My mom passed away 29 years ago today. I was in seminary in Nashville and she was in Oklahoma. We had learned during the summer that her brain tumor had grown back and was inoperable. My mom wanted me to stay in school rather than come home for the duration of her life, so I decided to become an expert on death. I enrolled in Pastoral Care for the Sick and Dying. I read books like May Sarton’s The Reckoning. I wrote poetry and did art about death and how I felt.
Mom was cared for at home by Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and many, many people from Grace United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. At some point she was moved to the hospital where she lived for several months before she died. (I guess hospice care had not come to Oklahoma yet.) In October of that year, Dad called to say I might want to come to see her while she was still conscious. I flew home, all ready to have meaningful conversations about life and death and whatever Mom wanted to talk about.
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it didn’t happen. (Life is funny that way.) Mom couldn’t really talk … at least with words. Every so often she would say a word or two that let us know she was still in there. But she spoke with her eyes and with the squeeze of her hand.
One day, Grandma was there getting Mom dressed, fixing her hair, and putting on her make-up. We were trying to figure out the color of the sweater Mom was wearing. Mom said, “Fuchsia.” (Only thing she said that day.)
I wanted to do death “right.” And ultimately, I realize, I did. I was there with her and she was there with me. We sat in silence or I talked to her. I feasted my eyes on her and felt my feelings. When it was time for me to leave for the airport. I leaned over and hugged her. “I love you, Mom,” I said. She said, “I love you, darlin.” Those were the last words I she spoke to me.
Some weeks after that she slipped away into sleep. And on the 16th of November, 1983, she passed into the loving arms of God. I’m grateful beyond words for Mom.
My mom (Marty) and grandma both raised African Violets. I particularly remember the little plant stand in the east window of Grandma Ida Mae’s house in Ada, Oklahoma. The stand had shelves of african violets which she fed, watered, and turned with care. When Grandma died in 1981, I took a pink violet home with me. Then, when my mom passed away in 1983, I took home one of her purple violets.
I’ve kept these plants going through the years, starting new plants from the old ones. After a move a couple of years ago, the plants got some kind of fungus and I thought I had lost all the plants from Mom’s violet. But recently, a young plant bloomed and I realized that my “Marty” violet was still alive.
These plants are special — so much more than houseplants — they’re a little bit of presence of Ida Mae and Marty … women who helped make me who I am. I’m grateful for their presence, still with me after all these years.
I got to meet Sr. José a few years ago during a week’s session of the 2-year Academy for Spiritual Formation at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA. She called us together for sessions with the beating of a drum and tried to teach us how not to be late to the sessions (a sign of disrespect). She had us howling like wolves and dancing in the nave of the chapel. She told stories. One that made a big impression on me was that she asked a carpenter friend of hers to make her a wooden casket. She had him fit it with shelves and then kept it in her house as a temporary bookcase. She kept us laughing even as she taught us about God, about prayer, about life.
Earlier this year, she passed away. And since then, I’ve been learning even more about her amazing life. I knew she was a Seneca elder and Franciscan nun. But I didn’t know that she knew some of the modern-day leaders in the faith. A friend of hers, John Dear, recently wrote an article with stories of Sr. José’s encounters with some these people. Dorothy Day went to Sr. José for retreat. During an event they were doing together, Henri Nouwen asked Sr. José to talk with him each day about the death of his mother.
Sr. Jose taught at Matthew Fox’s institute. Below is a trailer for a documentary called Holy Rascals, which presents a different way of thinking about religion and human spirituality. The trailer has footage of both of Jose and of Matthew Fox.