“I feel so selfish.” I said it to two of my sisters outside of the assisted living home where my mother is spending her last few days of life. I was so glad to hear my oldest sister say, “Me too.”
I remembered back to when my younger brother Peter was saying a very long goodbye to his first wife. He had spent 20 years of his marriage going out on dates and such with a third wheel; cancer. They were never alone. She carried in her body an alien which reminded them constantly of the gift of life. Near the final days he said to me, “It seems like the world should be stopping.” Now I understand just a bit better what he meant. I want to pick up a New York accent and yell at all the busy people, “Hey! Stop! Can’t you see my motha is dyin’ over heeah?”
My older brother John lost his first wife years back and I remember his words at a family reunion. “Jerry, I am just so lonely.” The Bible says that because of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ death has lost its sting (1Corinthians chapter 15). I get that, and yet that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt like a bugger. Those who hold faith in these verses and the work of Jesus will mourn, but not without hope.
So I say again, “I feel so selfish.”
There is a tree on my delivery route whose wound is slowly healing up. In the first few days of being a senior in high school, her car veered off the road and struck a tree not a quarter mile from her house. That was several years ago. The ribbons and teddy bears and flowers are long gone. Soon the bark will seal up with only a linear scar left. I see her father once in a great while with a package in hand. He looks all healed up too and yet…
“I feel so selfish.”
Within a year I watched two mothers care for their medically fragile boys. One was seven, the other younger still. The devotion of a mother is like no other on earth. Near the end of each of these short lives the mother’s exhaustion was evident. Their love was not exhausted though. Hearts were broken open and spilling all over the boys they loved.
Sixty two years ago, Marilee Barrett, daughter, sister, and wife added on another essence of womanhood…mother. She never looked back. Mothers usually don’t. Ten children later she hung her heart out on the line like cloth diapers. Again and again her love ruffled in the wind of time like white linen under cobalt skies. Then, yesterday all of her children, whether there in spirit or in time and space, gathered. We all stood, kneeled, and sat around her basinet beholding her as she beheld us. My older sister wrote an e-mail that describes it so well.
“About 3 p.m., Carol (my mother’s youngest child) was with Mom, and asked to hold Mom’s hand. Mom smiled and said yes, and they both agreed that it was comforting. Carol then told her that she would be going home (to S. Carolina) tomorrow, and Carol started crying. Mom then said to her “Then we should probably get this show on the road” – which led to more tears, and then Mom started praying. “Lord, take me” – several times. At that point, several of the sibs came into the room, and we gathered around her. It was a “God-blessed” awesome moment. Here are Barb, Rob, Pat, Mary, Margaret, Jerry, and Carol (seven of my mother’s ten children) all surrounding her with love, and tears, and she says “I’m just ready for it to be done. But I don’t know how!” And she was crying. Jerry read from John 14, and then prayed with everything in his heart to God to give her mercy, to give her comfort, to give us comfort, and to help her through this transition. John, Ellen, and Pete, (my mother’s other 3 children, who were unable to be there) we know that your hearts were there with us, but oh, how I wish you could have seen the power of love happening in that moment. Not just our love for her, and her love for us, but God’s love working all the way through that room. We shared memories then, and just little tidbits of our relationship with her, and there was some levity in our conversation. But most of all, I think God worked His peace into all our hearts – which we all hope that you feel as well.”
Just before that blessed time I had finished a poem. It was for my siblings that had been gestating in my heart over the past few weeks. I was going to read it to them at a family meeting last night (which I ended up doing). The words I had written were underlined around that bed before I uttered one of them. God hovered over all of us. Every kind of tear was shed. Bitter-sweet ones, joy filled ones, sad ones, happy ones, silly ones, and pear shaped ones of love were falling like rain. Even Jesus wept. I couldn’t help but think we were in a birthing room.
Our cries separate us
as broken water.
So we draw closer,
We bear down in grief
and our labor pains
begin to push her
toward the light.
As she endured the pains
of childbirth, we will too.
All ten of us have come
to breathe a rhythm over her.
Oh, time will dilate
for her safe passage,
and our prayers
will carry her.
God knows when she
will birth from our womb.
For now, she floats in our love.
Suspended but for a moment.
“I feel so selfish, but not guilty.”
© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.