She didn’t come for lunch on Sunday. She wasn’t in church. I thought about the potato salad, corn, and steaks on the grill and knew that she would really enjoy that lunch. But she wasn’t there, so I couldn’t invite her home with us. The memories of when she was there dogged my heart all day. She would sit in my chair while we finished making lunch and play with Charis. Silly little games that would have Charis helpless with laughter. Often on the way home, she would confide that the games made her so tired, “But I like playing with her so much. She really gets into it, and it makes me happy. I probably overdid it, but it was worth it to see her enjoy herself so much.” There were no games in the corner chair this week. Charis rode her bike while her Daddy and Grandpa minded the grill. She didn’t mention anything about the empty chair. The young are so resilient, but she sometimes crawls up on my lap and says, “Grammy, do you miss Grandma Yoder?” (Oh, Girlie! If you only knew . . .)
Yesterday morning, I came down to the kitchen and opened a window. The oppressive heat had given way to an unusual August coolness, and the breeze came in with the sound of the mourning doves’ quiet calls. The hummingbird feeder was empty again, and the jays were flying in for the peanuts on the platform feeder. It was a good time to call my Sweet Mama. There was weather to discuss, birds to report, and the pesky jays to criticize. But it was only a passing inclination. Then there was just the mourning dove’s familiar call and I heard the echo in my stricken heart.
The day was a hard day. I call it “grief work,” and it is not easy. It stills my hands, makes it hard to do the things I know I need to do. It keeps me from even the enjoyable some days because I just cannot get past the sudden, blinding moments when who my Sweet Mama was is now so far gone. The moments she filled by being herself.
Often on Monday evenings, she would call me. Monday is the day when it is almost impossible to get everything done, but she was looking forward to Tuesday (when she knew I would spend the day with her) so much that she would often “break down and call” me to see what the plans were for Tuesday. Sometimes she called just to talk about the day, but often there were things she needed from the store, or prescriptions from Rite Aid that she wanted me to pick up for her before coming. “I need creamer again — the kind with coconut flavor,” she would say, “if you can. I seem to be going through it terribly fast, but I’m not the only one who drinks it. Mark comes in and gets himself a cup of coffee and others seem to like it, too. Oh, and I need some Tasters Choice. I’m almost out. If you see something that looks good, get it for me. I feel hungry, but nothing sounds good to me.”
Last evening, I was finishing up the laundry, came in from picking another five gallon bucket of lima beans, and was fixing supper for Cecilia and Nettie. Things were in good order in the kitchen, thanks to the help for Middle Daughter and Youngest Daughter, and I was thinking what had to be done yet before getting my ladies to bed. Suddenly, I thought, “Oh, I haven’t talked to Mama today. I wonder if she called while I was out picking beans?”
She had not. I stood in my kitchen as the reality hit me again. “What is it with this day?” I wondered to myself as the tears dripped down. “Why is Mama’s absence cropping up at every turn?”
Because that is the way grief is. I realize am revisiting these rooms where the memories are filling every crack and crevice and where the changes and losses of the last year and a half of Mama’s life have diminished to almost nothing. It’s hard to remember how it was, and it’s easy to remember the essence of my Sweet Mama and to long for her to be here, as she was for most of my memories — active, engaging, and always, always interested in what was going on in my life.
And now those things just don’t happen. And it is the way it is. This Tuesday (still marked as “Mama Day” on my calendar) came in on the crest of rain and wind. Cecilia had a fever, Nettie had a dentist appointment. Youngest Daughter’s car is in the shop. Middle Daughter is in Dover. It would have been a dreadfully inconvenient day to have to go to Mama’s house. I would have had to juggle and shift and maybe even ask her if I could please come tomorrow. She would have said that it was okay, but I would have heard in her voice that it wasn’t. “I don’t know why, Mary Ann,” she would say, “But whenever I know it’s Tuesday and that you are coming, I have such a good feeling! But it’s okay. Tomorrow will be fine. I’ll just look forward to that.”
And she would have. But this morning, it didn’t happen. Not that she cares from where she is. Not that she even knows. If she does know, I think she would say, “Mary Ann. It’s okay. It always was okay. There is so much more to life there than what we think. It’s okay. Just put first things first, and always remember Heaven. You cannot begin to imagine!.”
No, I cannot. I think about the “City of Light, mid the stars–” and about Mama, being in the presence of Jesus. I try to think about how she is enjoying the LIFE that she has there, and about what it must be like for her to be with Daddy and her parents and other people she loved so much here on earth. I think about what it is like for her to “know as she is known.” There’s no pretense, no misunderstanding, no competition, no jealousy, no inferiority. And what it is like for her to have a new body; no more pain, struggle or failing health. No aging.
And even though I cannot just “smile for a while to forget that I am blue,” I can plug into what God said would happen to my Sweet Mama in that very moment that she breathed her last breath here on earth and entered into the presence of God. And this I choose to believe for all the days full of the reminders of the things that will never happen again.
This is the promise.
1 Corinthians 15:53-56 (NIV)
53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
And while I honestly don’t know what that will look like, I do believe that The Victory is hers. Already. Forever settled. And all these things here are, if anything, but a dim memory. This is smile worthy.
And so, my heart will bring a sacrifice of Grateful praise.
Sweet Mama and Charis, just 11 days before she fell.