It is Mother's Day. And there is so much to say about this odd, hot holiday verging on summer but not quite yet, like the words of one theologian who said we live in the "now and the not yet" time of God's presence and absence.
I have so much gratitude about my own mother, Marian: a radical Marxist in her day, born in 1917, a Smith graduate, who taught art at the Little Red School House in NY City, sang a bit with Pete Seeger, was a fine graphic artist, and a champion of justice and civil rights all of her too-short life. Her temper was legendary among her children and nephews and nieces, but so was her love. I never doubted that I was beloved, although I sometimes doubted whether Mom always accepted my sparky personality.
When Marian died at the age of 55, her older sister, Henrietta Gray McBee (one of the three "Gray girls", granddaughters of the illustrious L.Clark Seelye of Smith) helped nurture me as I became a mother at a late age. She always assured me that I was doing the right thing and not messing up too, too badly. She adored my two children, Benjamin and Charlotte.
Marian thought Mother's Day absurd, a holiday invented to send money to greeting card companies. (Perhaps she didn't know it was intended to be a holiday for peace and to pray for our soldiers at the end of the Civil War.) But I believe it's important to celebrate the capacity for mothering in ALL people, whether gay men, lesbians, transgender, or straight moms and dads. The capacity for love, acceptance, compassion, and dragging one's kid onto one's lap for a good hug and a cuddle--these cross gender, class, race, and nationality. Could it be that in celebrating mothers we could support a wider understanding of what this means? The mystic, Julian of Norwich in the 14th-century knew that Jesus was a mother, full of compassion.
Three nights ago I had an extraordinary experience, something I'd never encountered before that was so deep, so authentic, it is still vibrating within. Without going into too many details, I was asked to attend a dying woman nearby who desired a final blessing. Last rites could not be performed as the priest from her ethnic church was out of town. As a Catholic laywoman, I was invited to fill the gap, although I could obviously never administer Last Rites.
Typically, in our car speeding home from my favorite restaurant, I googled "Prayers for the Dying." Thank God for Google. What would I do without it? Many of the prayers were of the somber and depressing "Forgive me the horrid stain of my sins," variety, which I could never imagine desiring as I take my last breath. I prayed to God that I wouldn't f... up too badly; that I could be present; and could give the dying woman the blessing she needed. I put in my basket a vial of Holy Water, some Anointing Oil containing frankincense and myrrh which a dear priest friend had given me, and a Rosary in case she needed it. I also put in the basket (which my family now calls "Mom's Death Basket") my iPhone with Prayers for the Dying called up and at the ready. Just in case.
The 88 year-old woman lay on a bed in her home, happy to finally be back there surrounded by her wonderful, talkative family. Women came and sat on the bed, patting her hand and remembering her life. There were tears, and there was laughter. One niece read a joke her aunt had cut out of the paper years ago and saved. Another recalled how this woman had once single-handedly reroofed a barn on her property. After asking permission, I blessed the dying woman--who was completely conscious-- with the scented Anointing Oil, prayed over her, and said, "You are going home to your loving God." Then I prayed with her sister and others in need of comfort. We even sang a few songs and repeated the 23rd Psalm.
Her family remembered her as "tough, stubborn, and determined." Also "loving." You could tell from the atmosphere in the room that this was a mother, aunt, and grandmother who was greatly beloved and who had also loved well in her lifetime. It felt like being in a cove with gentle water lapping and a light shining as seals came up to poke their friendly, whiskery faces out of the water: magical, loving, perfectly right, and holy.
I pray that when my time comes, I will swim in this same sea of love, waving goodbye to my beloveds, ready to walk into the arms of my merciful mother, Jesus.