Ed. Notes: First, I promise that not all of my blog posts will be about death & dying. It's just what's current in my life now. Second, it was a large funeral and rather a delicious moment to be able to stand at the pulpit of the church I grew up in and say "shit." Twice. The sweet pastor hugged me afterwards and said, "Grace and acceptance, Elizabeth. Grace and acceptance."
I expected 20 more years.
As my mom’s death approached, I thought and thought about this moment and what I could say to all of you, people who have loved Diana, been touched by her presence in your life. She was your friend, your mentor, your aunt, your grandmother, your sister, your wife. What can I possibly say that you don’t already know or haven’t already experienced with her? She was bold and intelligent. She was fair and kind and beautiful. She was an extrovert who loved other people and believed in them whole heartedly. Then, I realized that I can tell you what it is like to be her daughter. There is only one other person that can tell you what it was like to have her as a mother; but, if you know my family at all, you know that you’d be hard-pressed to find two people that come from the same genetic stock and are more different than my brother and I. And in any case, he is a son, not a daughter.
My mom was one of the few people on Earth to really truly love me without judgment. To be certain, she did not approve of everything I did and didn’t necessarily hesitate to tell me when she thought otherwise, but I never questioned her love of me. It was kind of a fairytale mother/daughter relationship. Openness and unconditional love.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of raw, unhappy moments between us. Especially during my teenage years. When I reached adulthood and then motherhood, she used to jokingly, but only partially joking, tell me that there was also parental abuse, not just child abuse. She was right. I was definitely kind of a shit to her.
In fact, I remember one of our most potent moments occurred right here in this very sanctuary. My mom would slap me when I would mouth off. Not frequently, and as an adult I can understand that she had reached her limit with my pre-teen defiant snotty-ness. Anyways, I was probably around 12 or 13 years old and I’d had enough of being slapped. I told her the next time she did it, I was going to slap her back. Soon thereafter, I was unbearably mean, she slapped, and I slapped back. We went to church later that evening for a teen rehearsal of some sort and she sat in a pew holding a cold rag to her face - her own stoniness and hurt on display for all to see. I remember looking out at her and in my sea of adolescent hormones and defiance, feeling like I didn’t care at all about her hurt.
We talked about that episode between us in the last few months as she lay there in her hospital bed in the living room. We didn’t really laugh at it, it wasn’t one of those moments that you look back on and laugh. But, it was real humanity rearing up between us. Love and hurt, and independence and deep connectedness, all balled up together between a mom and her daughter. I looked at her, right in her eyes, and said, “Isn’t it amazing that we made it through that to this place of pure love?” She answered, “Yes, and then some.”
One of the last times we were together, we studied the story of David & Goliath. We read that particular small section of I Samuel in the Bible, and then we went back and I read most of I Samuel aloud to her. Like I said, my mom accepted me just as I am. So when I was reading, and we’d get to a point in the story that is just nuts, I’d say, “wow, this is some crazy shit!” Not what you may be used to hearing about Bible stories, and perhaps some of you right now, feel a little uncomfortable that I’ve cursed twice at a funeral, during a eulogy, in a church! But, my mom understood what I was saying, even if she would have opted for other language, and she agreed with me. The Bible does often read like a soap opera-style B-movie with bad actors.
That doesn’t cloud the message, though. What she kept writing down as I was reading, and kept saying to herself, was “They were afraid. And God knew they were afraid.” We finished reading and the day went on, medicine to take, dishes to wash, dogs to feed, a Harper to care for.
The next day, I said to her, “you know the message from God was DON’T BE AFRAID.” I always knew that and I always felt a bit uncomfortable with it. Like God wouldn’t allow us to be afraid. Or we were somehow wrong if we felt afraid. She said, “yes, you are hearing it in your dad’s voice.” I said, “or worse, Todd’s voice!” And then I told her that I didn’t hear it that way anymore. That somehow, through aging, through grief, through loss, through being a daughter, through being a mother, I began to hear it like “You don’t need to be afraid.” God wasn’t telling us, my mom and me, that we couldn’t be afraid. That we were bad if we felt afraid, or that we were “doing it wrong.” God was telling us that we didn’t need to be afraid. God was with us. God IS with us. Always. Omnipresent. God was, and is, the bridge of love between her heart and mine.
One of my favorite recent internet memes said, “I opened my mouth and my mother came out.” This is true for me; sometimes I can’t separate her influence on me from what is solely me. And I don’t what she would say to you all right now. Eventually, I decided that “our” message to you was about expression: express yourself, your emotion, your pain, your anger, your laughter, your love. Let it out! Be free! Don’t stuff it in!
And, then I had a bit of an epiphany: That’s my message. And in another 40 years or so, maybe Harper will telling a new group of you that message, and how when Elizabeth’s father gave her 3-5 minutes (preferably 3) to speak at her mom’s funeral, she took 20.
No, my mom’s message is something different. Her message is acceptance. Acceptance of me, just as I am. Acceptance of you, just as you are. Perfect in your imperfections. In your expression and your choice not to express. Loving you for who you are. And love never ends.
On behalf of my mom, of my dad, my family, me, thank you for being here. Our lives are so busy and we have so many responsibilities to attend to, and who really wants to come to a funeral? It is a testament to her love and her life that you, each and every one of you, is here. Thank you.
Owner, Reden Yoga