Oh, God, how we loved her!
The presence of her absence is everywhere. (from Edna St.Vincent Millay, “The presence of that absence is everywhere.”)
Our mother’s death has been an earthquake for our family with no familiar sight left in the devastated landscape of our living. We have walked amid the ruins and wondered how we can ever go on without her. We stand here today on our mother’s faith. We are carrying our grief, and leaning into the slender, but certain hope that God will carry us through this present darkness. Our crumpled up souls have been propped up by holy embrace. The tender care of family and friends like you has made the unbearable, bearable. In this emptiness, our hearts are strangely filled, and our cup overflows with gratitude.
The family who loved and was loved by Jeanette Hastings is large. She drew the circle big and took us all into her heart. As our Aunt Trudy said, she was our “guiding light.” Our Mother’s spirit was kissed by God, and she spread around the wonder extravagantly.
Oh, God, how we loved her!
Last week I began the work of going through her stacks of carefully saved papers. There were newspaper and magazine articles clipped and underlined. Cartoon clips with her hand-drawn smiley faces on them. She saved articles on topics ranging from the plant of the week to stress management to single parenting to health problems and aging to saving the Bengal tiger. Tucked in between these articles, many of which she would save to send to us family, she would have memos of phone conversations with us. She recorded where we were going, what we were busy with now, our latest ailments, our troublesome jobs and next moves, our newest hopes, and, of course, when we were planning to get together again. It was clear that Mother prayed and worried about us all equally. Stashed among those notes were also bits of her own reflections, thoughts on what she wanted to tell us next, poems that sparked her imagination.
Some people might just label her a pack rat or a hoarder. But I like to imagine those piles of papers as her prayers, staking her claim on her heart, a heart that stretched to connect with those she loved as well as connecting to this world that she celebrated and ached for with equal passion. Slips of papers found their way to the wailing wall of her soul, sticking into the cracks of her spirit a longing for children near and far to be cherished, relationships to be healed, churches to be forgiving, wildlife to be saved, homeless to be housed, wars to be ended. Those papers represented her psalms of lament, her yearning for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. But the psalms of praise were represented too. Bluebonnets, and babies and birthdays. What delight she took in this world!
It seems that Mother knew that it was all important…what we give our hearts to, how we treat each other, how we prepare our meals and welcome both stranger and kin. She knew that grace was to be splashed on family and neighbors, waitresses and postal workers, and children and elders alike. She knew that God is in the details of our lives, the stewarding of the day to day with grace and beauty and hope.
Mother taught us to look both ways. She taught us to pay attention to life within us and life around us. She taught us to see the divine Reality beyond mere appearances. So “music we heard with her was more than music, and bread that we broke with her was more than bread.” (from a Conrad Aiken poem)
Always open to being dazzled, Mother could bend over a flower and be smitten….kneel before a child and be silly…sit beside an anxious adult and be comfort. She looked and saw God-life shimmering through the mess and miracle of it all. And she took seriously her vocation of being Christ’s messenger of peace through it all.
We disappointed her from time to time. Our choices were not always her highest hopes for us. And her far-flung family was hard on her deep wish for us all to live within walking distance of each other. But Mother’s disappointments never hindered her love for us. She was always welcoming, always forgiving, always embracing. She blessed her often baffling children and grandchildren and relations, never feeling that understanding us was a prerequisite for loving us.
All that we need has been given. She gave us the gift. She gave us what we need to make it in this world. That gift? To know that we are beloved, cherished beyond imagining. She gave us this pearl of great price from the deep sea of her love.
In this time, when we are buckled over from our loss, and we are nearly choking on the guilt and regret of “if only, if only, if only….what if, what if, what if,” healing rides in on the “what is” of Mother’s enduring spirit. She is here, arms outstretched, luminous smile, ready to envelop us again with her 1001 mercies.
So, dear beloved Mother of ours, forgive us. We wanted so much to save you…from disease and disappointment and heartache and even death. But once again, you have saved us. So we can walk on, slack-jawed and open-handed, ready to receive all the beauty and burdens of this life, marveling that such an endless love can find the way, amazed that we are not alone, even now.
We can but bow in awe and gratitude. Thank you, Mother! Thank you! In God’s immeasurable mercy, you were given to us!
Oh, how we love you still!
----Nancy Hastings Sehested
November 9, 2002
Last Updated: February 11, 2001