My Mom Died Last Week
My mom’s name was Eva. Her twin sister, who died on their birthday a few years back, was Esther. I try to imagine what my grandparents, Harry and Gertrude, were thinking about when they named their newborn twins for the mother of all humans (Eve) and the great savior of her people (Esther).
The girls were welcomed home by two older sisters and two older brothers. Another sister was born seven years later, a “little person” with a normal-sized torso, but whose arms and legs remained unusually short. She was the delight of all of us nephews and nieces, remaining child-like in so many ways, yet always a savvy and talented business woman who alone among her sisters owned a very successful career.
My mom was only twelve when her young father died of a stroke at 39. Grandma was pregnant again at the time, and gave birth to a full term stillborn daughter in the heart of her grief. The family was plunged into poverty. They begged for the first telephone exchange in their small village to be built in their home so that the siblings could take turns as operators, and earn a few pennies. Mom got a job in a neighborhood store as a teen, and during high school was a live-in maid for rich people in a town ten miles away.
Eva was a lowly freshman, a wall-flower compared to her lively, out-going twin, so she sat alone on the old school bus that trudged along country roads. My dad, a senior, lived on a farm near the end of the bus run, and often couldn’t find an open seat except next to shy Eva. After he graduated from high school he didn’t think much about Eva until a broken-down car stuffed both of them and their friends into another borrowed vehicle heading for an evening of fun at the Chippewa County fair. Eva managed to dare Lester to sit with her on a Ferris wheel bench, and they must have seen a new horizon together. Soon after, Dad was off to Germany at the end of the Second World War, and his buddies jealously teased him about the daily letters he received from his girl back home. He traded a pack of cigarettes to a German painter for a life-sized head portrait of Eva fashioned from a tiny photo he kept in his wallet. It was the centerpiece at our visitation gathering.
Dad was the second son of poor farmers, so his older brother got help setting up a farm, but then the money ran out. Mom and Dad were hired on as farm laborers elsewhere, and spent the rest of their work years as farmers. They wanted children, but Mom couldn’t get pregnant. The doctors had no medical cure or aid, so my parents prayed. After years of wishing, children miraculously came every three years for the next fifteen. All six of us were with my Mom as she struggled from this life into the next.
We had been together in mid-July, celebrating my parents’ 69th wedding anniversary. Mom struggled with a bit of a sore throat, and we urged her to let a doctor look at it. She did, but received treatments for a cold, and early pneumonia. Things got worse. Dad took her to Emergency. It was twelve days from diagnosis to death. Cancer.
In God’s eyes Mom was a saint, the kind Paul writes his New Testament letters to. In our eyes, she was just Mom—a faithful, faith-filled diminutive woman with a very reserved personality in public, but constantly humming and singing at home as she worked, worked, worked, and farmed alongside Dad. And then there was Scrabble. Not a great student in school, and never having gone past a high school diploma, Mom had virtually memorized the Scrabble dictionary, and easily won most games with her daughters. But it was the laughter around the table that made our home dance.
Dad asked me to officiate at her funeral. It was one of the hardest, easiest, most profound things I have ever done. We walked from the church to the cemetery just across the lawn. The grave was in a newer section of the cemetery, on land given by my parents to the church when expansion was needed. Mom was buried in land she had farmed.
The church is for big things and rousing worship and mighty missions.
But it is also for funerals.
Mom was a daughter of God. She struggled at the end, but never in faith. Lapsing into a coma, she still mouthed every word of Psalm 23 and the hymns we sang around her hospice bed in their retirement home. Her name is on a black granite stone.
But she is in glory.
Amen and hallelujah!