Friday, November 9, 2012
As She Lay Dying
I wrote the following over two years ago as a private expression of grief following the death of my mother. I share it here now with the prayer that others may gain from my loss.
"You're a lecturer. You got that from your father."
It's something my mom used to say, usually when she didn't care for whatever it was I was going on about. Never mind that I barely knew my father. Apparently there is a "lecturer" gene, and I got it.
Maybe she had a point about the genes. Or maybe not. I don't know. But I was a lecturer, particularly where she was concerned. I'm a born know-it-all, annoying from birth. And I felt the need to correct my mother often and play the devil's advocate at any given opportunity. Deep down I just didn't have the respect for her that I should have, or a love pure enough to just let her be, to stop trying to "fix" her or set her straight, and to overlook her traits that annoyed me to no end.
Don't get me wrong. I did love my mother, and as my love for God grew, so did my respect and love for her. She suffered from depression and I wanted with all my heart to see her happy. (I cannot put to words the frustration of trying to make a depressed person happy.) And I was committed to her. I visited her 365 days a year for the last six years of her life - even more often when she was sick. I was devoted to her and yet could not just let her be.
I was arrogant.
It was never my place to "fix" my mother, as though I were the one with the power to heal her soul. I was not better than her, just different. And I don't even have the power to change my own soul.
I realized this on the morning of the day of her death. The moment I knew Mom was dying, there was no room for annoyance anymore. All my breaking heart could see was the treasure that she was. I prayed there would be moments left to tell her so. And there were. A brief few.
And now I have my whole lifetime to remember all the things I should have left unsaid. To remember her as the charming woman she so often was. To forget the annoyances and manipulations. What did those matter in the face of death? How could I have let pride and irritation rob me of a moment's love for my mother?
And that evening, after she had passed, as I drove home in the dark, I wondered why I hadn't treated her all my days with the tenderness and gentleness I did during the hours that she lay dying. Why could I not drop my pride and see her for the delicate soul, the little girl grown old, that she was? After all, like every one of us, she was dying from the moment she was conceived. Why did I wait for a doctor's verdict to face it? Why did I put the deepest of love off until the last moment? Would it really have been so hard to just love her as she was all those years?
And I thought how different things would have been if I had. And I thought...what a different place this world would be if every one treated one another as a dying soul.
And now she is gone and It is too late to honor her. But I know now, and pray I will never forget, not for a moment, that every soul I meet is terminally ill. We all lay dying. Whether we realize it or not, our lives are precarious and we are all as fragile and helpless as my mother was that day. May God grant me grace from this day forward to treat every person I meet with the tenderness and affection I felt for her then. May I never speak a word to anyone that I would not speak as they lay dying.