Earlier this evening I read a beautiful tribute that a Facebook friend wrote to her mother; and it brought back to mind this tribute I wrote for my mother. It’s not what I planned to post, and it doesn’t fit with the things I have been experiencing these days; but the ache in my heart is nudging me to post this here today.
Beauty to ashes/ Ashes to Beauty
A memorial to Edna Ruth Richards by her daughter, Elizabeth DeAnne Bass
My mom was beautiful – just as true as the day is long. It wasn’t a stunning outward beauty that would catch a man’s eye and cause him to discretely follow her every move; but a kind, pure inner beauty that would cause a frightened child to know that there was nothing to dread from her. To be held near her heart and enveloped within her embrace was to be in a safe haven when life’s storms raged and tormented. Whether tiny and frail, young or old, sick or in sound health you need not fear; for no storm was strong enough to tear you away from her sheltering grip.
When I was a child I was frequently frightened and tormented. Frequently I sought out and found shelter in my mother’s arms, so there was no one more beautiful to me than my mamma. As I grew stronger and more confident, I watched her love work wonders in many people’s lives. I suppose that’s why I loved her so dearly and why I grieve the loss of her so intensely, even though it has been 30 years since her death.
It seemed impossible that anything could turn my mamma’s beauty into ashes, but cancer did the impossible. Her body betrayed her. Perhaps it rebelled against the frequent times she would look into the mirror and pronounce that she was fat and ugly. It always made me sad to hear her say those words because she reflected only love and security to me which was beautiful in my sight. Whatever the reason, her body began a slow, cruel process of eating her up from the inside out. To make matters worse, people who should have cared and helped were negligent and unwilling to do what they were able to do to curb the cancer’s appetite. They neglected to care for her properly when we entrusted her to their care.
This became very evident to me one night when I went to the hospital to see her. She didn’t want medication that would diminish her mental awareness, but the nurses insisted on keeping her sedated so that fewer nurses would be needed on the unit. The night I went to see her she was sound asleep and the IV fluid was empty, her blood had gone up the tube and it had been that way so long that the blood had dried in the tube. I was very angry but I knew Mom and Dad would not want me to say or do anything about it. I pushed the call button for the nurse; and when she answered, I told her the IV fluid bag was empty. She came into the room, woke Mom up out of a sound sleep, and asked in an accusatory voice, “Mrs. Richards, why didn’t you tell me this was like this?” to which my mother’s groggy reply was an apology.
I was furious! I wanted to storm the hospital and take the staff to task, demanding the professionals do what they could to help Mamma fight against this fire that raged within her and ravaged her body mercilessly. But Mom and Dad were not the sort of people to permit such action. They always assumed people were doing their best and needed pardoned for their shortcomings even when to me negligence was blatant and inexcusable. Besides, Mamma never wanted to be a bother to anyone. So the fire consumed her more cruelly and more rapidly than should have been permitted, leaving embers of horrible grief and compounded resentment to burn within my own soul.
When we brought her home to take care of her ourselves they were unwilling to supply us with the necessary knowledge and medications to ease her pain properly and help her fight the cancer. Although we did our best with the skills and equipment we were given, it seemed to me we failed her miserably with the cancer taking full advantage of our ignorance and limitations.
When death seemed the inevitable outcome but the cancer had not yet consumed her ability to think clearly, Mamma focused on what we would need after she was gone. It was her desire to donate her remains to the university to study and learn how to better fight this cancer in other patients in the future. My brother, Tim, and I expressed a need to have a final resting place where we could go to grieve the loss of our mother. So arrangements were made and legal documents signed for her ashes to be returned to us when the university was finished with her remains. Plans were made to take her ashes to the homestead in West Virginia and scatter them there. Grandma prepared a special place for this purpose.
Death came with brutality and heartlessness until the final moments when she simply took one final breath and was gone. Officials from the university descended upon us like compassionless vultures to remove her from our midst; and we were left to await the appointed time when Dad was to receive a call informing him that he could come and get her ashes. That time came and went without a word, but Dad was patient, trusting that word would come soon. What finally came was an impostor in the form of a letter telling us that Mamma’s ashes had been mixed with 30 other people and placed at marker #76 in Mount Peace Cemetery in the middle of Philadelphia. When Dad called to ask why this was done without first calling him as agreed upon prior to Mom’s death, he was told that he should have called to remind them of this agreement, leaving Dad to feel that he had let Mamma down instead of the university taking responsibility for their own breach of contract. The fire that had turned my mamma’s beauty into ashes burned on within my own heart and soul, ravaging me with unbearable grief and anger.
But the ashes are not the end of the story for Mamma or for me. Death for her brought sweet relief and comfort in the arms of her Jehovah Rapha – the God Who heals. Never again would she see herself as fat or ugly, because from that moment on she would only see her reflection in the adoring eyes of her Savior, Jesus Christ.
For me Mamma’s death set the stage for many years of trauma – years when other fires would fan the flames of Mamma’s death, never letting them fade to embers and cool. At times they threatened to consume me as well, but beauty has begun to rise from the ashes. It has taken a high toll but with much determination, effort, and help from good people, I have begun to heal and forgive. Like a forest that has been ravished by an all-consuming flame, little by little new beginnings of growth have emerged. Once mighty oaks are being replaced with tender young shoots that bend instead of break when the storms of life blow hard against them.
I am finding this passage of Scripture in Psalms 126:5 to be true, “They who sow in tears shall reap in joy and singing.” I find comfort in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:4 (Amplified Version) where He says, “Blessed and enviably happy [with a happiness produced by experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!” I have not only learned by faith but also by living out the truth that, “to everything there is a season, and a time for everything under the sun: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to reap what was planted…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance….And GOD MAKES ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL IN HIS TIME.] (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4, 11)
Tears flow freely again as I revisit this piece. I will grieve the loss of my mother for the duration of my life; but now many of the pieces who are me have peace mingled with our tears.