When I was a child, my church would sing J.W. Vaughan’s, “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” every Mother’s Day. It seemed to make many of the older members sad but I didn’t really understand…I was just a kid, I could hear my mom pray whenever, more than likely I was sitting right next to her as we sang! I lost my mom four years ago, April 25,2014…now I get it…I understand.
My mom was your stereotypical southern woman…with a big drawl and an even bigger heart! She was the queen of endearments!! Rare was the person who crossed her path without receiving a “honey”, “pumpkin”, “princess”, or the like, during their interaction. Mom was so well-known for her little pet words that my husband would yell out, “Princess Honey Pumpkin, your mom is on the phone!”, anytime he answered her call! And that is another thing you could definitely count on with mom, her phone call…daily… and sometimes even more than once per day! I remember one time she even called me, in CA, asking if I know where my sister was…my sister lives in PA but apparently didn’t answer her phone!! Ay yai yai!! The phone calls…until they stopped. If I had known that conversation on April 24th would’ve been our last, I would’ve talked a little longer…made sure I remembered each comment…told her I loved her again…had her talk to the kids one more time. What did we last talk about? Sadly, I can’t recall, but we all knew something was wrong when we didn’t hear from her.
Mom was born in Tennessee and, well no matter where she moved or how much time passed, she still talked southern…or “sliced” her words as we used to say! She had a smile for everyone that just lit up a room, in spite of all the troubles she faced in life. She never had an easy life…through circumstances that weren’t her own she found herself divorced and living alone at 62. I’ll never forget the day I got that call from my sister wanting to know when I had last talked to mom. Apparently she hadn’t showed up at work and didn’t call in…that was out of the ordinary for her so her manager was concerned and called my sister. My brother hadn’t heard from her either…we all tried calling but no answer. It’s so easy to get busy with life and lose touch…I was hoping for the best but deep down I knew that not hearing from my mom for a few days was not a good thing. About an hour later we got the call we were dreading…my great Aunt and Uncle had gone over to her apartment and, after no answer at the door, alerted the on-site manager. The officers on the scene said, as far as they could tell, mom had passed peacefully in her recliner sometime over the weekend. Through it all, do you know what stood out to me the most? They said that her Bible was opened to Proverbs 25…like she had read her Proverb for the day, something she always did, sat her Bible on her end table, leaned back in her chair and just slipped away! That actually played a part in the official date of death…her Bible opened to Proverbs 25 and the fact that no one had spoken to her on the phone after that…because that was mom: faithful to call and faithful to read the Word!
Then came the rush…
…the rush to get out to Pennsylvania.
…the rush to make all the arrangements.
…the rush to meet and greet everyone that came to pay their condolences.
…the rush to then head to Tennessee to have her laid to rest by her parents.
And then…a pause, a breath, a silence like I had never known. I think that’s when the loss truly hits you…after everyone else has gone back to their normal, everyday life and you realize that you know have a new normal. Gone were the late night calls with mom’s cheery southern twang on the other end of the line. I remember exactly where I was when that realization hit home with me. I was in my mom’s apartment, alone, cleaning and packing her things to clear the apartment before the next month rolled around. I sat down on her bed and looked around…at this tiny, one bedroom apartment that her life had shrunk down to. Over 60 years of memories condensed into about 600 square feet. It hit me and I was undone. Why? Why had this been her life?? To have plans, dreams, desires but end life alone? Well, you can learn a lot about someone when you have to sort through their entire life…all their memories…all their possessions and keepsakes. I thought I knew my mom but I learned there was so much more to her and that lesson actually began at the funeral a few days prior.
I was actually a little shocked to see how many people attended the services. I had always kinda felt that, while mom was the sweetest woman you could come across, she was a burden, in a way, to those around her…but apparently nothing could have been further from the truth! Let me explain…mom didn’t have a whole lot in the way of career training. She was a mom and did what many wives/mothers of her day did…she sacrificed a career and stayed home to raise her kids so my dad could further his education and better his employment. She did go to work when I was in elementary school but it was mostly just a to help pay the bills type of deal. That was all fine and good until my dad found someone else and mom was left to figure things out alone. She struggled through making ends meet for the remainder of her life…working retail jobs for little more than minimum wage. I always assumed, falsely it turned out, that because of health issues that plagued her she was a less than desirable employee. Most of this was based on the fact that when I was a kid she was late to everything!! But then the memorial service that began to open my eyes to the character of my mom. Person after person, co-workers and managers alike, told stories of what a good employee my mom was…how helpful she was…how loved she was…and how missed she would be. How is it that we can be so blind to the reality of who someone truly is?? When and why had I let mom become a “burden” in my eyes??
My education continued as I cleaned out her apartment. Box after box, bag after bag, drawer after drawer of her life…our life! We were everywhere! Me and my siblings, our spouses, our children…we were her entire life. From hand drawn pictures from the grandkids on the refrigerator to drawers full of awards and certificates from our schooldays. Boxes of family photos to framed pictures on just about every available inch of wall space. It was clear that mom cared for nothing in her life as much as her family… except for God! I was given a glimpse into the depth of my mom’s faith. Never had I personally attended a funeral where so many people were vocally confident about the deceased being with Jesus. Time and again, people approached me and said while they knew you couldn’t know another person’s standing with God…they just knew!! She was that kind of witness to the people she came in contact with daily. I am so blessed that I was able to keep so many of the things that truly made her who she was: her Bibles, her parent’s Bibles, her journals and letters.
I am still getting to know my mom in a way I never knew her as I read her notes in her Bible. Perhaps one of my favorite treasures is a letter that she wrote, not only to my siblings and our families, but also to God. It reads more like a prayer…so I am one of the blessed…in a manner of speaking, I can hear my mother “pray again”! And even more than that, I can hear her sing!! I have a cassette tape of my family singing songs for my grandmother when I was maybe 4 or 5. I always loved listening to my mom sing! The song we were most well-known for, as a family, was probably Green Pastures.
1 Samuel 8:3a says, “But they were not like their father…” What a statement that is! That can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the parent, right?! When everything was falling apart with my parents, I thought my mom was weak…pleading with him to stay, still washing his clothes, making him breakfast in the morning before work and dinner at night. I now realize that she’s the strongest woman I’ve ever known! She was loving him as she had vowed before God that she would! She was teaching me what it meant to be a Christian woman, wife and mother…and I couldn’t even see it.
Someone once said, “Show me a well-used Bible and I’ll show you a well-lived life!” The world may not have seen my mom as a successful woman but now I do…and I have no doubt that God did, as well! I’m so glad to have so many things to remember my mom by… but this Mother’s Day, the thing I’m most thankful for is her example! I’m grateful for her testimony…for the life she lived…for the prayers she prayed…and that I know I will hear her again!
“So trusting still his love,
I’ll seek that home above,
For I shall meet my mother some glad day!”
-If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again