(My mother, Helen Andrew, died at home on May 5th. Instead of my regular column I’d like to share this excerpt from my eulogy.)
My mother loved through the created world. My first memories are of her hip pressed into my thigh as she tucked me into bed at night, said our prayers, and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.” She loved me through the needlework rabbits jumping through a green field over my bed, through the smocking across the front of my dresses, and through the ridiculously intricate 1970s pant suits she sewed for my Barbie dolls. She loved us through her dried beef casseroles and split pea soup and dozens of crazy cakes baked both at home and in reflector ovens while camping. She loved home, being home, and making home. This was my mother’s art form, her ability to make a beautiful, comforting home base for family wherever we were—even in Japan for four years, even at a campsite.
She tended the community this way, too, humbly, by making and ironing the altar cloths at church, for example—which is why we always had white grape juice for communion. My mother was terribly worried about what other people thought, and at times this prevented her from being comfortable outside of family circles and a perfectionism that complicated the expression of her love with social expectations. When I came out bisexual to my parents in my mid-twenties, my mother experienced the anguish of loving a child whose sexual identity wasn’t acceptable, whom her church treated as a second-class citizen. For a while she didn’t tell anyone. But once she did, she rode her righteous love into a level of national activism that went against every shy bone in her body. She poured her love for me and the church into thousands of rainbow stoles you can still find today all over the country, draped around Methodist necks. Every inch of that fabric passed through her hands. When the New York Annual Conference honored her work with Bishop’s Award, she was embarrassed. “The auditorium was packed with life-time activists. I don’t know why I got the award,” she told me.
My mother loved Christmas more than any other holiday. I never asked her why, but I’d guess she’d say because it gave her a chance to recreate the house or because she enjoyed the special decorations and music and Christmas cookie recipes. I like Christmas best, too, because of the amazing story of God becoming a human. It’s really a story about love infusing itself into the cells of all creation. Divinity isn’t out there; it’s in here, and always has been. Christmas just helps us remember this fact.
In recent years my mother began to believe that the stardust that makes up our molecules is inseparable from love, and that this itself is God. She was enormously relieved by this. A few weeks before she died, she said to me, “Now I don’t have to worry about socializing in heaven.” She believed her the essence of her being would be joined back to the essence of creation. In a way she knew this all along: Love felt is beautiful, but love expressed, love enacted, love made into something, is divine. This is how God is, and how God becomes.
As hard and awful as it is to be without my mom today, she’s already taught us how to proceed without her. We just need to put our love into the created world, because that’s where she is—in the altar cloth, in the plants all over her house, in the stoles all over the country, in my genes, and in the relationships she nurtured. Now that my mother is finally free of fear and released from all social expectations, now that she’s part of God’s ongoing force of love in the world, what can’t she create?
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Please join me for these upcoming events:
Fourth Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions
Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
May 27: Perspective and Insight
June 24: Unearthing the Truth
June 19-23, 2016
The Inner Life of Stories: Writing as Deep Listening
The Christine Center
September 12-16, 2016
Alone Together writing retreat
Madeline Island School of the Arts