My mom died last night. She left in peace surrounded by her family. I think she was actually looking forward to going. I arrived too late to talk with her; she had already slipped into a sleep from which she never fully awakened. Before I left Minnesota, though, I spoke to her on the phone.
“They’re disconnecting the machines,” she said.
“Are you going home?” I asked.
“No,” she said and then with a certain lilt in her voice, “Yes. I’m going home.”
“I’m coming to say goodbye. I hope you won’t go until I get there.”
“I don’t know,” she said.
The family gathered around her. We read bible passages that spoke of our hope of a resurrection or of the glory awaiting those who remain faithful to God’s son. We sang and prayed and gave glory to God. I am very grateful for my family and for their faith and faithfulness.
When I was little, I regarded my mom as the gold standard for all moms. She was large and soft, and I pitied other children with skinny, bony moms whose hugs could not be so comforting as hugs from my mom. She was the best mom. As I got bigger, my opinion changed little. I know, of course, that she was not faultless. But I can’t seem to remember her faults well enough to describe them. She was and always will be my mom.
She was always very alive. She discouraged self-pity of every kind and sometimes seemed judgmental because she held us to such high standards. Though she never finished high school, she also never stopped learning. Her mind was active and alive even when her body was weak or unresponsive. She read constantly. She believed that the only excuse for ignorance was youth. If you were old enough to read and understand, you were old enough to know what you ought to know, and if you were old enough to know, you were old enough to do what was right. I’m thankful for her high standards; I have the same high standards for my own kids.
But she was also gracious and compassionate. She took in strangers and befriended outcasts. She cooked for everyone and offered unstinting hospitality to all who came to her home. My friends, even when I was in college, loved the homey feel of our home where you didn’t have to worry about sitting in the wrong place and there was always something home cooked to eat. She was never afraid of ideas. She could hold her own in conversation with anyone, and she spoke with such unconscious authority that she was often puzzled at finding her opinions respected even by those who sharply disagreed with her.
Mom was fun. I didn’t realize it growing up. In fact, it sometimes seemed to me that other families had more fun than ours. Other families were certainly better off. But I doubt that any other family we knew had as much fun as our family. We all liked one another, and Mom never allowed any fighting or even name-calling. She insisted that we all loved one another, and, whether she really bent us all to her will or we were just naturally compliant, we did. We loved one another; we had fun together. We had picnics in the back yard. We played games; we went on long walks in nearby parks, the younger kids racing ahead and running back while Mom and Dad strolled along behind. Mom had a knack for making our free time fun without gratifying our whims. It was years before I knew we were poor. We were rich in fun.
Now she is gone. As I write, my sisters are sorting through photos looking for pictures of Mom to include at her funeral. We’re not very sad. There has already been a lot of laughter and a few tears. I’m sure there will be more of both. But I am confident that the laughter will outweigh the tears. Mom would want it that way. She wouldn’t want us to have a funeral without any fun in it.