If I had written the final post in this series last week, it would undoubtedly sound different. That’s because grief is a beast, and there’s no instruction manual for this particular situation. It’s also because I learned a valuable lesson, one that I’ll share before this post ends.
I ended my last post explaining that I decided to chase my mom’s story, which meant John and I were going to Oregon. I questioned the choice a hundred times before we actually left. I thought maybe it was too “Lifetime movie” of me to get on a plane and fly to a city I’d never been before, to go interview friends of a woman who, let’s face it, I really didn’t know. I mentioned my idea to a friend who said I had to go, and as the days went on, I told more people about my plan. Not only were they encouraging, they were taking care of the details.
Since having our first child 12 1/2 years ago, John and I have never been anywhere, overnight, without the kids. Flying to another state was a huge stretch for me. This was a milestone trip for several reasons.
As I prepared to leave, I made some phone calls. I spoke with my mom’s pastor, who organized a breakfast meeting with several of her friends. I was given all the details of where her ashes were spread. I was encouraged to attend her favorite Sunday service at church. Her people were helping me in the midst of their grief.
I was still reeling from the loss and all of the unanswered questions when John and I left our four babies with dear friends to fly to Portland.
It was late when we arrived. A friend’s husband works for a rental car company and set up our reservation. All I had to do was pay our charges and get the keys. As we waited at the counter, my physical and emotional exhaustion began to consume me. I noticed the agent stop what he was doing and lean closer to the computer, with his hand over his heart, and read notes on the screen. Eventually he looked at me and whispered, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Little things like that happened the entire weekend. Friends making sure I was cared for, and Jesus showing me His love.
On the first full day of our trip we went to Newport, Oregon. There’s a lighthouse there, and a heart-shaped cove where sea lions gather. It’s surrounded by a wall of craggy coastline, and you can feel the wind fill the entire space. That’s where my mom’s ashes had been spread less than three weeks before. I waded into the water, and cried.
The next morning at a restaurant, I met my mom’s pastor and his wife, along with five of her close friends. They asked me a lot of questions, some of them hard, some of them out of curiosity. They said my mom spoke of me, but they didn’t know a lot about the estrangement.
I have reversed the roles so many times on this journey. If I had passed, and my mom had shown up in my town, how would my friends react? In light of that, I was very, very careful. They knew her so much better than I did, and they had just lost their dear friend. But they were so gracious. They cried with me and prayed for me. They shared funny stories and hard stories. They recounted my mom’s final days and her deep desire to live. They said she was known for her eclectic fashion, her heart for widows, and her propensity for saying exactly what was on her mind. She also loved crepes with strawberries and whip cream. That came up when I ordered the exact same thing; it’s my go-to when eating out.
John and I have spoken often of the people my mom was in community with. They are solid, Bible-believing, faith-filled lovers of Jesus. Not only did God honor my prayer to surround her with Christ followers, He surrounded her with people who are passionately pursuing Him. They were perfect for her.
Before leaving for the trip I’d mentioned to the person handling her estate that I would like her Bible, if possible. I thought of it often in the days leading up to the trip. I told several people that I didn’t want to leave Oregon without it. When the representative emailed back and said that her belongings couldn’t be distributed at that time, I was disappointed.
As I sat among her friends at breakfast, John asked her pastor whether he was confident that my mom had genuinely found faith in God. He responded, “Without a doubt. She loved Jesus.” Turning to me, he continued, “There’s something I think will help you. It’s a note she wrote in her Bible…I have her Bible for you.”
And I lost it. Right there in that restaurant, I sobbed. Someone pulled some strings, I didn’t ask any questions. I just knew I’d be able to return home with something tangible that pointed to her faith.
John and I spent a lot of time walking around town, visiting bookstores and little shops and historical landmarks. We found an amazing seafood restaurant and spent hours there, two nights in a row.
On Sunday morning we attended her favorite church service. Before he began the message, her pastor handed me her Bible, showing me the note she’d written inside. It’s too private to share in its entirety, but it does say, “God entered my heart and soul. I feel it in my core like a bolt of lightening…I am God’s plan.” It’s dated March, 2010.
I sat next to my husband, in my mom’s usual seat, at her regular service, holding her Bible, two weeks after she died, 20 years since I’d last seen her, and mourned an amazing stranger who also happened to be my mama. It was a full circle the likes of which I’ve never experienced.
I wish I could tie up this series with a big red bow. I wish I could say she left behind a letter, any explanation at all for the choices she made. The truth is, this story is to be continued in more ways than one. Over time I believe I’ll learn more about her. For the most part though, I think my questions won’t be answered until the other side.
This situation has drilled home the truth that people will always disappoint us. No one on this earth is perfect. No one can be Jesus to us, other than Jesus. I can only tell so much of my mom’s story because I didn’t actually learn about her last years and her faith until after she died. Any kindness toward me I assigned her, I did because I couldn’t stand the idea of her dying hating me, or worse, nothing-ing me.
That’s why I have to stop focusing on her story.
I have to tell my story. That’s the valuable lesson I learned.
I had a mother who fought emotional and psychological demons for most of her life.
She wasn’t the greatest mom.
We parted ways, and it broke the already-broken pieces.
I found the Lord.
I prayed for her salvation for 20 years.
She fell in love with a man who took her to church. Then she fell in love with Jesus.
And for years, neither of us reached out to the other.
I will always wish that the Jesus-loving version of my mom was in my life.
But now I have to move on to the next chapter. I have to face head-on the areas I struggle with on this earth — many of which came from my relationship with my mom — while honoring her faith, and thanking Jesus that He always does what He says He’s going to do.