Photo by Maryanne Tuck

by Maryanne Tuck

I asked her, only hours after Grandma died, “How does it make you feel?”

“Like an orphan,” was her answer. “But Mother, you have us,” I responded.

“I know honey,” she said, “but this is different.”

Carrying our second child, I was filled with life and annoyed at having to deal with death. I wanted her to tell me it wasn’t so bad. Grandma was old. Eighty years was a long full life. In a coma, Grandma hadn’t suffered. I wanted Mother to move on to lighter talk and future plans. I wanted her to ask how I was feeling today, resuming our daily ritual. She was always the giver. I was always the taker.

Years passed and now Mother was in her eighties.  She shared the ominous news that she had found a lump in her breast. “Mother, I am absolutely sure that it will not be malignant,” I said. When the report came back, Mother said, “Well, you were wrong. It is malignant and the involvement is extensive.”

Now I, who never wanted to deal with anything uncomfortable, was faced with the unimaginable. Mother was soon going to die. Try as I would, I couldn’t get my mind around that fact. A friend said, “It’s part of life, although it’s not the best part.” I was angry with my friend for her crude and thoughtless remark. How could she be so matter of fact in the face of my devastation? She offered. I refused.

In the days and months to come, Mother calmly accepted the diagnosis. She was always generous, always caring, always gracious and giving. She was ever accepting. I was ever refusing.

The following January, a friend and I vacationed for two weeks in Florida. Upon our return, I learned that my mother had suffered a heart attack a few days earlier. She didn’t want me to be told because she wanted me to enjoy my vacation. I could learn of it when I returned home. She was protecting. I was accepting.

I visited Mother in the hospital the day after returning home. As she lay in her bed she was cheerful and interested in me. “Maybe it wasn’t so serious after all,” I said. She answered, “No, something very serious is going on.” She began to talk to me of happy things and times and places. Upon leaving, I said,” See you when you come home.”

“Ok honey,” she said, for she was due to come home after another day in the hospital. She was never to come home. The next day, she died. She always gave me her love. I always knew I was loved.

Mother was gone. I felt smothered by grief. She was as much a part of my life as my heart and soul. Now she was gone. Her belongings were still here, her clothes hung in the closet, and pictures she had painted hung on the wall. They were only “things.” Weeks passed and the seemingly endless river of tears began to subside.

A month later on a cold February night, I visited my friend in a neighboring county who is a shepherd. It was lambing time and that required her to make frequent visits to the barn to check on the well-being of her sheep. I found her in the stable and as we rested on bales of fresh straw amid the rumblings of the ewes, I poured out my grief. My husband and I had recently begun to establish a flock of sheep on our small twenty-acre farm, and my friend had offered her knowledge of shepherding and her presence whenever we asked for help on this new venture. She offered. We accepted.

Now, amid the quiet, with gentle encouragement she shared her own life journey through the painful loss of both parents during the preceding years. With deep compassion she shared her healed memories and I knew that with her caring love, I too would be healed through the journey of my grieving.

Next morning as I prepared our morning coffee, my glance fell upon a plaque hanging on my kitchen wall. Reading it as if for the first time, I understood the message.

Make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

Let me learn to be the consoling, the understanding, and the loving and giving instrument of peace that has so graciously been given to me.