This is the summer of my mother’s dying. Several times lately, that statement has come out of my mouth, and every time it has surprised me. My mother is just a month and a few days shy of 95 years. Already lost are her husband of 63 years, the eyesight needed by an avid reader, and the mobility to maintain her independence. In so many ways, this world is not her home anymore.
I spent last evening going through a trunk of her papers and magazines. Mother tends to put the valuable in with the useless, tie it all up in a plastic bag and put that with other bags in a box. I can never assume that the top layer of anything is indicative of what is actually there. Among the surprising finds last night were two photographs of her that I have never seen before.
One is a tiny two-inch square, black and white photo of her taken probably in the ‘30’s before she married my father. Her skin is smooth, her hair very dark, her eyes wide open and almost black, looking away from the camera. She looks very serious, but not unhappy – as if she is simply waiting for what comes next but unsure of what it will be.
The other is an eight by ten, full color portrait taken just a few years ago for her church directory. She is looking directly at the camera, her hair still mostly dark, her dark eyes are bright if a little sad, and her skin is wrinkled with her years. She looks still, receptive, tentative, almost as if she is going to begin speaking. Her smile is heartbreaking for me. I have not seen that smile for a long time now. This is the summer of my mother’s dying, and that smile is dying too.
I sat and looked at both photos for a long time last night. Not crying – I am not able to do that yet. It is hard for me to realize how little I know of her beyond being my mother. The woman was obscured by the mother and that veil was never lifted for me. I so wanted to ask the tiny photo: what are you dreaming about? what do you love to do? what do you want your life to mean? are you happy?
Actually, I would love to ask the same questions of the older woman in the second photo. Part of my sadness is that I do not know the answers to these questions even now. The veil is still in place.
It helps to know that this world is not a permanent home for any of us. There is mercy and grace in God’s plan for us as God’s children. But this is the summer of my mother’s dying, and I understand much better now the phrase from the Psalm: Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou are with me. And with her also.