Like ducklings we gathered around our mother’s roost, waddling in and out, hovering near her, gently touching her broken wings - her fluttering flock, flown to her from far places, calling to each other, “Come home. Come home.”
We clustered on that last Sabbath, there in her accommodatingly spacious bedroom with its attached sitting room; most in body, some, who lived and worked in distant places, gathered in spirit. The littlest ones knelt on the floor or snuggled in their mothers’ laps. We whispered in heavenly tones; stories and songs. The guitars changed hands, new fingers and new voices leading the circle as we all joined in. “Come Thou Fount”, “Old Joe Brannick”, “You Belong To Me”, “Let the Rest of the World Go By”, “How Great Thou Art” and of course the Idaho State Song in three part harmony. Circle on circle, like ripples in a pond, and she was center. She lay under her deep red duvet, her warmth radiating, like we were the singers and she was the campfire. And though we all secretly longed for her to suddenly awaken and say something profound, it was enough, looking back on it, to just inhale when she exhaled. Enough to feel her hands all warm and soft and see her chest rise and fall. Her life was her last testament.
There were probably forty or fifty of us gathered there at her bedside, the room all fragrant with fresh flowers and newly washed skin. I sat near Mom’s nightstand, my Stika in my hands, tickling the strings as we talked. Soon a song fell out, and the children’s voices rang with the rest of ours…”Heavenly Choirs must have had children singing along when they came to the earth….” I swear there were more than 50 voices singing. We wept as we sang; sensing her dilemma, knowing that she was at that moment in the deepest negotiations of her life, arranging with her maker the steps she would take. I could hear her singing in my heart, “Praise to the Lord. Praise to His Son.”
Gram’s door was always open. It was her way. And it is our way as well. When we finished singing that Sunday afternoon I looked behind me, out into the hallway, and there, in their Sunday suits, stood Connor Cook and Adam Callister, two strong seventeen year old young men, their shoulders square and their arms folded in front of them. They had been here often, and they knew to come in. In their hands were a bag of bread and a tray of water. Behind them stood their leaders, all friends of ours, including our mother’s worthy doctor, Bruce Burtenshaw. They stood silently, their spirits filling the space in the hall and spilling in to us. As the last notes of music rang Libby rose and embraced them, her tears falling on their dark suit coats. We lifted the flowers from the cedar chest at the foot of Mom’s bed and they placed the trays on the wooden box, laying a clean white cloth over top, like a shroud. We bowed our heads, sisters on either side of our mother holding her hands, and one by one the boys knelt before her hope chest and invoked the power of their holy priesthood in blessing the bread and the water to the souls of we who would partake of it. Quietly they offered the sacrament to the people I love. Quietly we partook. Our mother had not eaten or had anything to drink for over a week. At this point her life was her sacrament. But for many years, every Sunday, young men of faith and dedication had resisted the temptation to run home after church to get something to eat and unwind. Instead they travelled to our mother’s house, walked through the open doors, and brought her the Holy Sacrament of our Lord. It has always been moving to me to see the tenderness and faith of these young men, and the consistent level of reverence they gave to blessing one small bite of bread and one small cup of water. I imagined our mother, on this day, speaking with her Lord, making her exit plans, and pausing to comment “Look now, Lord. Look at my posterity.” I imagine the satisfaction the moment must have given her. And the gratitude. We may not all believe with the same intensity. But we love. We do love.
Libby received a notice from Utah Power and Light, comparing her use of electricity to her neighbors. She was number 100 of 100, meaning she had the worst usage of power. It was a whopper of a power bill that she paid last August. Those dog days of summer crept in through her open doors, overtaxing her air conditioners. And the lights were always burning. She took note of the power company’s reprimand, and promptly discarded the notice. Not that she is not conscious of her place in the ecological scheme of things. But she knows her priorities, and the comfort of those she loves outweighed the rest.
The open doors of my mother, and in turn the open doors of my sister and other siblings, has brought us many treasures, including on this sacred day, the Sacrament.
The word “Sacrament” comes from the Latin word sacramentum which was rooted in the concept of sanctifying or setting apart. In the Roman Empire sacramentum referred to the military oath of allegiance that Roman soldiers were required to take that set them apart from the rest of the people. Early Christians apparently co-opted the term to describe their own initiation oaths of sanctification.
That blessed, memorable day, my mother’s humble bedroom became a holy place, set apart from the rest of the world. We who love her raised our right arms and gave our oath, knowing one day we would join her in her higher holy place, hoping that there the doors would be open wide as well. Wide enough for us sinners to enter, praying that Home would feel like home, knowing that wherever Mother is…there is Home.
(Thus ends my Lenten writing for 2013.Though my head is weary, I am grateful for the opportunity to preserve some meaningful moments, captured in picture and word.)