be there when I called and I always knew I could go home and get a hug from Mom…anytime.  Now I feel the gaping hole in my sphere of existence every day…every minute.  And while I want the sorrow to diminish; I also want the ongoing presence of my Mom…and, if the only way I can have that is to have the sorrow; I’ll keep the sorrow. 

I have the genuine Christian hope that we will be reunited…but hope is not the same as the tangibility of a call…a voice…a smile…a pierogi (Mom made the best).  She will not come to me but I will go to her (thanks, King David, I really needed that). 

And I hurt for my Dad who longs for the company of his life partner of over six decades.  Through thick and thin (mostly thin) they made a life together that was monumentally solid and full of the kind of giving that only those without depth of resources can do…a giving of compassion and spirit and presence. 

It’ll be a white carnation for me this year.  Holding that flower means that Mom has passed from this life and slipped into the next.  First Mother’s Day with the Heavenly Father.  Joy for her; sorrow-tainted joy for me.

It’ll be a white carnation for me this year.





The First Post

Of the making many books (and blogs) there is no end (Ecclesiastes 12:12), so why another and why from me?  I don’t know the answer to either of those questions.  I just feel compelled by some inner urge (trusting that it is not bad pizza) to write in bits and pieces about a little of this and a little of that–mostly about the things that occupy my attention in the Church.  So, here goes.  Tune in if you’d like; tune out if you must.  This one is very personal; they will not all be.

I watched my Mom step from life to life 25 days ago.  She had never thought of herself as remarkable; I had never thought of her as anything but remarkable.  She had it tough as a child and made it through the toughness without becoming hardened.  I’ve heard the stories from my Dad and still am awed by the understated power and overwhelming compassion of the woman, wife, and mother she became.

We shared a common faith in Christ.  I had the privilege of baptizing her (and my wallet).  That sharing is what made it possible for me to watch and listen (mostly from a distance) as she surrendered her earthly body to a most relentless cancer.  I was there the day she slipped away.  

I had arrived two hours before; I prayed with her; read to her from her very used Bible; listened with her and my Dad to her favorite Elvis Presley hymn collection (Elvis may have worn blue suede shoes and warned off hound dogs, but the boy could sing a hymn like few others–when he sang, “How Great Thou Art” there was no doubt about the greatness of God).  I slipped out of the room to make a five minute phone call and when I came back into the room, my Dad said, “I don’t think she’s breathing.”  She wasn’t.

I kept wondering why I didn’t fall apart.  I kept wondering if I was some hard-hearted weird boy who didn’t realize that his Mom had just died.  Why didn’t I cry?  I was sad.  I am still sad.  And I have cried since (the tears sneaking up on me like some stealth grief bomb) but I didn’t cry then. 

It has since hit me:  I didn’t believe she was dead.  This was not the disbelief of denial.  No, this was something deeper:  it was, I think, the disbelief of faith.  It was a disbelief that she was dead because I knew she was really not.  Certainly her body had quit.  Certainly the cancer had finished its ugly ravaging.  But she was not dead.

There are those “Oh, that’s it!” moments in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.  This was one for me.  “We do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope,” said the Apostle Paul.  We do grieve; we do cry; we do know sadness (I would give anything to be able to have one of my weekly chats with her…to hear her pick up the phone and say, “Hi, honey.”).  But we do not grieve like those who have no hope.

In her last days, wracked with pain, she had cried out to be with Jesus.  Though it sprang from her pain, it was not the cry of the desperate; it was the cry of faith.  To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  To be separated from my Mom because she has passed away from this life is not to lose her.  She’s taken an earlier flight.  I’ll catch up with her later.  She’s enjoying the rest from her pain and the joy of her Lord.  I can be sad that I am not with her now but I know I will be with her again.

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