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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Changed, but not ended

The calendar is pretty full today.

It is, of course, the Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany - a story as parable about the ways to serve God.

On July 29, 1974, eleven women who had been ordained deacons in the Episcopal Church boldly and courageously acted on their vocation, discerned in community, of a way to serve God as priests in the Church.

On July 29, 2008, my mother died. I was, in my way, attempting to serve God and the people of God through the church, attending the Lambeth Conference at the time.

My mother was not the easiest person in the world to live with. You may have noticed that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Never one to just pick up the phone and call, she nevertheless expected her children to do so. She also made no bones about the fact that we were a source of great disappointment to her.

Oh, she never said that flat out and would be horrified if you said that about her in her presence, but the truth of the matter is that we could never do enough - be enough - for her.

A typical phone call would go like this: "Hi, Mom."

"Who is this, please?"

"It's Elizabeth."

"Elizabeth? Oh, Elizabeth! I didn't recognize your voice. It's been so long."

"Mother! I called you two weeks ago. Remember?"

"Yes, of course I remember. I'm not that old, you know. But, that was two whole weeks ago. That's a long time. You don't think so now, but you just wait until you are my age and your kids don't call you. Then, THEN, you'll understand. So, how have you been . . . .?"

She was a certified travel agent for guilt trips, often planning great excursions well in advance, but most of them were impromptu side trips. Like the one above.

And yet, it's the strangest thing. The phone calls are the thing I miss most. I even miss the maddening parts - the hint and innuendo of guilt - because once you moved past that, if I could get her to tell me a story, or, perhaps, share a recipe, she was wonderfully entertaining.

I especially loved to get her to give me an involved Portuguese recipe over the phone. It almost always involved directions with her hands which she never seemed to remember that I couldn't see.

"Add about this much crushed red pepper."

"How much, Mom?"

"This much."

"What? About a tablespoon?"

"No, no, no! THIS much."

"What? About a handful?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that. Well, maybe a little less than that. 'According to taste' as they say. You know, I could show you better if you lived closer."

"Mother, we'd kill each other if I lived closer."

"Oh, don't say that. That's not nice. I brought you up with better manners than that. And, anyway, if you lived closer, you could stop by more often. I could show you things instead of trying to explain it on this damn phone. Did I ever tell you what your grandmother used to say . . . .?"

And then, out of nowhere, would come a story - a FABULOUS story - one I had never heard before. One that added another puzzle piece to the story of my family life, and the crazy way we all relate to one another.

I miss those damn phone calls most. Not having the ability to just pick up the phone and call her. Talk. Learn. Even with the guilt.

The evening I learned of her death, Katharine Ragsdale took me to Whitstable for oysters. We sat and watched the sunset, eating oyster and drinking wine, Katharine listening patiently to my mother stories.

This is the picture I snapped from our table on the porch of the restaurant. I keep it on my desk to remind me of that great line in our Eucharistic liturgy:
"For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens."

When I see this picture, I imagine my mother at the brightest part of the setting of the sun. I trust she's met up with Betty, Susan Russell's mom, who died just a few days before my own mother died.

Sometimes, I can hear my mother's voice in my kitchen, giving directions as I cook or bake, and I find great comfort - and even a bit of a giggle - in the words of that Eucharistic preface prayer.

Rest well, Mother. I can't call you anymore, but I do pray for you. Every day.

So, you hear from me now more than you did when you were alive.

Guess that's why it's called heaven.


Marcia King said...

Hi Elizabeth: My prayers for you on this difficult day. (My mom died 23 years ago; I don't think we are ever "old enough" for our mothers to pass away, no matter what the relationship.) Also thinking about you and your partner. So glad she (and you) made it through the medical procedures ok. May our Lord be especially present and embrace you on this day.

Brian R said...

Thinking of you Elizabeth and your Mom. My Mother died just over 3 years ago and would have been 100 next week so she is very much in my mind.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Marcia. Thanks for your kind words about my mother and Ms. Conroy. I am deeply touched.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, Brian, I had my Mother for 82 years. You had your Mum a wee bit longer than I. Even so, a loss is a loss, isn't it? My heart and my prayers are with you, my friend.

it's margaret said...

Sounds like good grief to me dear sister. Blessings on your remembering.

June Butler said...

Lovely remembrance of your mother, Elizabeth. I offer prayers for the two of you.

I miss the phone calls with my sister the most, too. Just not hearing her voice....

I hope that Ms. Conroy is recovering well from her surgery.

susankay said...

Elizabeth -- my mother died in 2001 -- a year and a day after my father died. When we were about to move her into a continuing care community (after a serious heart attack and after my father had developed Alzheimer's) one of her neighbors said that she didn't understand why I (and my husband of less than a month) didn't move into her condo with her. I said that I would kill her after a week or two. (Bad Daughter! -- but true) My mother called me every DAY until she was too weak. The phone calls weren't fun but we had had good times earlier. I remember those times and still miss her. She shows up in my dreams and is lovable and annoying -- just as she was in life.

Blessings be.

Elisabeth said...

My prayers are with you, especially today, you've had a rough month - what a way to close it out. My mom died when I was a kid, so I missed out on the stories and the guilt trips. She was my best friend. God Bless you EK.

Jane Priest said...

Beautiful post. While it's not the same, my much older sister who was very motherly to me, died 10 years ago. I will never "get over it."

Peace to you this day/

Caminante said...

Has it been a year... will your mother please greet Esther when she gets there (in a very short while)? Prayers for you on this first year anniversary.


I'm thinking they've had a year to compare notes. Have your ears been burning? :)

Suzer said...

A beautiful and touching remembrance, Rev. Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Muthah+ said...

yeah, Mom died just after Easter--I miss the phone calls too. The only terror I have in the world is the thought that my ma and your ma and Susan's ma are plotting what guilt trip to lay upon us when we get there.