by Mary Cobb Erickson
I am moved often by the symmetry of life. Although it doesn’t always seem like it, there is a rhythm and pulse to life. The yin and yang. The push and the pull. I was struck by this profoundly today as I went from my mother’s bedside in the Living Center over to the birthing center to visit a parishioner in early labor. Moving from the bedside of a dying older woman to that of a young mother preparing to give birth and a young baby boy preparing to enter this world. The cycle of life. Poignant and beautiful. Crushingly heartbreaking and exhilaratingly real and raw. This is the stuff of life.
I have spent much of the past weeks with my mother in the hospital and then the nursing home after a bad fall on the morning of May 2. She has a form of dementia, and I watch her decline literally day by day. She has been an imperfect mother, as we all are. The gift I have been given in caring for her in the end of her life is that of forgiveness and compassion – I for her, and she for me. In the face of death, all the little hurts and disappointments we dumped on one another throughout our lives seem meaningless. She looks at me with big, vulnerable eyes, trusting and loving. She is completely without pretense. All the facades she erected throughout her life have crumbled. She has never looked more beautiful to me.
She can no longer talk, but she writes in her chicken scratch on the white board we have given her to communicate with us, “You are my favorite.” And in that moment, I am. I am all she has, in that moment. She is vulnerable and afraid, as I was as a child. And so I care for her the best that I can, making her angry by the hard decisions I must make about what I believe is right for her. And then I smooth her hair and she looks up at me with pure love in her eyes. The cycle is complete as the daughter becomes the mother. My mother’s face lights up when one of my children walks into the room, offering her the gift of their love and presence. All that we have to offer her really is our love and our presence. We show up and we love her the best we can.
Isn’t that really all any of us have to offer – to show up and love as best we can. As a church, that is certainly the least and the most that we can offer. People show up here week after week longing for a connection, relationship, love – with God and with one another. And so we show up and offer the best we can. We show up for that young couple and their newborn son. We show up for the kids losing their beloved grandmother. We show up for the man searching for work, or the widower still grieving the loss of his wife, or the woman mourning the end of her marriage, or the man struggling to stay sober even though life has gotten really hard. We show up for the couple that wants to explore their faith together, or teach their children about God. We show up for the myriad people who just want to connect and plant their feet on solid ground, a place they can be themselves, a place they can call home. That is the least and the most we can offer – our love and our presence.
On May 10 Alisdair was born, and we were told my mother has a matter of weeks left. The beautiful heartbreaking symmetry of life. (editor’s note: Beth O’Neil died on May 22, 2014)
The Rev. Mary Cobb Erickson is the Assistant Priest at St John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson, WY.