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Mom's Death And Family Issues And Religion


R. S. Martin
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I had posted the stages of the story as it progressed but it got lost when the forum was down. I will post an email I sent to a batch of people. I will try to take out/change all personal names and places. Let's hope I don't miss anything important. Here goes:

 

This note is going to many friends and acquaintances. Some of you may not have heard about my mother's very serious illness. Her body was worn out and vital organs were shutting down. She passed away very peacefully about 1:00 am. on Sat. March 10. Support from school and friends both offline and online has been very good. Because of my religious seeking, not to mention seriously distorted lifelong family dynamics, the situation for my family was much more complicated.

 

The Old Order Mennonite church, to which all my immediate family belongs, maintains fairly rigid boundaries in order to retain the traditions it values highly. One way in which boundaries are maintained is restricting who can eat at the head table with the officiating minister, who represents the church. My siblings did not think I could eat at the head table with them. For me it felt like outright rejection and I could not go.

 

However, a miracle occurred about Monday eveening. After standing at the coffin for some time with my brother, he asked if I would attend the funeral. I looked him in the eye and asked, "Can I eat with you?" Some of you know the story; some of you don't. He broke down. He said something about, "You know the church's standards. If you don't have membership anywhere...." I told him I have membership at Zion, a modern Mennonite church I attended at one time.

 

When he understood that I truly had not revoked my membership he requested that the deacon, who was sitting nearby, join us. The deacon agreed that if I still have my membership I can eat with the family. All my siblings were crying for joy. I had not known my siblings cared so much for me. I thought they saw me as a bad girl without whom life would be a lot better. I thought they "loved" me only out of duty because that is what you have to do to people who are born into your family. Apparently not.

 

So I was given my rightful place in the family as my parents' firstborn. This was reflected in the seating arrangement at church and for the meal afterwards. [ADDED: It was also reflected in the ordering of our names in the obituary.] For the first time since I was in my middle teens did I feel equal to my siblings.

 

The meal is held in the home. Friends and relatives and neighbours are invited for the meal and further fellowship. Neighbours are at the house preparing the meal so that it is ready when people return from the church service. Some of my cousins from the modern Mennonites came for the meal and fellowship and I made some really warm connections with people I had not known.

 

It made for a somewhat awkward situation when my modern Mennonite cousin was asking about my education and congratulating me for my progress, when right next to us stood a relative who believes education beyond Grade 8 is sin. It felt pretty good, though, to be applauded in the audience of these people. I hope it brings higher education out of the realm of holy/evil awe into the ordinary. I don't know if it works that way. I try to savor each relationship for itself. For my modern Mennonite cousins this was a way to connect.

 

I guess some of you will want to know how the sermon affected me. I know how to pick cherries. That's what I did--just picked the parts that agreed with me and left the rest. It was so wonderful sitting in the heart of the church where I had grown up, in the bosom of my family, next to my sister who is next to me in birth order, in my rightful place as the oldest child.

 

Sometime I will have to deal with the reality of Mom's absence. To see the coffin lid closed for the last time, seeing the box containing her lowered into a hole in the ground, to hear the clunks of dirt hit the wooden lid--well, it's final. It's like putting her away in a most inhumane manner. But there is no other choice when life is gone. I visited her in the hospital approximately eight hours before she passed away.

 

I wanted her to know that I was a good person no matter where my seeking and wandering had taken me. I used every technique I knew regarding how to connect with her. I used skin contact and eye contact and tone of voice. For a brief instant she recognized me and tried to say something. She seemed very happy to see me. The others in the room did not see it but I told them about it. A few days later I heard them talking about it. Apparently it meant a lot to them to know that there had been that connection between me and our mother.

 

Sometime after the reconciliation with my siblings I heard someone say, "Mom asked one day, 'Do you think Ruby will even come to my funeral?'"

 

I don't know what happens when people die. If they continue existing as a conscious entity, then she knows I attended her funeral. Perhaps she also knows about the reconciliation. If she no longer exists as a conscious entity, we siblings still had our reconciliation. I hope that trust and love can continue beyond this time.

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Thank you for posting this Ruby. I'm glad that you were able to reconnect with your siblings and other family, even though it was under the sad circomstances of your mother's death. Hopefully, your renewed connections to them will endure.

 

Taph

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Ruby,

 

It's really nice to hear your siblings reacted this way.

 

In essence, they grasped at a technicality, to justify your rightful presence at the head table.

 

Yes, it's sad that they're entrenched in a religious tradition where they need the OK from a deacon in order for you to sit with them. And of course the divisive religious issues remain. But it's still gratifying to hear your siblings were willing to reach out to you like this and indicate that they care. I'm glad.

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Ruby,

 

I echo the sentiments of those who've posted here, and I add that with the server problems, we lost, from your original postings on this topic, a description and image which I found and still find so haunting. I hope you'll find a way to write it up again, here, for those who may have missed it. It was your description of the face you knew to be your mother's, in the past, vs. the face you saw after she died.

 

I wish you continued strength and may there be more good will among you, your family and friends.

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Ruby,

 

I echo the sentiments of those who've posted here, and I add that with the server problems, we lost, from your original postings on this topic, a description and image which I found and still find so haunting. I hope you'll find a way to write it up again, here, for those who may have missed it. It was your description of the face you knew to be your mother's, in the past, vs. the face you saw after she died.

 

I can't seem to find a copy of it. Nor can I rewrite it. Here's the main idea:

 

The undertaker had nothing to go by for preparing her face for viewing because my people do not believe in taking photographs. All he had to go by was her natural facial structure. He came up with an expression of peace and relaxation I had never seen in her while she was alive. I believe this may have been the mother I loved but never saw in life because, like many of us, she was scared to just let go and be her natural self. I think this makes sense for a religion that teaches self is evil.

 

There's something I'd like to add. Very many people commented on how peaceful she looked in the coffin. What they don't realize is that she did not die this way. I did not see her at the very end. I did see her about eight hours earlier. I understand the situation did not change significantly. She breathed with her mouth gaping because of serious internal problems. She looked anything but peaceful. The only way I can describe it is the desperation of a body trying to breath when most of the vital functions are no longer functioning. Many of you may have seen it in a person close to you. If it were any other creature than a human, we would put it out of its misery no questions asked.

 

Against that backdrop, the face I saw in the coffin was a miracle. I maintain that I did not see such a peace on her face at any time when she was alive. Yet it looked so much like her that I found myself expecting a twitch of the lip or movement of the brow. At the funeral I kept having to take another look just to be sure this wasn't happening.

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Thank you, Ruby.

 

A beautiful... strange... evocative event.

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