I know I felt her warmth as she read to me. Time stopped during those moments when I listened to my mothers serene voice as she spoke the words that I followed with my finger. I may have been six. Croup as it was called then kept me in her lap. My death was close just hours before. I knew it. I felt it. I had descended deep into it…peaceful…deeply loved….wonderfully floating….But, it didn’t happen that night. They said it wasn’t time….So I was in her lap hearing the words as she spoke them….small finger following them in the book.
Soon I would read with my own voice…without the aide of that small finger. I just…learned…..just learned how as she read to me. And I learned it at home… everything I learned, I learned at home…
She held me with a love I am not sure men can understand. Her serene voice… Her warm breath on my shoulders as I lay on the friendship quilt in her lap. The softness of her right hand as it stroked my hair….I lay curled up on that sacred quilt….on the words of those who preceded me years before…their mother’s reading to them back in the dimness of time….who had come finally to their time ….. when they felt the love and peace I had just felt but whose time it was…so they went on.
The quilt rests in my home now with it’s incomprehensible dates sewn by the loving hands of women born two centuries before I was a glint in my mothers’ and fathers’ eyes.
The words sank into my being. I wish….I wish I could remember what they were. A Golden Book I imagine. But, that’s not as important as that I was in her lap learning….without learning….but coming to know.
The early afternoon air rushes around my body as I try to keep my fingers on her casket, wood as she had asked for and that I picked for her, as it is lowered into the welcoming earth….at the end of a life well lived full of joy and tragedy as we all experience.
My fingers strain to keep contact, but I can’t follow. My hand lingers there. I try to burn the feel of that precious wood in my mind. I am aware of people who love me looking on…just aware. I remember momentarily that I had wanted to make her final bed…I had the plans….but I just didn’t have the time. I think of the ornate angel there with her resting over her heart my cousin Dennis made for her…it was over her bed for years…it gave her strength when she could see it, it brought her solice when she could not longer see but could feel it. I thought of the tiny cross made from a slat that held up her mother’s bed on its’ iron frame that she holds in her hand…..and that I made for her….for this day….around her neck is a dove descending as the Holy Spirit descended on Christ when he arose from the water on the day he told John to go ahead and baptise him….when John thought he was unworthy. Larry Fussell, an artisan and great friend – a brother, gave her that gift that she so treasured….the smoothness and artistry of which she would feel after she could no longer see the world. She asked to hold it especially in the last days.
Then, finally, the casket came to rest where her beautiful earthly body will be until Christ returns in glory on the clouds. A silver ring placed on the casket rests there now, placed there by one of her much beloved “sons”.
I had no tears then, only relief for her tortured body, her blind eyes, her legs that would not walk, only gratefulness to God for her relief. Only gratefulness to her for the man I had managed to become…even though I had only started to grow into real manhood. Standing beside me with their arms draped over my shoulders, leaning on me, were two of the boys and young men who helped carry her that day…all of whom she loved in a special way. Their gaze followed her casket down until it made contact with the protection of the vault….their eyes filled, their hearts full. She loved those kids in my youth ministry. She loved all kids. I learned that from her. These boys from the ministry loved her. I remember thinking that they would remember this day as long as they lived.
Several leaves blew past on the wind. Cody said to me “I’ll never forget this. Thank you for letting me do this”. I told him “She loved you Cody”.
A day full of miracles….. miracle upon miracle.
The top of the vault is in place. Still they are there….standing watch with me. I would not leave her until it was finished….until her earthly body was safe….One of them, I don’t remember which placed his head on my shoulder…an intake of breath, I don’t know which one.
The hallowed earth is put in place. Slowly she is safe. Slowly it ends. And I breathe a “Thank you God”. How do you thank God for someone who literally taught you everything about life….who taught me so much of what I would learn.
And all of it I learned at home….at home in the shafts of afternoon light where I studied…. when I came home from school. School….a place that was a nightmare for me….where I was placed in the “special classes” for a time because I was so different. School….a place where I had already learned everything they had to teach me but where I knew I dare not show it. School….a place that taught everything I already knew but nothing I wanted to know. School…a place where kids were beaten because…they were kids…because seven and eight and nine year old boys couldn’t sit still in chairs locked into rows. School….where you learned that to be different was to be done for.
The last bit of earth is in place. Yet, the people still stand with me…the strongest, most loving, most beautiful family standing with me….good people…great friends…. My family stands around me along with the boys. I remember saying to God…”how did I come to have this family filled with nothing but love”.
Can I possibly feel my grandparents….can I possibly feel my father?
the workers place the flowers….I take roses….
Kindness upon kindness….people walk by….some speak kind words….some just hug me….others of the boys who carried my mom surround me….their hands rest on my shoulders….the pastor who came to love my mother stands with me….Pat and his wife Connie, their son Charlie, are standing there….friends beyond anything I deserve….yet others still stand….then we turn to leave….
My father had nearly 50 years before gone home to God. Now they lay together once more. But, she was the one who taught me,…. not because he didn’t want to….only because his chance to shape me was taken too early.
So she made a home for me. I could not know then the depth of sorrow she felt. I would be able to imagine her grief later…but, that was still in my future. I remember on the day my father was buried she held me so tight I thought I would not breath again. But, something in me said “let her hold on if it does kill me”. Later, too, I would realize why she held onto me so hard. I would later release the ashes of precious cargo into the cold North Pacific wind…the ashes of a child conceived there above the green Pacific waters where the Puffins dive. And those of his mother.
I then knew why she held me so hard.
I would come to know that there could not be great sadness without great love preceeding it. And I was glad in my sadness.
And, she continued to read to me…and she continued to teach me, and she continued to help me understand that it was ok to want to know why the stars burn when you are six, that it was ok to imagine that you are conducting an orchestra when you are eight, that I shouldn’t be frightened that sometimes my vision went away and I saw fantastical bursts of color when I listened to music as still happens, that it was ok when I wrote b when it should be a d, ….. she said the “d will be there whenyou are eighteen”,
and all the while she took care of my father who was dying…..then helped me keep my faith and find myself again in music and science and a galaxy of words in my own special world when I started to go crazy when he actually did die… while she was coming apart herself…
and when I was fourteen she helped me heal from an event in which I was almost killed but about which she never really knew….nor did she ask… a decision I am sure she made consciously even though she must have known that I was changed forever…for which I am eternally grateful… she just stood by me until I had my bearings again…
when I was too old, as I thought because of the arrogance of youth through which most kids pass, she provided me with books, conducting lessons, trumpet lessons, ….from which I learned everything I ever learned…..and from which she taught me and helped me learn everything I knew…