Lately two friends have made interesting comments to me as we have discussed my mother’s dying. One friend said to me, “You are a priest. You know about these things and how to handle them.” The other said, “You are not the priest here – you are the chief mourner.” Both phrases have been circling in my head.
Yes, I do know about “these things”. I have stood with friends and strangers around a hospital bed when a loved one dies. I have read studies about death and dying. I have conducted graveside services. I have read the Scriptures and know that our dying is in God’s hands just as is our living. I know the stages of grief. But knowing is not the same as experiencing. I am neither a statistic nor a text. I am a daughter.
As my mother dies, I sometimes sit by her bed in my priestly shirt because I have come there from our services. But sitting in that chair, I feel like a daughter watching her mother row away from shore in a very fragile canoe and without a backward glance. My mother, the source of my earthly body, is rowing toward my Father God, who is the root of my very being. But I cannot go with her.
I find myself thinking a lot less about where my mother is going – that is assured by her faith and evidenced in her life of service to her church. But this is MY mother and she is going away from ME, going to a place that I cannot visit before I set out in the same fragile canoe. There will be a separation between us that is irrevocable in this earthly life. In my faith, we do not worship our ancestors or believe that their ghosts haunt our world. Her spirit will be separated from mine by the abyss of temporary time and space.
More than that, all the unresolved issues will remain unresolved, photos that I find unidentified, and stories lost. The rewind button disappears. I am sad that we never became friends as adults because she is leaving without hearing my stories too. As a priest I know that God holds all of these feelings tenderly in loving hands. As a daughter I mourn the passing of my “daughter-hood”. Soon I truly will stand alone on the precipice, knowing that I am the last verse of many unsung songs.
She goes, I stay. She will see the full glory of God, and I await the coming of God’s glory. All is in the mercy and love of God. But still…she goes.