Monthly Archives: November 2013

Postlude

My mother’s memorial service was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. My siblings, the grandchildren and great grandchildren and other family and friends gathered to remember. This was my younger brother’s eulogy. Two of her grandchildren also provided a eulogy. The service was a wonderful celebration of her life.

The Kansas Expatriate

In memorian: Letah Jo Pepper Wilcox

When I was very young our mother, for a variety of good reasons, left her husband of 22 years, put her 4 children in a station wagon driven by our grandfather, left the Twin Cities of Minnisota and moved to the western edge of Wichita Kansas.  That year was 1967.

A lot of things were happening in 1967.  President Johnson still had a political career, Frank Sinatra swept the grammys, the Apollo moon landing, after a terrible accident, now looked like a pipe dream, and the Kansas City Chiefs were actually in a Super Bowl.

What wasn’t happening was single parenting, something that we see as commonplace today.  In many ways our mother was on the cutting edge of a rapidly changing in the world.  She learned to drive when she was almost 40, something most women of her age would never do.  She…

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A Season of Grief, Grace and Gratitude

My mother died a few days ago.  Last week, I had written about how in the midst of the walk with those who transition from this life to the next, there are sometimes “no words.”  Her death was as peaceful as I had prayed for and she was surrounded by love.

So the now deep journey of grief and gratitude begins.  In a little over a week, as much of her biological family and extended family friends will gather to celebrate her life and spirit.  The week of Thanksgiving was chosen, because the plan had been made for our family to have Thanksgiving together with Mom there with us.  When it became clear that she would not live that long, we still wanted to gather, this time adding a celebration of her life and gather around a table as she so often encouraged us to do.

I firmly believe that my mother made a journey from this life to a life I can not see, but can imagine being filled with Light, with Love and with laughter.  What she left behind was not just grieving friends and family but a body that was worn out and tired.  This body which housed her unique and unrepeatable spirit was buried in remembered earth.

I don’t know where I first heard the term “remembered earth.”  It was quoted in a worship service and it caught my attention.  I tried to find the quote (google is wonderful thing) but could not.  I found a PBS series, and a series of novels, but not the quote I was seeking.  I have a vague memory of the phrase being used around cemeteries.

My mom was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Garden Plain, Kansas.  This particular ground has a deep and long history with my family.  My great grandfather (my mother’s mother’s father) homesteaded just south of the cemetery.  At some point, he deeded the cemetery ground to the City of Garden Plain for two cemeteries side by side, a Protestant and Roman Catholic.  When I was young those cemeteries were divided by a fence (probably so there would be no fraternizing between the two religious communities in death as there had certainly NOT in life).  Times change, the fence has been gone a couple decades, but the stones, the memories, and the bodies of those who have been loved and lost still remain.

She is buried in the remembered earth next to my stepfather, who was the only father I really ever knew.  He was only the grandfather my children remember; the one who helped them “build” things with wood and nails and paint and walk down by the river to feed the geese.  After her committal service, I and some other members of my family, walked, talked and remembered the stories my grandparents had told of those who were buried there the stones that mattered for their touching legacies and my children walked and remembered grandpa and grandma.

When we gather again, the great story of my mother’s life will be told.  We will celebrate her unique and unrepeatable spirit, in grace and gratitude give thanks for her 86 years among us.  We will be together with many who loved her to mourn and more importantly to experience God’s grace in the midst of this journey through grief.

As family, we will gather to laugh over her foibles, point out her characteristics that reside in all of us and share stories that only those who knew her the longest can understand.  In the grief, the gratitude and grace I have received will be deeply present.  In the days come, not only will the cemetery be remembered earth, but the places where her memory is most easily remembered and in the various things she left behind.  I am thankful and remain graced to serve.

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No words

The last few weeks, my siblings and I have been walking that final journey with our mother.  The kindness of so many people has been so evident in their care of my mother. It is a blessing to watch and to be part of the love she receives in these last days..

As many have walked this same journey, they might appreciate the struggle that words bring.  Finding words or the right words to describe what is happening is difficult at best.  My mother is at a place where articulating words is almost impossible, but she still at times tries to share.

I remember a song from the musical My Fair Lady, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words.”  The song’s title is “Show Me.”  The youtube.com version is not a particularly good video cut, but the point of the song is that it’s not the words that matter, but the actions, hence the title “Show Me.”  Eliza Doolittle sings she is sick of words and wants to “see” what the words are supposed to mean.  

I am not sick of words.  I am not frustrated like Miss Doolittle, instead I am searching for words.  The English language does not seem to have enough synonyms for the response to the question “how are you?”  When the response is “okay” or “fine”, those words do not give a depth of meaning and yet, when I, like many others are walking holy paths, there may not be other words.    The other responses or synonyms are “all right, fair, middling, so-so, not bad” and they also do not articulate what is happening.

Being a midwife for someone from this life to the next is hard work, holy work, sad and joyous work.  Sometimes answering “okay” is the only answer when asked “how are you?”  It is not a silly response or an untruthful one.  For me, I don’t have the words to describe all the feelings that walking this sacred path with my mother entails.  

My sister took a couple of pictures yesterday of her and of me and my mom.  Rather than describing, perhaps “showing” makes more sense.

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Hands intertwined while she sat with mom and our mother slept, having moments, few and far between when she was lucid.  Or perhaps this:

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Small sips of water to wet her mouth and throat from the drying effects of the oxygen.  Both times wrapped in a cuddly warm animal print blanket, purchased by my sister, in order that she feel warm and cared for no matter what is happening.

These are truly sacred and holy moments which defy description but are blessed by the presence of Love and the Divine Spirit.  I believe that when John talks about “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” the gospel writer is not writing those phrases in order that people might “talk” about the Word, but might experience the Holy and Sacred presence of the Incarnation.  It is not so much about “words” but about God’s place among God’s people, fully, and present.  

As I walk these days, these hours and these moments, I deeply appreciate Paul’s words, “that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”  My mother’s journey will take her from this life, from love here, to life and love in the everlasting presence.  She is not separated from God, neither am I, nor my siblings nor any who have ever walked this final journey with a loved one.

Perhaps, in the end, no words are needed, only the strength, the power and comfort of Love.

 

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All Souls and being Thankful

Today, in Western Christian tradition is All Souls Day.  It is the third day of the “triduum of Hallowmass.”  Who knew that Halloween was a holy day?  The first day of the three, All Hallows Eve, October 31, was a day when early Christians believed that some how the space between this life and the next life was thinner.  They would don “masks” to keep former souls from recognizing them.  Of course in North America this became “trick or treating” through costumes and pranks and the offering of treats.

The second day was All Saints Day, November 1, which remembers all martyrs and official saints of the church both known and unknown.  The third day, All Souls Day, November 2, remembers “all the faithful departed.”  In most protestant traditions, these days are lumped together and often celebrated on the first Sunday of November.  A google search will give multiple hits on these traditions.

I, being who I am, love this history and the layers that surround these practices both from the Christian tradition and other traditions.  What I love most, is the remembering and the giving thanks.  Often in the U.S.A. graves are visited on the last weekend in May.  I always tried to avoid focusing All Saints on that weekend, because it is also the first three day weekend of the summer and consequently loses some of the religious significance that the first Sunday of November can offer.

Remembering those who have gone before is holy, sacred and spiritual work.  The act of remembering is a blessing on those who take the time to laugh, to cry and to tell the story of those who have made a difference in their lives.  After thirty plus years of ministry, the list gets longer each year for me.  The spaces around those memories grow more tender as I remember, as I grieve and as I smile through tears and give thanks that I have been so blessed by so many.

This Sunday, the church I serve will light 36 candles, will name those who have died this year, will light an extra candle for pregnancy losses and those unnamed, but are carried in the hearts of those who gather.  We will say thank you to God for lives who blessed ours and made a difference and we will shed a few tears, sing songs of faith and commit once again to being a saint who makes a difference.

Remembering I am “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) ,

I am graced to serve.

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