“She was nine days short of her forty-third birthday,” Dad used to say when asked how old his wife, my mother, was when she passed away. Everyone said, “She was so young!” though at eleven years of age, forty-three didn’t seem so young to me. Now I have a son older than she was at her passing, and I too say she was so young.
My mother’s life was certainly shorter than an American woman’s life expectancy in 1965, and it was also short by our human measurement. Naturally many of her friends – my friends’ parents – lived much longer lives.
I must admit that I don’t fully know what I missed in not having a mother for all of those formative years. Surely, I missed not having her at events big and small, and missed her daily presence while growing up. Nevertheless, if not understanding, God granted acceptance of our situation. Life at 425 Penn Avenue took on “our normal.”
Recently I’ve pondered more whether mother was shortchanged. But I’ve found solace in the conclusion that despite her relatively brief life, she was not shortchanged. She got the good fortune to be born to a believing mother and father, into a home with many sisters and brothers – love and closeness abounded. Rather than thinking about what she didn’t get to be – mother of the bride, grandmother, a retiree – I consider all the things she was: a daughter, sister, wife, mother, godmother, aunt, student, worker, homemaker, neighbor, confidant, friend. Most importantly as a prodigal daughter who lost the gift of faith in her youth, she received the grace of repentance and again became a child of God.
Mom’s life was that of a wife, mother, homemaker. In our time there’s much emphasis on education and career and achievement. I’ve recalled a poem of a Finnish mother and poet, who during her terminal battle with cancer asked her husband, “Is it sufficient as a life’s calling to be someone’s wife and mother to some children?” Her husband answers, “Yes, it’s sufficient.” For our mother, too, it was sufficient, for so God ordained it.
It’s true that Mom didn’t see us graduate or get married or become parents. She never held her grandchildren, but we hold her in our hearts and conversations. We’ve passed on to our youngest siblings and now to her grandchildren a sense of her, for she is part of us.
The testimony and legacy of a believing loved one are enduring. We recall what they shared with us and speak of their victory and reward of eternal life as the foremost matter. Sometimes that victory is won in the eleventh hour through our loving God’s gracious call. We rejoice over that as the greatest matter connected to the departed one’s memory.
Time is fleeting. Reaching senior years has only deepened the feeling that life reels past quickly. But what a marvelous thing it is that heaven is eternal, joyous, bright and glorious – worth far more than the longest, fullest earthly life. God’s children cling with hope and joy to the promise of reunification with loved ones in glory one day. I cling to that too: I will see Mother and other departed dear ones at home in heaven.
We are not shortchanged. “I receive a double portion: Grace of grace and hope of heaven. Wondrous is Your love to me!” (SHZ 91:6).