Last Thursday, I buried my mother.
My dad offered the family prayer while I stood by her coffin, patting her shoulder and running my fingers through her hair. She clearly wasn’t in her broken body anymore, but it was sacred to me, and I loved touching her hands and face and running my fingers over her thin bruised arms– bruises she gained in her fight to stay alive for me.
After the ‘Amen,’ my Dad and sister leaned in for a final kiss on her cheek. Then everyone stood back as I tied the veil around her lovely chin, kissed her cheeks and hands and gently pulled the sheer fabric over her face– never to be unveiled until Christ comes again. I sunk down for one more moment with my head on her shoulder, her cheek against mine as I left tears on her face.
Last month I wrote about my mother: her humility, her sweetness, her knowledge of the atonement. I was just beginning to understand.
I comprehended a bit more when I walked into my mother’s room on a rainy Saturday night and even in the midst of her death throes she lifted up and smiled at me. The pain was agonizing and rolled in waves like childbirth– the cruel contractions coming closer and closer together as the night progressed. I held her hand and I whispered, “You can go. It’s OK. You can go.” She shook her head, because she knew I needed her a bit longer.
I didn’t understand how much she loved me; I didn’t fathom how much I loved her.
My mother wasn’t old (65), but as as she wrestled to give birth to her eternal self I saw flashes of her as a young woman, as the viviacious mother of my childhood. And I saw that she was just a girl like me, with divine talents but also limitations and insecurities and dreams placed aside for the sake of her children.
Sunday morning, after my mother died and they took her body away (and I can’t write about that– I can’t). I opened the scriptures. My favorite chapters are Moroni 7 and 1 Corinthians 13– the pleas for charity. I read these chapters nearly every week but they were just one more thing I didn’t comprehend. After reading my beloved verses 1-8, I found myself pondering these words:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:11-12
I’ve been seeing through a glass darkly, but I am ready to put away childish things. ‘Childish things’ are not giggling and kite flying and sloppy kisses–those are divine– ‘childish things’ are hatred, jealousy, vanity, anger, judgment, impatience… and the precise opposite is “Charity (who) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
I have seen Charity. And it is Divine.
My mom didn’t like “Angel Mother” talks, where the speaker describes their flawless mother who never yelled or burnt the toast— I remember many a Mother’s Day when such a talk would drive her to tears with grief over her own inadequacies. But now, I understand where those talks come from…. because now I can only see the things she did right, and I can see her perfect and loving intentions. Everything else just fades into the background. I am so honored to be her daughter. And I don’t feel worthy of her.
At the end of my mom’s life we learned that she’d been ill for the last 15, maybe 20 years. The tumors released massive amounts of cortisol into her bloodstream causing uncontrollable weight gain, depression, pain and exhaustion. Her diagnosis explained so many things—to my mom and to our family. And it’s a gentle reminder that we never know what quiet pain is hidden, the sorrows that the eye can’t see. Everyone has their secret anguish and we must treat each other gently, kindly. Each time I judge someone I later find out how wrong I was.
I was always the little girl who was hurt easily and then built a wall to shield myself from any pain. And at the end of her life she shattered that wall. She healed all my old wounds, and I will spend the rest of my life honoring her gift. Until the last weeks of her life I never acknowledged how her quiet endurance, and for the first time I saw how beautiful she truly is.
Our family had very real, very hard problems. But my mother worked hard, especially in her last few years, to mend old hurts. She apologized even when it wasn’t her fault. She extended love even when it wasn’t reciprocated. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is more real than your computer screen; it is the most real thing on Earth.
“Did you know you are part of a miracle?” she would ask me. She held my hand, smiled and promised, “You have no idea how much happiness is ahead of us. You have no idea how much joy we’ll have in our family in the eternities.” She was pure like a newborn babe—but better, because she’d worked to sanctify herself. My mother did everything she could to prepare her soul to meet God.
We all wanted more time. I wanted a year of doing all the same things but with my heart wide open—with the knowledge I now have of who she really is. I wanted to take her home and let her sit by the pool while the kids do cannonballs and play sharks and minnows. I wanted to weed in the garden and watch her pick ripe red raspberries in August. I wanted one more Halloween, one more Thanksgiving, one more Christmas—each day sweetened with the knowledge of just how precious she is to me.
You’ve heard the plea to appreciate your loved ones so often that it’s almost become cliché. But behind every cliché is something profound. So listen, reach out, heal old wounds, offer apologies and forgiveness. Live with an open and loving heart. Because we don’t know how much time we have and none of us, not one, has enough.
My mother’s heart was sealed to God—I have no doubt of it. But it’s now my turn to drink of the atonement the way my mother did. I am turning to Christ to cleanse me and heal my aching heart, my broken heart. I know He will, I know He can—for I have seen Him, reflected in my mother’s eyes.