I haven't written a column since Pentecost, when I was in North Carolina visiting my mother for Memorial Day weekend. I did not come home right after that weekend because my mother's health failed rapidly, and on May 29, she inherited eternal life. When I went down for that weekend, I had no idea that a week later I would be celebrating her life with my family, extended family and dear friends, some of whom came down from West Virginia. Many of you have sent me cards and thoughts and prayers, and I want to thank you and let you know how supported and loved I have felt.
As I thought about writing this column, I turned to memories of my mother and things about faith that she taught me. I might warn you that as I work through my grief this summer, there might be several articles where my mother's wisdom and faith show up. For today, I want to share with you my mother's deep trust in God and her deep appreciation for the gifts that God gave her, especially the gift of sight.
When I was very young, my mother developed cataracts on both eyes. These days cataracts are commonplace and the procedure for removing them also is common. However, in the 1960s, surgery for removing cataracts was quite complicated. The recovery period was long, and it began with holding the head completely still for several days. My mother was quite young to have developed cataracts - somewhere around age 40 - and the cataracts had to "develop" before they could be removed. Since my parents were older when they married and began their family, my brothers and I were 10, 8 and 5 years of age when my mother reached the point to have surgery.
Up until the time of her surgery, I really don't remember my mother seeing well. She took care of the home and all of us, but going out in public was difficult for her. I remember once when we went shopping my mom went up to a manikin in a store to ask for help. How embarrassing that was for her to discover. When my brothers and I would go out to play and didn't want to come in when she came to call us, we would stand as still as we could and she would think that we were trees. Only on Sundays did she really venture out, because she felt comfortable in church. The people there understood that she couldn't see well and didn't make her feel odd.
The time came when she was ready for surgery. She was 43 years old. She was not worried about the surgery itself, but later she told us how apprehensive she was about the recovery period. She wasn't certain that she would be able to hold her head still for so long, but she knew that she had to try. If her head was not completely still during the first few days after surgery, she would lose her sight completely.
She had two separate surgeries, so during the year I was 5 my mother was having surgery and recovering for months at a time.
As we were planning her funeral, my brothers and I were sharing what we remembered about that time when she had the surgeries. My brother Bill told us that later, Mom said she slept little and prayed a lot. Her constant prayer was for God to keep her head still. In the deep darkness of those first nights, Mom said she began that prayer in fear, and the more she prayed, the more she felt strong hands holding her head still. Toward morning, she would feel safe enough to drift off to sleep for a little while. After the second surgery, she was not nearly so afraid because she trusted that the hands of God that held her head after the first surgery would hold her head after the second surgery.
One summer afternoon after my mother had recovered from those surgeries, she we would have a celebration that evening for supper. We would have a cookout! I do not remember ever having a cookout before. Not being able to see, my mom was not comfortable preparing meals anywhere but in her kitchen. That afternoon, my mom was excited and I knew that something was different for her.
My mom and my dad went away that afternoon for what I thought was another appointment with her eye doctor. Those appointments had been so numerous that I didn't think anything about it that afternoon. When they returned, my mom had on new glasses. She hugged me over and over again, exclaiming "I can see you! I can see you!"
Her glasses were huge and really ugly, I thought, but I realized that what her glasses looked like didn't really matter to her. What I didn't really understand was that my mom had never really seen me clearly before, but as I have thought about that moment over the years, I realize that for five years, my mom had not really seen me, just my outline. She had not really seen my blue eyes or my dark curls. It was a true moment of celebration for her.
After that time of surgery and recovery and then being able to see, my mom spoke quite a bit about understanding the miracles of God. Particularly, my mom loved the story of Bartimaeus, the man blind from birth whose sight Jesus restored. My mom understood that story so well and knew so well the healing power of Christ.
While my mom regained her sight after those surgeries, she still had trouble with her eyes. About a decade after the surgeries, my mom was able to get contact lenses, which helped her feel more normal since she did not have to wear those cataract glasses. But during those years my mom had a series of detached retinas and she required repeated surgeries again. Still, she never lost her trust in God's healing. Even when the contacts that she wore were no longer made and she could not find anything else that would work, she still felt that her sight was a miracle as she adjusted again to those awful glasses that made her eyes appear as bug eyes.
In the last five or six years, my mom no longer wore glasses at all on a regular basis. Occasionally, when the nursing staff remembered to put them on, she would wear them, but in the last year or so I think that she recognized me only by my voice.
The night before she died, I was sitting by her bed. I touched her face and held her hand and gave her water when she asked for it. I knew that those were sacred moments for me and my mother, and I knew that those moments might be the last ones. I told her over and over that I loved her, and each time she would look at me for so long and then would say: "That's you, Alicia. I see you. I love you."
It is said that sometimes, at the end of life, senses become stronger. I believe that God gave my mom and me another miracle at the end. She was able to see my face one last time and I was able to know how important that was for her.
God gives us miracles every day. Maybe these miracles are big deals, miraculous healing or other events that are dramatic. And maybe, just maybe, the miracles that God gives us are nothing that would mean anything to anyone else. Maybe it is a gentle smile when we are feeling sad or a friend who shares a meal with us. Maybe it is finding our keys when we lose them. Or maybe it is a sacred moment between mother and daughter at the end of the mother's life.
God is involved in our lives moment by moment, but we forget that so often. May we slow down and remember that God is with us, always, to the ends of the earth.
To God be the Glory!