Frederica Matthews-Green here makes many points that I have been making for some time, and some I haven’t seen elsewhere.
Sometimes time crawls. I am frozen.
The empty space is just a matter of fact. Everything else goes on. The landscape changes. Her house, my house, which I see out my front window, becomes less recognizable by the day. I can never go back in.
Distracting images float into my thoughts regardless of what I am doing or thinking. The last time I saw her, realizing just how very much I will miss her crooked fingers.
How can someone with such a huge presence be gone?
In my mind, I often find myself in that room where we found her nearly every day. We are watching M*A*S*H or looking vainly for a good movie. I am watering her plants and my husband is shooing away one of the wandering residents. Or we are wheeling her out of the dayroom to the gazebo, an escape she loved for as long as possible, to watch the sky over the trees past the other resident buildings.
Or she is still at home. We are sitting with our feet up on either end of her couch recliner, watching episode after episode of Law and Order, or old movies on TCM. Later I’m in her kitchen baking this week’s cookies.
Or I am sitting by her bed on that long Friday. On Saturday my siblings are arriving gradually, one by one, faces distorted briefly as they come in. I’m staring at the picture over her bed in which she stands between my two brothers looking fully twenty years younger than she was.
Mostly I find myself just hovering there in the room with the afternoon light slanting in then dimming toward evening. My husband and I are just with her.
How can such a huge presence be gone?
Here is a conversation from one of those afternoons under the gazebo. My mother, with dementia but articulate as could be, had been indulging in a confrontation with some of the staff. Now, calm:
Mom: What are those buildings? It looks like a school.
My husband: No, it’s just some of the other buildings here.
Mom: …Maybe they’re teaching manners to the elderly.
My husband: They assume they already have them.
Mom: … …Obviously we don’t.
She never lost her true self. I have stories.
Now, no matter what happens, or what I do, I just cannot feel right. I imagined that grief was a little ball of black twine inside of me. I’m getting along OK, I don’t feel any way in particular, I’m just getting through each day. I will feel normal in awhile. Just wait. I am frozen.
Then it occurred to me that my image was wrong. The ball of grief is not a little thing inside me. I am in it. My world is inside of grief.
I can only wait until it wants to go. The grieving person does not control the grief process. No matter how prepared you were for your loss, grief takes its own course. You are at its mercy.
It’s helpful for others to know this. Rather than trying (however sympathetically) to tell someone how to get through (or get over) their grief, we should walk with them through it. No matter how long it takes, or how unexpected the path. Just be kind and present. There’s really nothing else you can do. Or maybe the best thing you can do is to leave them alone with it and let them work through it.
I wish I had written down more of her memories. Let me tell you a little about my mom from my memory.
She was creative. Before she became too impaired to sew anymore, she had been sewing for about seventy five years. She could make almost anything. She never followed a pattern without creating her own alterations. My friend and I were looking at tote bags today at Hallmark and I remembered the huge, wildly printed, sometimes waterproof-lined totes my mom made. With handles that would never fall off. She loved color and loud prints. She was always stylish in her one of a kind handmade dresses. She made her hats, she made our Easter dresses and spring coats every year, she made my sister’s formal prom dresses (several), she made the wedding dresses for all three of us Mercer girls. She loved to make my children clothes: flannel lined denim baggy jeans with huge pockets and elastic waists, delightfully patterned little girl dresses, baby clothes, doll clothes, roomy fleece sweaters with reindeer and snowflakes.
How many of her carefully sewn gifts do I still have? Not that many. How did I let them go? This feels like infinite regret now.
She also loved cooking and was creative there too. There was a health-conscious era where all baked goods had what we called bark and gravel. There was always cake and the smell of cinnamon buns or cookies in the oven signaled the holidays. I have carried on her baking traditions, so at least that isn’t lost.
At the center of my mother’s personality was a diamond hard gem called Self-Determination. Maybe it was really called Opposition or You Can’t Make Me. She died with advanced dementia but that nucleus at the center of her being was untouched.
To the end she knew two things. She knew her children and their children, and she knew nobody was ever going to make her do anything she didn’t want to.
She gave up going to bed when her dementia was advancing. No amount of persuasion would get her out of the recliner and into bed. So there she sat 24/7, dozing sometimes, awake sometimes, regardless of night or day. I once marched over to her house at 2am to convince her to get into bed. By 3:30 I retreated home, angry, exasperated and unsuccessful. The more I persuaded, no matter how I persuaded, the more her heels dug deeper.
She never gave up the idea of going home once she was in the nursing facility. This got her kicked out of the first place because she, with her wheelchair and strength of a kitten, was actively trying to escape. The second place had the locked-down unit where they’re supposed to be prepared for wanderers and escapists. They had to invent new safeguards and change procedures after she arrived. She pulled the fire alarms. They had to hide the elevator button. She was going to bed when she wanted.
In her last conversation, aware that she had had a stroke, confined to bed, she was still asking if I thought she’d be going home soon. She. Was going. Home.
This is one of my favorite Mom stories from my childhood. She would not mind my telling it. My mother was well educated, articulate and intelligent. But few things in the neighborhood made my mom madder than people letting their dogs “go” on our property. If she caught some dog walker allowing their dog to do its business in our yard, or even our sidewalk, they would get an earful. One day she saw a neighbor lady from around the corner doing this and my mom had had it. When the lady tried to justify herself my mother asked her: “How would you like it if I sent my kids over to go in your yard?”
Neighbor lady went off shocked. Little did the woman know that my brother loved this and would have been glad to do it.
I could fill a book with things to tell you about my Mom and maybe someday I will. She deserves it.
I’ve been on twitter today, commenting a lot, which is unusual. I have got myself in a “conversation”, if we can call a conversation a back-and-forth where you cannot see the comment before the last one and you don’t know what you’re responding to sometimes. Twitter isn’t designed for conversations but for gotchas.
Lila Rose tweeted about the poor baby that a celebrity male couple have adopted through surrogacy, and commented that she felt sympathy for the loss this child has already experienced. At one point I added,”Adopting a child who has lost parents is a noble act. Creating a child to be separated from its parents is the opposite of noble. Both types of children have suffered tragic losses but we should not inflict them.”
Oh my goodness. Among the usual suspects of replies one should expect in response to such playbook issues, I also received replies which asserted the following:
The child is part of the mother’s body and she can do what she wants with it
After the child is born, she can still do what she wants with her property
A woman can donate her baby just as she can donate an organ
The baby is dependent on the mother’s body so yes it it her body
Until we have Brave New a World babies which are not dependent on the woman, women can do whatever the f they want with their babies
A baby is part of her body yes it is all science says so
I argued that neither children nor fetuses are possessions, nor slaves, but to no avail. I’m scared.
Those who are swept into agreement with what’s the most fervently held popular views because everybody agrees are going to be stunned to find that the truth, God’s view, though it be held by no one but Him, is the only view, the correct view; and that any other view is utterly condemned.
Such are we when we side with political/social movements because we want to think we are the more compassionate people, because we lazily believe the poison pouring out of our screens or speakers, indeed when we choose to side with a side—identify with a tribe.
We had better quickly leave behind our half-measures to be useful for the moment, and join the only party who matters, the only One who is right, the One who will prevail. It is only His righteous way which will ever accomplish the ultimate right anyway. Forbid that we should align ourselves with anything lesser!
The time may be here very soon when we will clearly see that every side has lined up in opposition to the One side, and you and I had better be on His side.
There is a case to be made that all Americans have been enslaved since 1973, most of us unwillingly, to the Institution of Abortion; and that we may now have hope for freedom.
Like Pilgrim, we have sorrowfully carried this burden, unwillingly complicit. What joy it will be if we become free of it.
Thinking about your relationships eventually leads to thinking about the relationships you have which are not so good. If you are a conscientious believer in Jesus Christ, you must be honest and circumspect with yourself about whether you have behaved rightly in those less than ideal relationships. Jesus put an extraordinarily high bar on our relationships.
I was thinking about a person, let’s say X, who I find difficult, who I don’t really trust. Walking away from the relationship is not an option. I must get along and I certainly would never want to be openly unpleasant to X if only for the sake of peace. But my approach has been to be emotionally distant and to give X no further opportunity to injure or make use of me. Sounds like a good strategy, huh?
Then I did something dangerous. I thought about Jesus. Did my part of this relationship meet with his approval? Did I reach his bar for relationship maintenance? And the clear answer was: absolutely not.
The imperative of relationship, Jesus’ imperative, is that we have total integrity in our relationships with other human beings. We are not here to make things easy or comfortable for ourselves; we are here to be holy and righteous. Our imperative, our command, is to persevere through relationships and make them loving to the extent that it depends on us. And what Jesus means by loving is this:
This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
We are here to become holy. We are here to demonstrate by our every moment what the True God is like. And He loves perfectly. He invented love. He is love.
Yes, especially those relationships we could do without. That in law, that sibling, that old friend. The one who actually has done you dirty.
Rather than distance yourself, literally or emotionally, be ready to be real in that relationship and to engage with that person. Recognize that it will be challenging to stay in and stay righteous. It will probably be impossible. But you have access to a supernatural and inexhaustible supply from outside your own resources.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time to walk away from a relationship which is actually harmful or dangerous. There are people we must leave behind and not see again. And a break up is a break up— that’s a relationship that is over.
Most of our relationships, however, are not so. We should not be so quick to discard other people because our relationships with them are uncomfortable or challenging. It could be you are meant to face that challenge and learn from it. It could be you would be a better friend, or sister, or spouse because you learned how to navigate in that relationship and succeeded in making it a healthy one.
We don’t get a pass on leaving a relationship emotionally because it is a difficult one. We have a responsibility to make that relationship loving if we answer to the God who is love.
P. S. Can we do away with the terms boyfriend and girlfriend when the people being described are no longer boys and girls? Relationship statuses which were meant to be left behind in teenagerhood because people were supposed to move on to more mature and permanent statuses (significant other) haven’t proved sustainable. But please, a 70-year-old does not have a girlfriend.
I was going to cite an example of a post about how we are all lied to virtually all the time, but given the last week’s news cycle, it clearly is not necessary.
I am frankly amazed at the quotes that get passed around on social media, especially on Facebook, by full-grown adults. Many of those quotes are such obvious invention that I am aghast that anyone passes them on. Here’s an easy shortcut: if you see a quote from some famous person posted on social media, there is about 2% chance that that person ever uttered that sentence, that any well- known person ever uttered that sentence, or that anyone other than some unknown and friendless meme-inventor created that quote himself. A handy tip- off: Mother Theresa was Polish and shouldn’t sound like a contemporary Philadelphian, Abe Lincoln had good grammar, and Einstein wasn’t petulant about 21st century politics.
Another quick shortcut: if any news item or quote gives you a burst of happy endorphins, suspect its truth immediately. You are likely being played. You are being used by people who do not care about you.
Some posts which get passed around are just too perfectly perfect to be believed, and we need to be smart enough to disbelieve a report that declares that Politician X secretly eats live kittens for breakfast every morning, especially because we really want to believe that PX is so evil that he would gleefully eat kittens for breakfast. Especially suspect are those excited news flashes about what Politician Z secretly really secretly thinks/wants when there are mountains of acts and statements which demonstrate what he really thinks/wants available for all to see. Look for evidence.
So when will purveyors of lies be held accountable for their intentional disinformation? And how will they be held accountable? It seems like there ought to be some legal safeguard. But let’s be careful. Do we want any government arm arbitrating what’s real and what isn’t? No, because all gov’t arms have their own agendas and they are as corruptible as any other body. Imagine a Department of Reality.
The only real solution puts you and me in the driver’s seat. We have to be responsible to fix this. We have to let go of our rages and our preferences and be reasonable. We must let go of our excessive need for the world to be exactly as we want it to be, and we need to be suspect when we need the world to be so negative. We must detox from outrage.
We are going to have to deal with human beings no matter what solution we choose. Let’s choose one in which we have the freedom to do good even though it means we must put up with those who misuse that freedom to do evil. The remedy is for every one of us to want the good for everyone, then to dust off those flabby organs in our heads and give them a workout. Every day, every hour, every minute.
We must choose to want to know the truth. We must work hard to discover the truth. We must dismiss news that smells bad even though it has a pretty pink bow on it, and throw it in the trash can. Then we must discount every source that handed us that smelly item. Those sources mean us no good and tried to use us for their own power plays.
Facebook posts with the words “ripping,””children,” “mothers,” “arms,” and “Trump” are an EQ test and you failed.
We must seek out truth even when, especially when, it isn’t the truth we prefer. We must be the gatekeepers, the bar holders. Don’t lie to me. I will discard you if you do. You can’t use me anymore. We must be smart and we must value our truths and our minds more than the stroking of our feelings.