My mom had more faith than anyone I've met. Unshakable faith in Christ, really. I was reminded of that recently, as I rifled through a box of nearly forgotten items from my childhood. I landed on an autograph book, a gift for my tenth birthday. Among the few autographs I collected is my mom's. Her curly, baroque scrawl dances eloquently on the page:
June 22, 1984
How is my little turkey? This is like writing a letter! Sort of! How about the saying my mom wrote in my autograph book: "Be your labor great or small, do it well, or not at all!" But regardless of how it's done, I'll still love you.
Though the path is wide, the gate is narrow to heaven. Remember, your greatest treasures are in heaven when we meet Jesus face-to-face. All good things and thoughts are from our lord. He doesn't give us any more than we can handle in this life. He'll always be open to you wherever you or I may go.
Revisiting her inscription stirred in me the deep longing I've known for so long. I want her back. I've learned to live with the longing. But at times it consumes me. I want to know more about her--as a woman, a friend, a mother. I want to know more about me, too; about the part of me that died with her. As a woman, the mystery of your identity is delicately tethered to your mother's existence. Still, almost 23 years after she left me, I have only memories, an increasingly dim sense of someone remarkable.
Lately I have a recurring desire to experience what she'd be like as a grandmother to my babies. I'd settle for a glimpse--an hour, even. I have every reason to believe she'd spoil them silly, stuffing their pockets full of chocolate and their hearts full of joy. Never being able to share my children with my mother--this is the most profound sorrow I've known. It hurts in ways I'm unable to express. Sometimes it makes me feel less alive than I could be.
Now Faith is Being Sure ...
That grief lurks in my darkest hours. The upside is that the darkness breaks, and eventually melts into light. Without fail, I find comfort. That's partly because motherless women learn to be their own best sources of comfort. Mother loss makes you tough, and resilient in ways you otherwise wouldn't be.
A bigger source of comfort, though, comes from my mother's faith. Her brief life was turbulent; full of rejection, abuse and emotional hardship. Her father was an alcoholic, and her mother was, as I've learned through the family grapevine, an enabler of the alcoholism. No doubt fleeing the bitter plight of her childhood, my mom married young, and had my sister and brother in her 20s. Family history suggests that her first husband also was an alcoholic. Shortly after she delivered my brother, he left her for another woman. When my brother was a baby, she was raped by one of her first husband's so-called friends. Authorities in the 1960s advised her not to pursue a case against her attacker--because, they explained, people would assume she provoked the rape.
Life improved a few years later, when she met my dad. They bought a house, had a baby and happily raised a blended family. At least for a while. For reasons that make no sense to me now, my parents divorced when I was 9 years old. I was playing in my room with a friend the day my dad locked my mom out of the house. Her typically calm demeanor turned to rage as she banged on the back door of our tiny house. I don't know where she went that day, or how my dad lived with himself afterward. I wanted to throw open the back door and run to her, but my feet morphed as they do in dreams, becoming immovable cement blocks. Years of therapy helped me see the trauma of that day wasn't my fault. But I still wonder what would've happened if I had chased her.
My parents' split left our lives in ruins. Especially my mom's. Five years after the divorce, she was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable form of breast cancer. She died about a year after starting treatment.
Yet my mother lived fervently, as an exhortation to me, to my siblings, and to everyone she encountered: Follow Christ. The aphoristic autograph she left behind well describes her life's work. Through the trenches of her existence she clung ardently to the promise of the cross. I'm convinced her faith carried her to the other side. She passed me the torch of faith when she passed away. I've not always done it justice. By grace, the embers of my mother's faith rage on--in me.
As Abraham Lincoln said:
"All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."
About the Author: Kristina Cowan has 15 years of experience as a journalist. She’s reported on everything from a prominent mass-murder case in Chicago, to higher education in Spain, to 9/11. Her latest projects include writing about motherhood and women’s issues, and launching one of the first Christian writers groups in the Chicago area, Word Weavers Naperville. She’s the wife of a Frenchman, and the mama of two impish-and-ebullient babes, Noah and Syma. Together they live and love in Chicagoland. You can find her on the web at http://www.kristinacowan.com/