With Mother’s Day looming, the following poem evokes strong feelings:
Backward, turn backward, O time in your flight,
Make me a child again, just for tonight;
Mother, come back from the echo-less shore,
Taken me again to your heart, as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep,
Rock me to sleep, Mother, rock me to sleep.
Elizabeth Akers Allen
The longing to be cradled in a mother’s loving arms never really goes away. Perhaps the yearning has a connection to a forgotten memory of being encircled in the perfect love of our Heavenly Mother.
Anyone who has memories of mother love is richly blessed. I’m in that category, and so grateful for the mother whose love I feel to this day. My sweet mother lived with me the last three years of her life and died in my home, just three months short of her ninetieth birthday.
I always loved my mother dearly, but I don’t think I fully appreciated her until she was gone. As I pondered my mother’s life and prepared my remarks to honor her, so many things became more clear in my mind.
Although I never told her so, I admit I had sometimes felt sorry for my mother. She was born in 1909, the 10th of 11 children. She grew up without electricity or indoor plumbing. Her father worked hard, but never managed to make a good living for his large family, and he died when she was 14. Mom’s sister bought her her first “store-bought” dress for her eighth-grade graduation. College was not an option for my mother. She worked as a maid until her marriage at 23.
As an adult, I had opportunities and options my mother never dreamed of. She did so little outside the home, never even drove until I taught her when I was a high-school senior and she was in her forties. But the more I pondered her peaceful life, the more I suspected that she had felt sorry for me as I tried to fill so many roles, always attempting to fit more in a day than was possible, always spread so thin that I rarely had the satisfaction of doing anything really well.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” makes it so clear why my mother’s life was so satisfying to her, why she could be such a calming influence on everyone around her. She was utterly content to be the nurturer and homemaker and to do the things she did so well.
Although Mother never seemed pressured or hurried, she accomplished uncanny amounts of work. She just moved calmly ahead and did a great job of whatever needed to be done, whether it was preparing a wedding dinner for forty guests or canning a dozen cases of vegetables from the garden. She never subscribed to the stress syndrome of our culture – maybe because she knew her limits and didn’t expect to do more than was humanly possible as so many of us do. She wasn’t torn in a dozen different directions or constantly running hither and yon. She had a peaceful inner spirit and simply didn’t participate if there was craziness going on around her – whether in the world or in the family.
When I had moved out of the nest and on to college, I read authors such as Betty Friedan who insisted that a savvy, educated woman knew what she thought about every issue and knew what she wanted; she had strong, well-defined opinions! My mother, on the other hand didn’t seem to have a strong opinion on anything – except that the gospel was true!
I used to feel sorry for her for that too, but I don’t anymore. She was Christlike in her manner, never cantankerous, never abrasive, never contentious. I never once heard her yell or attempt to convince anyone she was “right.” She raised her children by common sense and spiritual promptings, not by the theories of a dozen child development gurus. She had the most even disposition, the most gentle hands and manner, the softest voice. Yet so many of her strengths I had taken for granted all my life.
What I Hadn’t Known About My Mother
In her last years we worked together to complete her life history. I was surprised to learn that my mother had carried heavy responsibilities at various times in her marriage – running their store when times were tight and Dad had to take another job to make ends meet, later selling their property and moving the family by herself when Dad was drafted into the navy at the end of WWII. This was not a woman who did not function well out of the home, but home was truly where her heart was and where she wanted to be.
I also learned that she had been courageous when it was called for. For example when she was working in Salt Lake after high school, two young men blessed the sacrament in her new ward, then after the meeting offered her and her friend a ride home. Although they didn’t know them, they accepted because they thought they must be good guys to be blessing the sacrament. On the way, the boys tried to talk the girls into going drinking with them. Mother said to them, “I’ve never been so ashamed of any two boys in my life and I want nothing to do with you. Take me home this minute!” And they did. Mother had an inner compass of right and wrong and lived by that compass, so choices were simple for her and she didn’t anguish over them or suffer vain regrets.
Admitting that My Mother Wasn’t Perfect
I don’t want to give the impression that my mother was perfect. Her example of problem-solving was to go in the bedroom and cry, then never mention what had bothered her. Also, she couldn’t understand why others didn’t see life in the same way she did; she could be very judgmental of those making obviously wrong choices. However, her criticism, like her life, was quiet and private.
Her quiet nature sometimes grieved me. She rarely talked to her children, because her mother hadn’t talked to her and she didn’t know how to really communicate. Consequently, she did almost no verbal teaching, and during my growing-up years I could never talk to her about my problems. Still I knew she was rooting for me.
Your Mother – and Mine
Your mother’s traits will be different from mine, of course. But every mother has virtues and strengths that have hopefully contributed to their children’s well-being. In so many ways our mothers are always with us. We “caught” their values, their mannerisms, their way of expressing things. The smell of foods our mothers cooked for us can bring us right back into our childhood kitchen. Mother is the place we came from, our first home on this earth, and she gave us the map we’ve followed ever since.
She was our first love, first friend, and sometimes our first enemy. But no matter how much we want to be like her or different from her, her influence on us was profound.
As a child Mother’s cool hand on my fevered brow told me the world was a safe place. Mom was the one who made special times fun and gave us memories to last a lifetime. When I think of Christmas morning, I think of Mom letting us retrieve our stockings in the pre-dawn hours while Dad caught a few more winks, then watching us with affection as we all piled onto one bed to open the presents and treats she had so lovingly prepared. In those years I never could have imagined having to live in this world without my mother.
The Manner of My Mother’s Passing Was a Witness
During the years I cared for Mom in my home, I witnessed her faith in action as she requested priesthood blessings when we thought she needed to go to the hospital. (Repeated hospitalizations had been such a horrific trial for my dad, and she had no desire to follow in that path!) After a blessing, her condition would always improve and she was happy to remain in our home.
The last year of her life two serious bouts with pneumonia greatly weakened her and she became fearful that she would become a burden. It was the only period of time I ever saw her really discouraged, and I must admit I became physically and emotionally worn out with caring for her. Only my sister’s kind assistance kept me going.
Then, on August 17th, 1999, I went in to check on her about 7:00 a.m., not expecting her to be awake. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, wide-eyed. I sat down beside her and she said, “I just had the most heavenly experience. There were people in my room and they were talking about me. They said, ‘Look at Fern. She’s almost ready. We’ll come and get her in three weeks.'” That experience dissolved her fears and replaced them with great anticipation of all she had to look forward to. For the next three weeks there was a radiance in her countenance that gave us all joy and peace. We had some beautiful times as children and grandchildren filed into her bedroom, shared happy memories and said their goodbyes, and received gifts of knickknacks and jewelry from Mom. Even when she became too weak to open her eyes or lift her arm, her countenance was full of light.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7th, at 6:30 a.m. Mom took her last breath and slipped away as peacefully as we could ever have asked. Five of us gathered around her were totally amazed to realize that it was three weeks to the hour of when she had told me that her heavenly visitors said they would come for her in three weeks.
I believe this experience was a verification, a validation, a testimony of many of Mom’s dearest beliefs: that God lives, that He cares for each of us and is aware of our deepest needs, that the veil is thin and the spirit world is real, that just as surely as the sun rises after the dark night, there is life after death. All of Mom’s brothers and sisters preceded her in death, her husband and her son also. Mom had no fear of dying and she felt such excitement for the glorious reunions she knew she would soon experience.
Seeing With Spiritual Eyes
The day before her funeral I visited at the mortuary to be sure all was in order. From the moment I walked into the room where her body was so beautifully laid out, I sensed her presence. I sat by her side for hours talking to her. Somehow the goodness and nobility of her life became so much more clear to me. I recognized that in so many ways she had achieved what I had been frantically seeking in all my secular and religious learning – inner peace. I sensed in a deeper way than I ever had before the great nobility of her spirit, integrity of her soul, and her amazing strength and goodness.
The experience I had that day reminds me of Joseph Smith saying something like: if we could have only a glimpse of the spiritual greatness of the least person around us, we would be so awed that we would be inclined to worship them. I sat there for hours in worshipful awe of my mother’s magnificence. I cried for all the times I hadn’t given her credit and had felt in my youthful arrogance that she was naïve and far behind in her understanding. I had seen it as weakness that she didn’t voice her opinion, didn’t have any soapboxes, didn’t have any grand ideas of “making a difference in the world.” Yet she had made such a profound difference by her gentle presence.
As I continued to sit by her side hour after hour, alone with her, I felt as if I were in the celestial room in the temple and was caught up in prayer, soul-searching, and worship. Wave after wave of gratitude washed over me and I thanked the Lord for the experiences of the past three weeks, for His mercy to all of us, and for taking Mom home when she was so ready and willing to go. I asked the Lord to help me rise above the chaos and turbulence of the world and to find a way to live more on the peaceful plane I was experiencing and that Mom had consistently personified.
I am so grateful to have been given a glimpse of my mother’s spiritual beauty, of the character that framed her life and lifted her soul to inspire other souls. I wish I had seen it all sooner, but I know that she understands.
One More Sweet Experience
I’ve felt her presence only once since that day. I was sitting at the piano playing and singing Deanna Edwards’ beautiful song, “My Mother’s Hands.” I felt my mom close as I sang the words, “I’ll always remember through good days and bad, the wonder of my mother’s hands. Sometimes they were gentle and soft as the rain when she kissed me and tucked me in bed. Sometimes they were firm as she led me away from the dangers that lay just ahead. All the work they have done and the burdens they’ve borne I know only God understands. There is magic and mystery when I think about the wonder of my mother’s hands. I wish I could help now the hands that helped me. They are wrinkled and so filled with pain. She sits by her window and dreams of the time she can bake bread and sew once again. And I know when she passes from life’s rocky shores to more distant and beautiful lands she will not be alone for a moment, I know, For God will be holding her hands.”
I thought of those years when she lived with us and yearned to be more productive, and I thought of those small, gentle hands that had worked so hard for her family. I thought of my mother in the beautiful land she now inhabits – which I think is not so distant at all. I read President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead in D&C 138:14-15, 22-24:
All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. among the righteous there was peace; And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell. Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they sang praises unto his holy name.
I love to think of my mother in that group. She definitely died firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection. I’ve already seen her with a shining countenance, radiant with joy here on earth, and know her joy is far greater now. I wouldn’t wish her back from that glorious place, but will be so happy to feel her arms around me once again when I join her there.
Although I am a grandma seventeen times over, I will always be my mother’s child. And I know now that nothing on earth can really separate us from our mothers and their love – not miles or time, and certainly not death!