Most people never really saw my mother for who she was, for who she believed herself to be. I’m not sure any of us gets that, fully, in our lives. And I’m equally uncertain as to how much any of us is aware that being known hinges on our willingness to be visible, to both ourselves and others.
My mom passed away four weeks ago after a second go around with the cancer she had beaten three years earlier at ninety-three. She had been hospitalized in early-May after a fall at home. Only she really knew the details of that day, but it appears she had an infection that compromised her system and made it very difficult for her to walk.
Rather than press her life alert button, she chose to contemplate her plight – for eight or nine hours. Stubborn? Resilient? Determined? Take your pick. When I talked to her nurse that evening she referred to her as a “really sweet lady.” I didn’t correct her, but it took effort on my part.
My mother was not sweet.
Her not being sweet brings me to the central theme of the meditation at her funeral. Matt, a colleague who had been my mother’s minister for over twenty-eight years, called her “both velvet and steel. If you didn’t know her well, you got the velvet. If you knew her well, you got the steel.”
As her minister, Matt got the steel. I don’t know specifics, but he spoke from personal experience. He also talked about how, unlike so many people, when my mom said she would pray for you, she really did. Her prayer notebooks were stacked on her bedside table at her death. I believe the word Matt used, at finding his own name on those lists, was “daunting.”
As her daughter, I also got the steel. While that is harder to contemplate, and even harder to articulate, especially to people whose mothers were of a different ilk, I know the steel was the authentic core of her.
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