When Mother's phone rang, she was delighted to see my cousin's name on caller id. Peggy and Mother text daily and Mother figured the call was just a routine check-in. It was not. Peggy's 88 year old mother, Ann Mitchell, had passed away in the wee hours of that morning. Peggy was calling to tell Mother the news. (Ann was the wife of my dad's brother Edward.)
Though she was shocked by this news, Mother had been expecting to learn of a sister-in-law's passing. Just not that one. Her sister-in-law Iris Martin (the wife of her brother who passed in February this year) had been under Hospice care for several days. She knew that call would come at any minute; and it did, later that day. Iris passed away peacefully that same night, less than 20 hours after Ann's passing.
The next morning I called Mother to check on her and Daddy, to see how they were coping after such a grief-filled day.
"Well," she said. "Its hard. Life is fragile. These are more reminders of that."
I agreed and repeated my sympathies to her. We talked some more about the lives of these two women, recalled stories, and shared memories.
"It is sad," she went on. "It is so very sad, especially since we can't have proper services for them." She's quick to add that the quarantine is worth the inconvenience and she's happy to wear a mask if it keeps people well; that doesn't mean there are not difficulties though. Not having funeral or memorial services for loved ones is indeed hard; Mother is right to grieve that loss.
"I loved Ann and Iris dearly; I am grateful for their lives and am sad they are gone." She paused, took a breath, and continued. "But, Daddy and I are just going to keep on living," she continued. "We are going to exercise and eat right and take our vitamins. We are going to do everything we can to embrace the life we have been given and not take one second of it for granted."
CAVEAT: Mother knows good and well that the 15 children/spouses and grandchildren/spouses in her immediate family cannot bear even the mention of losing either her or Daddy. There's a chance she was doing what she has done since she became a mother: taking care of her child. By speaking hope in the face of grief, she certainly protected me from additional pain. She's like that.
The call ended--Mother had to get to her exercise--but the wisdom she imparted during that conversation has been bumping around in my brain ever since. And it seems to me, it boils down to this: gratitude. See, losing these two sisters-in-law brought Mother & Daddy's losses to 10 family or friends-like-family in about two years. It's a lot. But Mother chooses to be grateful even in her grief. She's grateful to have loved those she lost. She's grateful for her children and grandchildren and husband and friends. But that's not all. My mother's automatic reaction is gratitude. Really.
I don't know if she's always been this way--I certainly remember a number of parental lectures that could hardly be described as appreciative in nature--but I have noticed that Mother isn't getting so much older as she is wiser. These days, her default is gratitude--whether it's for the nice clerk at the store, the birds in her yard, or the comfort of her favorite chair.
(For the record, Daddy has ALWAYS been optimistic, a real Happy-Head; he's been known to be grateful for bumper to bumper traffic: "So good to have all these tourists supporting our businesses down here!" Insert eye-rolling emoji.)
These are uncertain days for sure. Adding gratitude into the mix doesn't mean we discount the difficulty. Gratitude and grief do not cancel each other out; but having a grateful heart surely does make the grief easier to bear. In Philippians 4:6, the Apostle Paul says it like this: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
At the top of my gratitude list is the gift of healthy parents who still teach me every day. And also computers. And beagles. And a working washing machine and dryer. And lots of other stuff . . . . What about you? What fills your heart with thanksgiving?
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.
Love, Grandmama: A letter about lasting love
The Trader Joe’s Incident
Thank You for a Gift of Grace
Thank You #4: Doris Johnson
Mother's Day: it's not always Happy.
Angry teen grateful for teacher's kindness
Still "Don't Know Beans about Praying"