It was amazing to see the ducks waddle after her, quacking and honking and changing direction to meet her quick stride. She would stop for a minute, turn around and talk to them. They would stretch their long necks up to her face as if listening intently to what she had to say. She would head out once again towards the barn, or wherever she planned to go that morning, and they would noisily race to catch up with her, loudly protesting her fast gait.
But that was my mom, always in a speed-walk, always barreling through life like a whirlwind. Looking at her small form lying in the squeaky old hospital bed, it was hard to imagine her as that vibrant leader of ducks, lover of life. It was hard to think that she would soon be dead and gone forever.
I sat at her bedside, struggling to notice every detail of her face, her hands, her very essence. I wanted to remember the waves of her hair and that very beautiful shade of her ice blue eyes. I wanted the look of her hands and the way she would wave them around when she talked burned into my memory so I would remember it all when she was long gone from my presence.
How strange it seemed at that moment to realize that I needed to know everything about her. I needed to feel connected to her, bonded with her somehow. It was a personal battle to stay there with her when I wanted to run away from this moment. It just didn’t make sense to have spent most of my life avoiding her, and now, at this place in time, to find myself clinging to whatever bits and pieces of her fading life I could hold on to.
To say that I found myself in that awkward position out of choice would be far from the truth. I found myself in that awkward position because I was struggling to be obedient the voice of God.
You see, my mother and I had never been “friends”. As a matter of fact, we had never even been close to “friendly”. What we had been throughout my lifetime, as far back as I can remember, were adversaries. Enemies. Mortal enemies, it had seemed to me as a teenager.
If I said black, she said white. If I said wrong, she’d say right. We were the epitome of a mother/daughter hate/love relationship, with more hate than love in our equation. She was the thin, dark haired blue eyed beauty I would never be. I was the brooding pseudo-intellect she found frustrating and distant. It was a match made in heaven for heartache and pain, of which we distantly shared much of both.
For my mother, her upbringing in County Galway, the Republic of Ireland, under the iron fist of my malevolent grandmother, life was never a bowl of cherries. Mom had been subjected to constant and severe beatings by my grandmother, and even now no one understands why. At eight years old when my mother fell off her bike and broke her arm, my grandmother beat her with a stick all the way home, angry that she had cost them money for the doctor to cast her arm, and money to have the bike fixed.
Since times were different and attitudes were different way back then, my mother suffered the abuse in silence, accepting the situation as if it were her fault. There was no respite for her, not even from God, as my grandmother had the local priest on her side. She would drag my poor mother to his confessional sometimes two or three times daily, hoping to eradicate whatever sin she imaged in the young girl’s heart.
So my mother left Ireland at the age of 17. Deciding to join the war effort in England, she trained as a nurse for the English Army and was stationed in London during the Luftwaffe bombings. There she met and married an American GI, thrilled about coming to the land where the streets were paved with gold.
But the gold ring turned to brass for her when she discovered that ex-soldiers sometimes drink too much to forget what they had seen. After years of violent and repeated domestic abuse, she walked out of the marriage and got a divorce. She wrote home to her mother, explaining the situation and expecting compassion.
Instead, the reply she received was a formal letter of EXCOMMUNICATION FROM THE MOST HOLY CHURCH, signed by the local priest and her own mother. As she read the accompanying letter she realized she had been formally banished from her family…and from God.
So she spent the rest of her life in a loveless, Godless vacuum. For someone who had spent most of her life with the church as the center of her being, however formidably merciless and frightening it was to her, my mother had always felt that God did listen to her pleas, even if He was mad at her sometimes. As that frightened child, or as a broken teen, she had gone to seek the face of God in the silence of the chapel when no one else was around, and sometimes she felt like God was really there.
But now, sitting with the letter in her hand, she knew that God didn’t want her in His house, just like she knew her family didn’t want her in their house. She put away her prayer book and tucked the letter away in the closet. Her heart would grow hard towards the things of God and she would never again darken His door.
Years passed. My mother had met my dad, and became the co-dependent enabler to his hard working alcoholic personality. For years, they fought and battled their way through life as my brother and I managed to stay under the radar, trying hard not to take any direct hits. It was difficult and the effort grew tiresome. Throughout my teen years, I became so vocal about every single one of her flaws, I held back nothing as I constantly insulted her every word and action.
It became clear quickly that we would never be friends or even remotely close as mother and daughter.
So here I was, again, years later, past all the hurts, past all the hard feelings, sitting next to my dying mother. Remembering. Considering. Wondering why.
I had accepted Christ’s love about twenty years before my mother took ill. I had caused a great strain between us –again- by mentioning my new found freedom from the past when I invited her to my baptism a few months after I was saved. She had politely turned down my invitation to walk through the church doors and told me she didn’t like me throwing God up in her face. For the sake of peace, I held myself back from ever speaking to her again about God.
But now I knew I had to.
As her breath became labored and I knew that her life was coming to an end on this planet, I prayed over and over for an opportunity to be alone with her. It was hard to find that moment with family and friends dropping by to issue their final farewells. I grew angry at myself for letting more and more time go by as I lost chance occasions to speak with her before someone else showed up.
One morning, the house became quiet. My father announced he was going to shave and take a shower, and that left my mother and me alone. I began talking to my mother about God.
When I asked if she would mind if I talked about God, she opened her eyes and looked at me questioningly. “Go ahead,” she faintly whispered. I told her that I knew about some of the terrible things in life, and that she thought they had happened to her because God was mad at her. But I explained that those things had happened because of failing humans, weak people, people like we all are. I told her that I was guilty of so many sins against her, against others, but that God had forgiven me, and gave me a new outlook on life.
I told her that God loved her, and that He wanted her to be forgiven, too, and that He had never, ever excommunicated her from His church. And then I told her that she could find real freedom in His arms. She looked at me and tears ran down her face.
“I’m scared,” she said softly. “I need God. I want Him to be with me.” At that moment, my mother and I softly intoned the sinner’s prayer together. She held my hand and I stroked her hair as we wept with joy at becoming sisters in Christ.
I thought of all the years of prayers for her salvation, never once believing I would be a witness to such a thing as this moment. We were enemies no more.
* * *
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Oh my, what a wonderful story. You took my breath away with the details. You write straight from your heart and the words never fail you. Keep up with the wonderful work!!!
I am touched, not only by your beautiful last moments with your mother and sharing the plan of salvation... but I am also touched by your ability to express yourself so beautifully in written words that come from the heart and soul! Thank you
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