When Your Mother Dies
“Give thanks in all circumstances.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)
My mother died at age 94, peacefully in her sleep, in May. She had a rough life in the beginning and then it got better. Her own mother tried to kill her. She lived with an abusive man until she left. When she left, she really left. She made it better by giving thanks in all circumstances.
Her Sundays were filled with clipping coupons. Some days she would go to the grocery store, on Senior Tuesdays, and get refunds. Between the triple coupons and her senior status, they owed her money on the kidney beans or tomato sauce. She wasn’t (that) poor, but she was frugal.
I had given so much advice to so many for so long about the death of a parent—even writing a book on the subject—that I decided I better take some of my own medicine. I often ask people to take their dearly departed on a personal retreat. Take three days and go through the decades of your life with her and her life with you. Surprise yourself by getting to know what her life was really like. Don’t see it all through the lens of her to you. See her life as her to hers.
I remembered what a good swimmer she was. How she loved to gamble but didn’t talk about it much with the pastor. How she and my sister spent their afternoons delivering “meals on wheels.” How she was she and not only my mother but instead my mother plus herself.
Before death and after death, O God, let us figure out who we and others really are.
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her most recent book is I Heart Frances: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.