A few hours ago I said goodbye to my mother
I was on the phone and my mother was on the other side listening to me as I sang her favorite hymns, and then I told her how very much I love her, how good a mommy she has been to me, and that though I may say goodbye right now in this body, no matter what happens, I know we will say hello again in heaven.
I’ve said these things to her before, and I often sang her hymns when my sister called me to join in the conversation during her visits with my mother. They both live far from me – my mom has been in a memory care center on the Oregon border and two of my sisters live about 15 minutes from her and have cared for her since my father died. I’ve gone to visit, and was going to do so again this summer, but… well, we all know what happened. Still, I thought it’s just postponed. My goodbye was temporary. I’d see her in the Spring, or next Summer.
But today when I sang her my goodbye… it truly was goodbye.
And it really will be hello in Heaven.
My mother has had a beautiful life. A magical life, you could say.
She was magical herself. She knew a lot about illusions. She knew how to see through them, and how to create them. She knew how to use them to make the world feel better around her.
She could, for instance, see through the illusions we are told by society and cultures are reality. Such as what makes a woman truly beautiful. It is not her body, but her soul. It is in her eyes. It is in her smile. She would remind me that “beauty is vain, but a woman who loves the Lord shall be praised above them all.”
She reminded me that kindness, compassion, integrity, honesty and goodness were gorgeous traits that long outlasted your youth, and a smile filled with laughter and love was far more beautiful than one that was puckered up and plastered on only for the sake of the camera or vanity.
Yet she also took care of herself, she always made herself up and wore pretty clothes. She liked to dress with style, especially for work or church or social events, of which there were many. And every Saturday, without fail, she would get her hair “done” by her hairdresser so it would be perfect Sunday morning for church.
She showed me through her actions that it was also important to care about your appearance for your own sake, not the sake of others. If putting on a new dress and getting your hair and makeup done makes you feel pretty, then that was a good thing. It was about taking pride in yourself in a healthy way, with confidence and grace. But she showed me how to see through the illusion that focusing on the outward appearance was all it took to truly feel and be beautiful. She was humble about her beauty, not allowing it to define her even as she cared for herself, and that made her even more beautiful.
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She also knew when illusions were needed, and would use them to create a sense of peace, safety, and laughter.
We were never on the higher end of the financial spectrum. Both of my parents worked because they had to, back in a time when generally the mother stayed home. In fact, there were times in our lives that the money was extremely tight. Yet though I am aware this was the reality as an adult, I cannot tell you exactly when those times were when I was a child, because my mother was an expert at making us feel wealthy no matter what.
It always felt as if there was plenty of food on the table, and plenty of toys to play with, and plenty of, well, everything. There were many times when the answer to: “Mom, can I have…?” was an immediate “No, that’s not in our budget right now, Jenny.” But that was the key – she never said; “we have no money” or some other phrase which would have made me feel poor. She always worded it as if it were something that one day could happen – just not right now.
She always made us feel special. It’s hard to define, but I often felt like we were some kind of royalty or something, she just made it seem as if each of us were unique and amazing. Which, I suppose, most moms do. Ironically enough, as an adult (thanks to Ancestry.com) I found we are indeed directly descended from the first King of France, but we didn’t know that growing up, yet my mother somehow made me feel like I was a princess. Despite the fact that most of my clothes were hand-me-downs, hand-made, or even from a missionary barrel when I was a child, I always felt full of richness.
She had magical skills using illusion to create good things in our lives.
She made long trips seem easy as she got us to play games and sing in the car to distract us. She made camping so much fun I love it to this day and made the work of it look like a game. Only as an adult when I had to set up tents and make the meals did I realize just how much you have to plan and think about in order for it to be easy. She turned the berries, apples and peaches we picked from the trees and bushes in our backyard into pies, jams and preserves that still make my mouth water thinking about them.
She could take our Sunday roast or turkey or whatever meat we had that day and stretch it out to last the week through leftovers, sandwiches, stews and soups. And it wasn’t just us she cooked for. She’d cook for the church, she’d cook for the neighbors, she’d cook for the ladies groups, she’d cook for the school functions.
She knew the real magic of living the kind of life she wanted, and it fulfilled her.
She was a missionary long before I was born, but still with five kids in tow, that traveled with her husband and children into the Amazon to help transcribe the languages of local tribes into written word so they could negotiate government documents in their own native tongue, and to translate the Bible for them.
She traveled with my father and me when my siblings had all grown up and gone away, and the three of us took trips around the country. Then, after I left for college, the two of them took off on their own, going across the country and back simply because they loved it, participating in the organizations they were members of and dedicated to. I remember asking her when I came home from school one Christmas if she missed having us kids around.
“Of course I miss you. I’ll always miss all of you. But I’m glad you’re all gone now – I can finally do what I married your daddy to do and go have some fun with just him! I’ve been waiting for this time ever since your oldest sister was born.”
She volunteered every year for decades as a Camp Mother, Counselor, Cook, Board Member, and every other thing at the Summer camp she and my dad helped to found.
She volunteered for the school board, women’s groups, led Bible study groups and prayer meetings, taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible school, went to every school play we had, made the cakes for our parties and weddings (she had a side business for awhile as a professional cake decorator), and was a full-time accountant doing taxes every year.
Yet she created the illusion of someone who had plenty of time for all of it.
She also believed in love – and how it transforms all illusions of fear, anger or hatred into peace.
When I was little I often had nightmares, and as many small children do, I’d wake up and head straight for my parents bed in order to snuggle in close beside my mother.
I remember once I was crying, afraid of the darkness, and her whispering to me as she held me against her chest and I breathed in the scent of her skin and hair;
“Always remember, Jenny, perfect love casts out fear. You are loved by me and your daddy. And you are loved by Jesus. The love of your Father in Heaven will never leave you, and will always cast your fears away. So trust in that love even when everything is dark and scary. It will light your way.”
I remember looking into her beautiful blue eyes then, so clear and calm, with a color mirrored by the sky, and slowly closing my own, falling asleep safe in the arms of and eyes of her love.
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There is nothing in the world like the gaze of your mother as she looks deep into your eyes and you know that she loves you.
I remember looking into her eyes as a baby, one of my earliest memories, perhaps one or two years old, as she held me in both hands and smiled and spoke to me while we were in a pool, then blew in my face and quickly dunked me under water with her and out again, teaching me how to hold my breath under water.
I remember being surprised at first, then laughing in pleasure at the joke as she did it again, before turning me over on my back and showing me how to float, one hand cradling my tiny head, the other under my back, her eyes laughing with me as she smiled and said; “Good girl!” as I giggled in joy.
I remember looking into her eyes as a small child while she rocked me and read a book, following her finger on the page while learning to read with her, her eyes getting wide with expression as she sounded out the voices in the story.
I remember looking into her eyes as we sang together at the piano when I was young, her hands playing the chords and her voice harmonizing with mine.
I remember looking into her eyes as a teenager when I finally realized what a… well, typical teen I was being, and knew I needed to apologize to her for being such a snotty little shithead.
I remember looking down in shame at first – then looking up into those eyes as I mumbled my apology, only to see the love, the forgiveness, and even the humor as she said to me with a twinkle in the clarity of that blue;
“I’m not sure what it is this time, but I’m pretty sure I’ll forgive you, especially if you clean the dishes for me.”
I remember looking into her eyes when I went to college, and they were filled with pride as I walked into her alma mater to get my own degree.
I remember looking into her eyes as she helped me button up my wedding dress and adjust my veil, and seeing the tears of great joy and love in them as she told me how happy she was for me, and how much my husband Jeff reminded her of my dad. It was the highest compliment she could give him – and me.
I remember looking into her eyes as an adult, caring for her as I visited, realizing I’d need to be the one helping her to walk, and to eat, and use the bathroom – and seeing that same love there, that same safety and warmth, unchanged in all those years. Though our roles had now reversed, the love in her eyes was the same.
I will never forget my mother’s eyes.
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My magical mother closed her beautiful blue eyes for the last time today.
Though she was 93 years old and had memory issues, she had been strong.
But as with so many this year, Covid came into her body, and though she was amazingly spared the ravages of it and remained asymptomatic, at the very end, just after she had finally tested negative and was given the thumbs up to get out of quarantine in her care center, she suddenly took a turn. Her internal organs began to fail, she had a massive stroke, and within 24 hours she went from talking and happy to immobile in her bed. Maybe it was Covid that did it, maybe her meds, maybe just her age. Probably a combination of them all. It doesn’t really matter.
The blessing is that because she tested negative at the end, my one sister, Margie, was able to be by her side and hold her hand. I am extremely aware of just what a miracle it was for my mom and our family that this happened. I am grateful beyond words that my mother did not die alone, as so many hundreds of thousands have done.
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The magic of her life continued into her death.
In fact, as my mother died, she had her children around her, even if all of us weren’t able to be there physically.
That first night Margie was with her, we thought she wouldn’t last through the night, and so I stayed on the phone until 3:30am with my sister, talking to both her and my mother, who wasn’t able to respond but was able to react with her face and her eyes. Margie told me as soon as my mom heard my voice, her eyes went to the phone, and Margie put me on speaker so she could hear me.
My sister described my mother’s reactions to me as we talked, and I knew my mom was listening to me. As I sang hymns to her, ones she and I and my father had sung together many times as she played the piano, Margie told me my mom’s lips began to move, trying to sing with me. Her eyes kept looking towards my voice, as if she were trying to see me.
I talked and sang until my mom fell asleep, and my sister and I also needed to sleep. I didn’t expect to be able to speak to her again. So I said goodbye then, and at the end said;
“I know your body is asleep but I believe your spirit can hear me, Mom, and you know what I’m saying.”
Then my sister told me that as I said that, my mother had sighed a bit in response. But she didn’t go yet – instead the next day, she woke once more. They gave her Morphine for the pain she began to feel, and she slipped into a semi-coma sleep state. Again, we thought she wouldn’t last the night.
But still, she stayed. She wasn’t ready to go. And today as my sister sat next to her, we realized why. She wasn’t done with her magic yet.
My other sister Ruth, who had also been caring for my mom prior to Covid, called Margie to check in. And as Margie said hello to Ruth, suddenly my mom, who’d been sound asleep and unconscious, woke up. She looked directly at Margie and towards Ruth’s voice, as she’d done with me the prior night. And Margie knew.
“Do you want to hear Ruth?” she asked, and she put Ruth on speaker. Ruth spoke to my mother, and as she did, my mother’s eyes responded. She couldn’t move or speak, but Margie said her eyes were focused on Ruth’s voice, and Ruth decided to sing one of the hymns I’d sung to my mom; “In The Garden.” It’s a song my parents and I performed together several times, and I sang at my dad’s funeral, and is one of my mom’s favorites (and mine).
As Ruth’s beautiful Soprano voice filled the room, Margie said my mom’s eyes welled up with tears. And her mouth did it’s best to smile.
Realizing my mom was not only hearing us but aware of who we were and what we were saying, she called me next, and had me sing “In The Garden” as well, and say goodbye one more time, and spend one last moment with my mom. Then she called one of my brothers, and then another… I don’t know how far she was able to get, there are seven of us, but she got as many of my mom’s children on the phone as she could and had us speak to her and sing to her. Until, at last, with my brother Tom on the phone still, she quietly passed away.
My mother left this earth with the voices of her children singing her away. And as her eyes closed in this world, I know they opened in the next to see my father greeting her with joy.
Her passing was as magical as her life. And if there is one lesson to learn from it all it is this: Learn how to use the magic in your life. Use it to see through the illusions that are harmful or hurtful, and to create the illusions that are helpful. Use it to make a life that you love. And then live it as fully as possible.
Because the magic isn’t just IN you…
it IS you.
photo of Jeanette’s mom
Jeanette’s stiry on being a creator and the magical power of love.
By JEANETTE DUBOIS
Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks. She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends. She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.
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