Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Her Last Words to Me

These past several days have been a bit of a working sabbatical for me -- I have been "on the clock" so to speak but have been away from the usual place of my ministry. Last Friday I traveled from Clearwater to Orlando for the Synod Assembly -- the gathering of all the clergy, rostered leaders, and lay voting members of the ELCA in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. This year was one not primarily focused on Synod business but in which we have various workshops, different worship opportunities, less taxing schedule. An easier breath of fresh air.

I came home late Sunday and then headed back to Orlando very early this morning to attend a conference sponsored by Lutheran Counseling Services in Orlando on Aging and Spirituality -- A Quest for Meaning. Now, I must be honest, I've dealt with lots of issues around aging and spirituality, both personally and professionally; I wasn't quite sure why I felt so drawn to this conference as to unilaterally cancel an office appointment and spend 4 more hours on the road after all the travel of the weekend. Now, as I sit here at the end of the day, I have some ideas about why. I am grateful for ideas about things that may be implemented in the parish I serve.

But more interesting, at least to me, was the moment in the session after lunch when I caught my breath and felt the welling of tears in my eyes. So much of what I was hearing resonated in my heart as I experienced the loss of my mom. Mom's last words to me were spoken over many many months and today they all came together into one conversation.

Mom experienced great pain in her left leg in the two years before her death. Doctors couldn't diagnose it, physical therapists couldn't relieve it, I cried over it as each touch and position shift caused her to cry out. The first of Mom's last words were "I just want to stop fighting."

The next of Mom's last words were spoken to me indirectly. I couldn't find the way to tell her that I would be leaving St. Petersburg to go to Columbia, SC to attend seminary. Certainly, I ought to have stayed with her to visit her, to do her laundry, made sure that everything was ok in her room and assure that her nurses knew that she was not a forgotten one. Mom's pastor called me and told me that Mom knew I was going to be a pastor and she was proud.

Then I came back during my first year of seminary at Christmas break -- we had great fun in many ways. We found some new ways to celebrate Christmas as Mom needed to stay in the nursing home. Then some days later, I needed to head back to seminary and I went to see Mom on my way out of town. We talked as we could. Mom no longer knew me as her daughter. I brought her laundry in. She asked me (whom she did not recognize as her daughter) if I had also taken care of Pam's laundry. "Yes, Mom. It's all taken care of. All is good."  As I left the nursing home and turned back to wave good-bye, she beat me to it -- giving me a big smile and a big wave.

In the days that followed there were many other events and exchanges and interactions. But in the minutes before her death Mom spoke one more last word to me -- the slow and quiet breathing of one who is approaching their last moments. This my friends, this is Holy Ground.

Today, I was ever-so-gently invited to wade into this again.

Actually, I don't think that Mom has yet spoken her last words to me. Might be easier now to hear her continuing words.

This Grateful Chick Stands on Holy Ground,

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