I suppose that every child views his/her mother as the most beautiful being on this side of eternity. I was no different. Hers was the beauty of a maternal god-figure. Of course, with the passage of time exterior beauty fades. As my mom gave birth to eleven children and raised us to adulthood while managing a household, a farm or taking on jobs outside the home, and hundreds of other daily tasks, it all took a toll on her. She put on weight; her hair grayed; she lost teeth; she wrinkled and grew old. But somehow (from 1930-2020: through the Great Depression, Second World War, many broken dreams, and bearing the challenges of every child and grandchild), she never lost her interior beauty that radiated her exterior being.
My mother died late last night. She died much as she lived: trusting in God to be with her through every hardship, grateful for each act of kindness shown to her, and being simultaneously welcoming and vulnerable to whatever and whomever was in her presence. It was a crowded house in which she laid and we, her descendants, gathered around: crying, praying, singing, reading the words of Jesus, listening to the words of one another, and holding on to her as she transitioned from our embrace to God’s. When she had taken her final breath, there was an incredible sense of victory—no more suffering, no more pain. There was also a hollow emptiness—no more mom. There was, in addition, a great gift of beauty that she left behind. I pray that we can hold onto it. Like Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit that He left for those He loved, my mom left us a most precious and powerful consolation.
There is a story that Jesus told about a servant who labors diligently all day long, every day. At the end of his arduous toil in the field, he comes in to wait on his master—only later does he take his rest. Jesus praises this faithful steward, moralizing that the end of a good, hard life should resemble the end of that good, hard day; and we should, at that time, simply say, as this servant did: “I have only done what I am here to do. I will take my rest when it is completed.” It is like Blessed Mother Mary who, early in life, assented to doing God’s will. A sword of sorrow pierced her heart and she suffered tremendously. At her dormition, she breathed her final breath only after she had completed all that she was here to do. Then she took her rest and was assumed into heaven—the perfect model of a good and faithful servant who left behind a treasure of grace.
My mother’s constant message to her children was, and is, to do what you’re here to do and trust The Lord to be by your side to the end, just as Mary and the servant in Jesus’ story did. In my mom’s little house last night, as her soul took flight and the Good Shepherd opened the gate to her, there was grief, joy, relief, sadness, gratitude, and a boat-load of tears—but mostly gratitude for the gift of love she gave to us and the beauty she leaves behind. I can only imagine her beauty on the other side of life.