I hesitate to write this as it seems this whole past year has been me writing about loss, death and grief. Yet that was a significant undeniable truth of the past 12 months. Not only the physical death of my friend, but also the deaths of so many to COVID 19, many who died alone, many unable to be buried. And the real grief I feel for the steady loss of trust in this country–with the government, with the police, with the justice system, with the media, and most significantly with each other as human beings. All this.
I hesitate to write because I don’t want to write about another death, another significant death, another loss. This one happened on January 8th and one that I knew was coming. This one came as the new year began and only two days after the violent attack on the Capitol. This one happened on the day of my father’s birthday, now gone 36 years past. It as a death that I received with grief and great relief. It marks a great shift in my life, it names a new void, it opens me to gratitude and challenges me to know myself in a new way.
My mother has died.
I have written an homage to her on Facebook and written an obituary for her local paper. But I want to record her life here as well on this blog called a Listening Life, for my mother was a great listener. And she passed on that value to me.
Listening was her way of making peace. And this is how.
She taught me to listen to my elders, even the elders that held opinions not her own. Still, she felt respect for the individual, especially an elder, came first, not her opinions. She held her views, even her convictions lightly, placing more value on relationship than being right.
She taught me to listen to what Jesus called, “the least of these.” She was careful to stop and hear the words of the mentally handicapped, the sick, the misunderstood, the judged. I can look back now and see that I didn’t even know what she was doing, just that it was her way–from her Down’s syndrome nephew to her friend in adultery to a small crying child. “Try to see it from their side,” she would say.
At age 8, she listened to her dying father tell her to be a good girl and go to church and “then you will be all right.” She listened to a Mayo Clinic doctor tell her that her 2 year old son had no chance of surviving the cancer in his arm. She held that burden as the arm was amputated and she waited. But he never died. She listened to another Mayo Clinic doctor tell her that her 15 year old daughter had a 12% chance of surviving the osteogenic sarcoma in her leg. She waited for her death as the leg was amputated. The cancer returned 16 years later and she listened to the last breath of her daughter as she slept beside her the final night. She listened as the doctors gave her husband a year to live and this time they were right. She listened as another daughter told her she had breast cancer. When I collapsed in grief each time, she would only say, “These things happen. We have to learn how to accept what life brings.”
She had to listen to both sides of ongoing conflict between a demanding father who required relentless hard work of his children and the children who felt abused and punished by his workaholism. She would tell us the story of why he was the way he was, and then in turn she would bring our plight to him. Always the anxious frustrated mediator, that rarely could bring peace between a father and his 7 teenagers but she never stopped trying to get us to listen to each other.
It is ironic that her primary physical loss in her life was her hearing. She had hearing aids by the age of 50 and by the age of 96 when she died, it was a supreme effort to understand what was said to her.
I hope that she listened to herself inside. That she recognized her goodness, her kindness, her unfailing love for everyone no matter what. I hope she realized her deep connection to all that is Holy and that she was part of that shining holiness.
I fully trust she is in that Light now. I know she must feel so free, to hear again and walk again and have her memory back in some new form of consciousness. I wonder if her return to the Source means she has reunited with her husband, daughter, sisters, friends. It seems her love would do that.
I wonder what she is listening to now.