Waiting for Morning
Ten years ago, (January 9, 2010), my mama went to Heaven. Some days it seems like it’s been forever, and some days not. There are days I wish I could hear her voice just one more time. Picking up the phone to call her settled me. When life was in a turmoil, I didn’t have to tell her what was troubling me; just hearing her voice made me feel safe and secure. Mama was like the sun and the moon. She had always been there ! That changed – and I’ve spent ten years without her – but the sun and the moon continue to rise, shine, and set.
In memory of her, I share this post, which was written for the last Mother’s Day she had on earth. That was eight months before she stepped through the night into Heaven’s glorious morning. During those eight months, I had plenty of practice saying to her, “See you in the Morning!”
Beginning to mourn
My mother is dying, and I don’t want to say good-bye. Even though I don’t want her to go, I know she can’t stay. While her re-occurrence of breast cancer was not a shock to us, it’s still a grief with which we need to cope. It is not fair, and I told God so. I thought, after all my mother had endured in her lifetime, she ought to be able to die without cancer, and certainly without pain. They tell us there is going to be pain.
Even though I can’t change the diagnosis, I can govern my response. Thus, my prayer has been that she will not have unbearable pain and that we can all be with her when her ship sets sail. I am learning to relax in the arms of my Captain, who charts her course as well as mine. Rather than saying goodbye, I’ll be saying, “Good night. ’See you in the morning!”
As a child, my mother experienced happy days growing up as the youngest in a family of nine children. Her father was a farmer and a bishop in a Mennonite church in western Maryland.
When she was twelve, she nearly died from a ruptured appendix. She became a special aunt to a myriad of nieces and nephews. Mama was the only single aunt who could come and help in their homes when a new baby (of which there were plenty!) was born. When she was almost thirty, she married my father, who had nine living children from a previous marriage. These children (ages six to twenty-one) lost their mother in childbirth six years earlier. There were adjustments on both sides when the marriage took place.
Over a period of six years and four months, Mama gave birth to six daughters.
Because of a heart condition, the health of her husband (my father) deteriorated. He needed a pacemaker, but pacemakers were still being perfected. Two weeks before the first pacemaker was placed in a patient in the U.S., my father died.
Our bread and butter
Before his death, my father had an addition put onto the house: a bakery with a garage and a large upstairs bedroom. With the help of my older half-siblings, – “many hands make light work”– my family baked bread and cinnamon rolls in the kitchen in our home.
The business had expanded so that an addition was necessary. Plus, Papa felt the addition would enable my mother to provide “bread and butter” for us after he was gone. He was right. We benefited from his foresight. As we grew older, we helped in the bakery and on the bread route. There was much we learned from working in that bakery and helping deliver bread locally and in stores thirty miles east.
When Mama married a second time, her husband assisted her in the bakery, and she helped him in his woodworking shop. They were a team and did almost everything together. We saw a sparkle in our mama’s eyes and a spring in her step – something we never realized was missing. While there were adjustments for all of us, seasons followed seasons and life was still good.
Seasons of life
In my mother’s life as well as mine, seasons have come and gone. Perhaps, I tell myself, she is entering the last of each season of her life. How will I know when it will be my last time to tell her, “See you in the Morning!”? As a child, I watched her as year followed year, and I felt secure and content with the familiarity of seasons following seasons. Now that is going to change.
I somehow thought it would always be this way: my mother would never grow old or die. She buried her second husband a year before she closed her bakery. For forty-five years, Mama managed her bread business.
She finally acquiesced to closing the bakery (at the age of 82) when arthritis in her knees made it necessary for others to practically run the bakery for her. Season followed season, and year followed year.
Making a living
My mother pinched pennies and expected us to follow her example –“a penny saved is a penny earned” – when it came to being frugal and not wasting money.
Mama rarely called long distance because that cost money. If she did, it was to tell us something that couldn’t be written in a letter. When a relative died and she knew we could never make it home for the funeral, she waited to call us until she knew all the arrangements because she didn’t want to make two phone calls when she could make one.
When our older sisters were gone from home and called long distance, we took turns talking to them. We had two phones: one in her bedroom and one in the dining room. Mama moved from one phone to the other, listening in on whoever was talking with the older girls, and reminding us, “You can write that!”. She didn’t want us to waste precious minutes telling things that could be written in a letter and learned about later.
Long distance phone calls, she felt, were only for necessity and not for idle chatter or gossip.“There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it doesn’t behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us.”
Spring and summer
In the spring, Mama tilled the garden and made somewhat crooked rows. We helped plant those uneven rows (and complained as most children do). Spring cleaning was always a chore – “never put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today‘”– and we vowed we’d never say this when we had homes of our own. She went to PTO meetings, met with our teachers, and then came home and told us the wonderful things our teachers said about us. I am sure she wondered sometimes if those rave reviews were truly about the same daughters who lived in her home! Mama reviewed each report card in private with each child – “Good, better, best; never let it rest, ’til your ‘good’ is ‘better’, and your ‘better,’ ‘best’.” and did not compare grades or abilities among her children.
She told us staying up late and reading with a small light after dark would hurt our eyes. I vowed I’d let my kids read as late as they wanted to and that I would never, ever tell them that reading without good light would be hard on their eyes. My kids like to stay up late to read; and yes, there are times when I’ve insisted on turning out the lights to save their eyes, too.
In the summer, we helped weed the garden and can the produce from that garden – “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”. Sometimes we complained, and sometimes we helped more willingly. On hot, humid days, Mama took iced coffee along on her bread route because she had been up since two o’clock in the morning and needed help to stay awake. We took turns going along on the bread route, and sometimes she allowed us a few sips of her caffeinated beverage.
For thirty-two years, our family hosted Fresh Air Children from New York City each summer for two or four weeks. The Fresh Air girls were the same ages as we were, and several of them came for ten or more summers in a row. We called them our summer sisters and didn’t worry about the extra load on Mama and our older siblings with four (and sometimes six) additional children in our home.
We had our own pecking order and rules about what was and wasn’t fair. On the days we excused our behavior with such accusations as “she hit me first!,” we’d hear about the true meaning of do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-to-you – “two wrongs don’t make a right”.
Autumn and winter
In the autumn, we raked leaves and finished canning. School began and we got to wear new, homemade dresses to school. Sometimes we helped shore up things to get ready for winter.
In the winter, Mama drove in and out our lane in the station wagon every few hours just to keep the lane open because she thought she couldn’t afford to pay someone to plow the lane. I’d come downstairs some mornings to find Mama sleeping on top of her bed, still in her clothes. She’d been getting up every few hours to go down to the cellar and stoke the coal furnace so our water pipes wouldn’t freeze. We slept obliviously the entire night in a warm house and didn’t even consider saying thanks. Only this past winter did I think to say thanks for those long nights of keeping us warm and for working so hard to take care of us.
Morning through evening
She did not complain about her lot in life. Oh sure, sometimes she was grouchy or short with us when she was tired. We were grouchy toward her as well. Yet, we knew she loved us and cared about us.
My mother has always been there. She is the one person who was there before I was born and has been there every day since then.
As children, we grew up speaking Pennsylvania Dutch (a German dialect) as readily as English. On the home front, Pennsylvania Dutch was spoken. English was used only in public or when someone visiting did not understand this dialect. As we grew older, we spoke more English than Pennsylvania Dutch; yet she continued to speak Pennsylvania Dutch to us at home.
Oh yes, there were days when I called her old-fashioned and behind the times and so uncultured. She embarrassed me, and I embarrassed her. I said I would never embarrass my children, and I would keep up with the times. Why am I not surprised that I also embarrass my children and have been accused of being out of sync with the real world? We disagreed about a lot of things, and some things I purposefully never discussed with her.
When we excused ourselves from doing something because I “don’t know how,” she rejected our excuses. “Doo lahnsht nimi jünga.”— (“You won’t learn it any younger”). Mama expected more than “average” from her girls.
She was hospitable, and our friends were welcome anytime day or night, without any notice. Really! Just a few weeks ago, a cousin commented to me that he and the other guys in our youth group knew they were more than welcome to invade our home at any time and for any reason. They wore Mama’s homemade aprons as they made pizza and ate popcorn, and had her in stitches at their charades.
While Mama laughed readily at our friends and also at our antics, she was also stoic. We seldom saw her cry. Mama was not one to share her heart unless I probed. Sometimes I didn’t write or call often, yet she was there. I knew she always would be. Now that is going to change. I don’t know how one can ever prepare for that farewell. How can one smile when it’s time to say that final “See you in the Morning!”?
Preparing for the final “See you in the Morning!”
I asked a friend one day, “How do you get ready to say goodbye?”
She replied, “It’s not goodbye; its good-night.” I carried that thought with me for days, knowing my friend is right.
So I have been practicing saying “goodnight.” One day when I was helping Mama get dressed, she mentioned that she doesn’t know how much longer she will live. She told me again (as if I didn’t already know) that she has no siblings, in-laws, or first cousins who are living. She is the oldest member of her church.
While she doesn’t want to leave us, she is looking forward to her departure. I told her that none of us knows when we will die, but we do know that, if we’re ready when we go, we’ll see each other again.
Mama looked at me, puzzled, when I informed her that I won’t say goodbye.
“Instead,” I explained, “I will say, ‘Goodnight. See you in the morning.’” She smiled.
I didn’t realize that I was already practicing this thought until the week of spring break when my daughter and I spent a few days with her. After Mama was in bed for the night, I checked her blood pressure, pulled up the side rail, and turned off the light. As I pulled the door to the partially-closed position, I heard myself say, “Goodnight, Mama. See you in the morning.”
For so many years, Mama took care of us. Now it is our turn to take care of her. The time is bittersweet, because we never know if this will be the last time to tuck her in and say, “Goodnight. See you in the morning.”
No, my mother won’t be coming back. So in that regard, this is good-bye. Still I will, one day, join her in Heaven. And in that regard, I can say, “‘See you in the morning!”
I will see you in the Morning!
I am glad that the last time I say to my mother, “Goodnight” will not be the final end. Even though we may weep for a night, joy does come in the morning [Psalms 30:5]. I am grateful that the end of this life is the beginning of life on the other shore. While it is true that it’s always darkest before the dawn, I know that, one day, my dawn will also come, and I will see her again. I am holding on to that promise.
Mama’s ticket is paid. She has her boarding pass, and all she needs to do is board that ship when it comes for her.
The difficult thing is that we don’t how deep or how wide will be the waters. Will there be turbulence or stillness? Morning or night? We don’t know what the waters will be like, or what the sky will bring forth. How many days she will weather until that ship comes? We only know it will come for her—just like it will someday come for each one of us.
This month, we celebrate Mother’s Day. Barring a miracle, it well could be the last time I will celebrate Mother’s Day with my mother. So how do I say “Happy Mother’s Day” one last time? How do I choose the card that will be the last one I’ll give her for this celebration? How can I say thanks for being my mom, for growing me up, and loving me when I was unloving?
Perhaps I can do it best by being there for her as much as possible, just like she was there for me.
Carrying the baton until Morning
Perhaps I can say “thanks” best by carrying the baton of faith she passed on to me, and faithfully passing it to my own children. As children, when we’d ask her what she wanted for her birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day, she replied, “Brawf mate” [good girls]. Perhaps the finest way to say thanks is to be a “good girl”—the woman God has called me to be—and mirror that gratitude in being a faithful mom to my own children.
I want to be there when her ship leaves port. How I want to watch her ship as it departs and sails to the other shore. I want her to hear us say, “Goodnight. See you in the morning!”
She will be with her Captain, I know, and when she arrives on the other side, her anchor will be moored forever. She will hear, “Well done!” as she enters the harbor. There will be others standing on that shore, waiting to welcome her Home. I can only imagine the reunion!
As her sun sets, I want to be there to say “goodnight”. I know that one day, I will see my mama again—in the Morning.