This week, a woman from my parish died of cancer. When I was thinking about the best way to describe how I know her, I found myself struggling with verb tenses. For example, am I trying to describe how I know her or how I knew her?
She was the mother of one of my classmates…she was her mother? Isn’t she still? Won’t she always be? The woman who passed, whom we will call Marianne, can no longer mother her daughter and son the way that she did for all of their lives up until this week. She will not cook for them or clean for them or shop for them or do any of the thousand and one things that mothers do for their children with busy and loving hands. She will no longer hug them or laugh with them or even give them a little slap upside the back of the head, if that was her wont. But…won’t she?
Not physically, of course, and there is great, deep, painful sadness in that. I have never suffered the death of someone so very close to me as a mother, but I do wish that I could hear my grandfather’s laugh again, feel my Nana give me a little squeeze as I look into her twinkling eyes, or have another phone conversation with my great-aunt Gini and listen to her voice one more time. I’m getting a little weepy just thinking about it. I can’t imagine, I don’t want to imagine, what the loved ones of Marianne are going through right now, or what the rest of their lives will be like without her much loved physical presence. But she will always be their mother, his wife, his sister, their grandmother.
One night, when they can’t sleep for the sorrow of it all, I pray that they will feel as if her arms are around them and they will know that her love didn’t die, her love is always and everywhere for them. Weeks from now, or perhaps just days, when they come across something that she would have thought was funny, I pray that they will laugh instead of her and they will know that they are laughing with her. And when they find themselves doing something, or even thinking about doing something, of which she certainly wouldn’t approve, I pray that they will feel that hand up the back of their heads or feel that smirking look of hers upon them and think twice about their choices.
A mother’s love always guides, a mother’s wisdom always teaches, a mother’s heart always beats within the hearts of her children. Just as the love, wisdom, and heart of a wife, sister, grandmother, aunt, and friend lives on in the lives — not just the memories, but the every day lived lives — of those who loved her…of those who love her.
Don’t they still love her, even though she has died? Of course. And I believe that she still loves them, not because they will still be shaped and formed by the memory of her and the continuing influence of their shared past upon them, but because she continues to love.
Marianne died during the week of the Ascension, when we remember, honor, and celebrate Christ’s ascension into Heaven after He rose from the dead. Marianne and her family are Christians, and we Christians believe in life after death. “Life after death.” Sounds something like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But what has died? Marianne died bodily, certainly, just as Jesus Christ died bodily, certainly. It is proper, I suppose, to refer to Marianne now with past tense verbs, like the way that I can describe her by saying that she was a thoughtful reader of this blog. She was a reader. She won’t be reading this blog anymore, because she certainly won’t need to. Her understanding and submersion in beauty is so far beyond my own that it’s absolutely unfathomable. At the beginning of this paragraph, I wrote that Marianne and her family are Christians. Yes, Marianne is a Christian, because that’s something, like motherhood, that doesn’t die. A Christian lives her life striving to be in union with Christ, loving as He loves. We are imperfect, however, and here on this Earth we can only glimpse, taste, catch a whisper of what full union with divine love is. I pray that Marianne’s loved ones know that she continues to love them because she lives in blissful union with Christ now — and Christ loves them eternally. God Incarnate loves Marianne eternally and she is, now, eternally loving too.
© 2019 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.