Category Archives: A Mother’s Passing

Linda Ben-Ezra (March 9, 1952 – July 19, 2003)

Ten years ago, my mother died.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know what a pivotal moment this was in my life.

“Pivotal”. Yeah, let’s try that again.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that this moment broke my life.

But I forgot. I forgot it was today.

I forgot because I’ve gotten used to it. I forgot because the hole in my heart has healed, or, perhaps, scarred over. I forgot because the gap is normal. I’m used to not having a mother, to my children not having a grandmother–indeed, three children having never met her.

And then, I struggle sometimes with feeling guilty. Because, what kind of son am I if I don’t remember the last day my mother had on earth?

There was one moment that I felt guilty that I wasn’t there when she died. That’s a completely stupid feeling. I had moved my family out to Peoria the year before. My parents had visited only a month or so before she died. I wasn’t being irresponsible or neglectful. But, when I looked over the obituary, and it listed me as being from “Peoria, Illinois”, there was this quick, sharp jab of guilt.

Stupid human psyche.

My brother and father have already written today. I wouldn’t be surprised if other little memorials began appearing throughout the day. They are worth the read, especially my father’s. (More on that in a moment.)

For myself, the memorial I set up to my mother is the LARP I wrote, A Flower for Mara. Because the death of my mother truly taught me about death and dying.

In his piece, Dad says that his heart was shattered ten years ago, and at the same time, says that it was one of the best things that ever happened to him. Those aren’t idle words. I saw Dad earlier this month, and it was clear to me that he feels every single day of those ten years. He doesn’t complain or grumble (oh no!), but I can tell that he carries them all.

And still, to be able to see past all that pain, to see through to the good that God is doing…. That is a blessing.

I know that it’s more subtle, but A Flower for Mara is also in honor of my father. In the dedication, I wrote: “To Leon Ben-Ezra, my father. You showed me that, truly, there is life after death.” And you can see him in the pictures in the book, which were taken by my sister Adiel. It’s his hand holding the roses on pages 29 and 38. It’s his grief-stricken face on page 32. And it’s him you see on page 40, worshiping in the cemetary where they buried my mother.

A Flower for Mara is in memory of my mother, but it’s maybe even more about honoring my father. I watched him carry his flower, and I’ve watched him put it down.

Life after death.

Why am I talking about page numbers and pictures you can’t see? I’m going to fix that. For this weekend, I’m making A Flower for Mara free. Just click on this link and help yourself. Edited to ask: Give-away is closed now. Thanks for all the interest.

I’ll probably take down the file on Monday or thereabouts, so spread the word. But, please, don’t just share the link to the file. Link to this post. I want to honor my parents. Help me in that goal, please.


Adiel writes about Mom

Adiel writes about Mom.


July 19, and I feel fine

I should probably have been dreading today. After all, today is the third anniversary of my mother’s death. But, honestly, there’s so much going on in my life right now that I had nearly forgotten about it. My sister Gabrielle has said the same. Different years, different struggles, I guess.

It doesn’t feel disrespectful, either. Somehow, I’m thinking that Mom would understand.

So today, I will simply note that you can read all about my mother here, but I’m still plugging along. It’s July 19, and I feel fine.


More on loss

Seems like a common theme around here, huh? A little history, first, to make sense of all of this. The lead singer of P.O.D., Sonny Sandoval, was a gang member in San Diego. His mother was a devout Christian who died of leukemia. Sandoval says that, while she was on her deathbed, he saw God in her eyes. Soon after her death, he became a Christian. Sometime after that, he started P.O.D.

Now, some family history. At my mother’s funeral, my brother Jonathan read some lyrics from a P.O.D. song, written about Sandoval’s mother’s death. I hadn’t heard the song at the time. Well, recently I was listening to an album by P.O.D., and I found it.

Full Color
I cry why O’ why did my mommy have to die?
Too many questions, no answers confuses my mind
Like what did I do, what did she do, who’s to blame
No one understands what I’m going through
So how can I trust what I can’t touch and can’t see
Believe in love and she’s in front of me
Silence in your eyes, my heart so cold
No time for goodbyes, then you leave me alone

So what do I do accept it and carry on? Or release my anger, until it’s gone
Show you and this world exactly how I feel death in full color
It’s never been so real,
It’s been me and you,
It’s always been me and you
No matter what we faced, we always made it through
Get out of this dream, do what I gotta do
No one can take your place and I don’t want them to
If I could take your place, I would,
I would take your pain
Just to see you smile and say my name,
Just to hear you laugh and hear you cry
I don’t understand, I don’t know why
I’ve never been it this state of mind, life just don’t make sense
With you I could move mountains, right now I’m helpless
I guess, you always knew what was best
Believed in your God, til the very last breath
You showed me how strong you can be
If Jesus saved your life, could he do it for me?
I’ll lay down my life for you and for Him
Believe God’s promise, I’m gonna see you again
Lord here I am, but I am no one,
Believe in Your name
Believe in your Son, if you meet me here I will wait on you
Sacrifice and serve, do what you want me to I
‘ll take it day by day, and sit at your feet
You are strong when I am weak
I seek to keep from going under
Until I hold you again, I’ll always wonder
Why did my mommy have to Die? [repeats]
And lo, upon listening to another album by the same band, I stumbled onto another song with the same theme.

Thinking About Forever
Time goes by and God knows I try to carry on with life
Decide not to hide feelings inside, even though they hurt
Sometimes, I forget to remember you
It’s easy to lock away the pains, don’t want to relive it through
But I stay strong, you taught me how to move on in this world
I married my sweetheart, even got a little baby girl
I wish you could see her, I swear she looks just like you
If you can hear me, show me a sign, please send her a butterfly or two

[chorus:] I’m thinking about forever (missing you)
I know you’re so much better (we made it through)

Now I know what it means to live for someone else
To give up yourself
Things have changed, at times it gets kind of strange
Your love remains the same
Do I make you proud?
Mama, can you see me now?
Whatever is good in me is because you showed me how to take love by the hand
And so now I can share you with my baby
So that she can understand

[chorus]

[ending chorus:]
I’m thinking about forever (missing you)
I know you’re so much better (we made it through)
I’m thinking about forever (missing you)
I’m tripping on whatever (hearing you)

Very different songs. Very different feelings. The first is quite heavy and intense. The second is more reflective and wistful. (There is an interval of several years between the two albums.) Of course, listening to this man’s story, I could easily tell you one of the reasons that his mother died: it was to bring him to the Christ that he clearly loves. So, from that perspective, it is quite possibly the best thing that ever happened to him.

And, somewhere inside, I know that the same is true for me. My mother’s death has made me more compassionate, more empathetic, more easily able to see heaven breaking through into the world.

And yet.

Mom never met Noah. She never met Justice. I wonder how much my other children will remember her. Holidays seem so empty now. It’s been two years, and it’s only now that I feel like we are beginning to return to something resembling a new normal. And I wonder if Mom can see us. I don’t know what sort of connection the saints who have passed beyond have to this fallen realm in which we still live. I know that we will all see her again, and that will be a joyous reunion. But sometimes, when no one is looking, I pray to God that He would tell my mother that I love her very much and that I miss her. And every time, I pray that this isn’t a wrong thing to ask. It’s not, is it?


God of the Living

(The previous post is here.) I wrote this piece in December 2003, after my first visit to Erie after the death of my mother.

When I was home in Erie at Thanksgiving, I tried to find the grave of my mother. I searched, but I could not find it.

From very early on, my family had established a few principles about funerals. A Ben-Ezra funeral needed to be a worship service. The body needed to be buried as an act of faith and a testament to the resurrection of the dead. And, besides that, keep it cheap. And so, when Mom died, Dad followed the principles. The funeral was a worship service. He buried the body of his wife as an act of faith that she would rise again on the last day. And, in everything else, he kept it cheap.

That included the headstone. A simple marker was enough. Why go to all the expense of an elaborate stone? It makes no sense. And so my father purchased a flat tombstone for my mother and for himself, when his time on Earth is finished. It was a simple, unassuming tombstone. Or so I imagine. After all, I never found it.

It was a beautiful day when I set out to visit the grave of my mother. True, the weather was a bit brisk, but the sun shone brightly, sparkling from the newly fallen snow as if the ground were covered with diamonds.

However beautiful it may have been, the snow caused a practical problem. The flat tombstone that my father had purchased was completely covered. I remembered the general area where we had buried Mom, but the turning of the seasons and the snow left me confused. So I began to search.

Wandering in a cemetery is an instructive experience. As I passed back and forth, trying to locate the one headstone that I was seeking, I found myself reading all the others that I was passing. I found myself reading names, dates, epitaphs. The husband, dead of heartbreak mere months after his wife had passed on. The grandfather and lover of crossword puzzles, whose epitaph was carved in crossword-form on his gravestone. Old and young, men and women, from many times, all gathered together in the grave. “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (Ecclesiates 3:20) My footprints threaded in and around the monuments of the fallen. I passed up and down the corridors of the dead, seeking my mother.

But I could not find her.

The morning was wearing on, and I began to realize that God did not want me to find what I was seeking. So I bowed to His wisdom and returned to the van. But, as I was driving away, I recalled the words of Jesus. “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read that which was spoken to you by God, saying ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32)

I laughed to myself. Of course I couldn’t find my mother! I had been looking among the dead. And my mother is among the living.

I drove out of the cemetery and never looked back.


A Mother’s Passing, Two Years Later

(The previous post is here.) It’s been two years since I wrote about the passing of my mother. At the time, I recorded what I had learned. Well, I’ve learned more since then.

I’ve learned that the pain of a loss can linger. It has been two years, but when I read my journal entries, it all comes crashing back on me as if it were yesterday. I still have not finished watching Gods and Generals, nor do I think that I ever shall. Mother’s Day rattles me. Sometimes, I think about Noah and the baby still within Crystal’s womb, and I know that they will never know their grandmother. It has been two years, but the pain lives on.

I’ve learned to respect my father. I don’t want to sound like I thought lowly of him before, but I have learned so much from him over the past two years as I have watched him put his life back together after this tragic blow. It wasn’t always easy, and I know that the pain still lingers. Yet he has continued to live after Mom died; indeed, he has flourished. I know that, someday in the future, either Crystal or I will die. It is not a pleasant thought. But, should Crystal precede me in death, I will know how I ought to live, because I have watched my father.

I’ve learned that The Plan is a lie. According to The Plan, you are born, grow up, go to college, get married, have children, marry them off, enjoy your grandchildren, grow old together, and finally fade away into the night. But it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, into the middle of The Plan, God sends a bee, and nothing is ever the same.

I’ve learned that I am afraid. I know now that Death can strike anywhere, and it scares me. When Gabrielle or Crystal is running late, the thought flashes through my mind, “Is she dead?”? Sometimes I hold onto the last words that someone has said to me. Who knows? Those might be the last words that this person will ever tell me. Visions torment me, images of those I love, mutilated in car accidents, burned alive in fires, crushed by a collapsing building. And I know that this is sin, and I crawl to God and pour it before His feet, because I don’t want to be afraid. And yet, I am.

I’ve learned that I don’t need to fear the trials of the future now. Despite my fears, I am learning that God provides grace in the time of trial–but rarely beforehand. My father can tell me, honestly and sincerely, that Mom’s death was the best thing that happened to him, and I believe that he is right. However, I know that it is only by the grace of God that he can say that, grace that he received in the midst of the fiery trial. I do not need to be afraid of the trials that the future holds. My resources are insufficient for them, but God will give me what I need, when I need it.

I’ve learned that Jesus uses all things for His glory. Even death is not exempt. As a simple example, Gabrielle would not be here in Peoria if Mom were still alive, which means that she would not be able to minister to Kathey. And, on those days that I can think lucidly about it, I can see how it might be possible how it really is all going according to plan.

Even this. Even this.

And so, I turn to my wife and give her a kiss, and I settle into bed. Because I’ve also learned that the present is a gift from God, which we should enjoy. Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil–this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Ecclesiates 5:18-20) (The final post is here.)


A Mother’s Passing–What Have We Learned

(The previous post is here.) “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.� (Ecclesiastes 7:2) I seem to recall, many years ago, watching a Charlie Brown TV special. It was about D-Day. Towards the end of the show, Charlie Brown and Linus get up early in the morning and wander down to the beach. Once there, Linus tells Charlie Brown what happened on June 6, 1944. As he speaks in that young-old way of his, we see the airplanes flying overhead, the soldiers, the gunfire. Then Charlie Brown and Linus come to one of the cemeteries in Normandy. Rows and rows of white crosses. And Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, “What have we learned, Charlie Brown?� That is how I feel. As I look back over this record of ten days of pain, which holds a promise of more to come, I ask myself the same question. What have I learned? Much. I have learned much, and I will seek to share some of it with you. Submission to the Will of God “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.�—James 4:15-16 Our lives are in the hands of God. I guess I always knew that, but I have come to believe this more in the weeks since my mother’s death. There is so much that is beyond our control. James is very clear that thinking otherwise is arrogant. Yet we can be so proud. So very, very proud. And why? Why do I desire to be the captain of my fate? Do I know the future? Am I really wiser than God? As I have been humbled under the hand of God, I have learned that there is peace in yielding to His will. His plan for me is good, and so I can say, “My future is in the hands of God.� Will I die tonight? Will I grow old? Will I get sick? Will I be hit by a car? Will I lose my job? Will I eat tomorrow? I do not know. But I do not need to know; it’s in the hands of God. It is not for me to know the future; it is for me to be faithful in the time and place where He has placed me. A Pilgrimage Ended

Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home. I looked over Jordan, And what did I see? Coming for to carry me home. A band of angels coming after me Coming for to carry me home.

We don’t know who wrote this song, and I’d bet that we rarely pay attention to what it is saying. The “sweet chariot� is death. “Look[ing] over Jordan� is preparing for the crossing of the Jordan, another image of death. Death is coming, coming to carry us home. The song is looking at the desert wanderings of Israel as a model to understand our experience of life. For those who are the chosen of God and heirs of the promises, this world can never be home. Instead, it is a passage through the desert, leaving behind the house of slavery in Egypt and looking ever forward to the crossing into the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey�, a land of prosperity beyond our wildest dreams. For now, we struggle in the wilderness, with the pain and the sorrow and the hurting. But one day, that sweet chariot will swing on down and carry us off to glory. That sweet chariot came for my mother. And it was peaceful, so peaceful. One moment she was with us, and the next moment, she was gone. She did not suffer. She was not ill. Her mind was sound, which was especially a blessing. She had always feared a long, slow descent in dementia. Instead, that chariot swung down next to her, and away they went. She’s not here anymore. She’s crossed into Jordan, where they can’t hurt her anymore. Adiel was cleaning Mom’s room a day or so after she died, trying to tidy things up a bit. Her nightstand was covered with medicine bottles. Mom was not ill, but she struggled with a body that was wearing out. And so she was on one medication to fix some of the problems and on another one to help with the side effects of the first one and maybe even a third to help with the side effects of the first two. And the medicine would make her tired, and the medicine would make her sick, and it was hard sometimes to decide which was worse: the ailment or the cure. And Adiel took all those bottles and she threw them away. My mommy doesn’t need any of that anymore. She’s all better now. Safe in the Promised Land. Makes me remember that, one day, I’ll be walking along, doing my work, when that chariot is going to come for me. And, if God is gracious, He will give me the peace to climb aboard that black chariot with the black horses, for the Charioteer is the One Whom I love. The Body of Christ “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.…And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.�—1 Corinthians 12:12-13,26a I have seen the love of the Church of God in these weeks. I was amazed to see all the love and support that was poured out to my family. The church is Erie rallied around my father, offering whatever help they could. We did not have to cook for a solid week, because of all the meals that were given. The pastors in the area offered wise counsel and help to all of us. Christians from across the country were lifting their voices in prayer for us, or sending words of encouragement, or offering counsel in grief. I have had strangers write to me, offering me precious words of life, bound only by our common bond in Christ. But that is more than enough. There was comfort and peace that was given because of the support of our brothers and sisters. Living Life in the Face of Death “Once it’s too late, you appreciate what a miracle life is. You realize that nature is ruthless and our existence is very fragile, temporary, and precious. But to go on with your daily affairs, you can’t really think about that, which is probably why everyone takes the world for granted and why we act so thoughtlessly. It’s very confusing.�—Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes Calvin is right. We live as though we were trying to forget about Death. We pretend that it doesn’t exist until it intrudes into our lives, forcing itself upon us. I was not ready for my mother to die. None of us really were. But I would like to be a little readier for the next death that God will visit upon me. I do not want to forget about Death. Memento Mori. Remember, you will die. And so, I try to remember to treasure my family while I have them. Every workday, I wake up and drive to work, leaving them behind. What guarantee do I have that I will return? What guarantee do I have that they will be alive if I do return? None. It’s in the hands of God. So I try to treasure the moments that God has given me. Tonight, I put the children to bed, but Arianna needed to come downstairs to get a drink and go to the bathroom. As she was going up the stairs, she paused and said, “I love my daddy very, very much.� And she came running back down and leaped into my outstretched arms. I held her very closely. And in that moment, I realized that, one day, more likely than not, she would stand by my graveside. She would be shedding tears as they lower me into the ground. And so I held her all the more tightly. We have no time except the present, which is a gift from the hands of God. And so I intend to enjoy it. “For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.� (Ecclesiastes 5:20) And who knows? Perhaps this journal that I am writing now will outlive me. Perhaps Arianna will read it when she is older and find encouragement and comfort from the struggles of my heart. I have not had the heart to ask my father what Mom’s last words were to him. I do know that he was running out to do a couple of errands, including buying a used set of golf clubs, and that she had asked him to buy her some Milky Way Dark chocolate bars. Could something that mundane have been her last words to her husband? It could very well be. It is more likely that Dad left the house, saying, “I’ll see you later, dear� and she rushed out, gave him a kiss, and said, “Bye!� before returning to her work in the garden. Just an average, everyday parting. But it was the last. But in my mind, another question rises. What if the last words that you said to someone were spoken in anger? What if I had a terrible fight with my wife and stormed out of the house, only to die in a car wreck? Would I want our last parting to be one of anger? And what of others who I may have hurt or alienated? We often think, “There’s always tomorrow� but that is arrogance. God has not promised to give us tomorrow, and for each of us, one day, there will be no tomorrow. And so I try to hold this before me as I live out my life among my family and friends. Our relationship could end tonight, so let it end without anger or malice between us. Rather, let there be peace, so that we can die quietly. Raising Children “Behold, children are a gift of Jehovah; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.�—Psalm 127:3-5 I spoke to my mother on the Tuesday before she died. I had actually called home to talk to Dad, but he was out. So I ended up talking with Mom. In retrospect, it was a great blessing. After all, it was to be the last time that we would speak. I was frustrated. I had violated my first rule of Internet discussion groups and actually gotten into a debate about something important. Parenting, to be specific. I was laying out what seemed to me to be very obvious, specific principles from the Bible on a Christian email group, and there were actually those that were arguing against what I was saying. It went on and on, and I discovered that I had really put my foot in it. I was angry, upset, and discouraged. And so I called home, and I ranted in Mom’s direction for a while. It helped. And then, she offered me profound advice. She said, “Seth, it is much better to be spending that energy on your own family. You won’t be able to influence these other people, but you can influence your children. And when they grow up and get married, you will have affected four families. And that’s a lot.� She was right. Working on faithfully raising my children may not be glamorous or easy, but in the long run, it is more effective. As it turns out, those were the last words that we were to speak to each other in this vale of tears. So they have stuck with me more powerfully because of it. Of course, in an ultimate sense, it is my duty before God to raise my children in a way that is honoring to Him. Yet, in a secondary way, I also see it as my duty to her. I would be dishonoring her if I were not to raise them well. She often used to say to me, “Now, you take care of my grandchildren!� Each time, I assured her that I would. And I will. I will. I will teach them to love God more than life itself. I will teach them how to walk before His face. And I will also teach them to dance in the rain, and to love flowers, and to sing and dance and laugh. And I will tell them that they had a grandmother who loved them very much and that, one day, they will see her. Arianna will remember her, but the others will not. The littlest one is not yet born, and he will never see her. Yet, I hope that I can keep her memory alive for them, and that I can teach them to honor her memory and to live as befits the grandchildren of Grandma B. And so it seems fitting to end with these words from Mom’s journal. She was writing to her granddaughter, but these words will stick with me forever. “Unless something truly unforeseen happens, you will not receive much if any money when I die. But I have tried to leave you a legacy of love and I trust you will find it within your powers to continue this legacy.� I will, Mom. I will. Linda Gail Anderson Ben-Ezra Born March 9, 1952 Died July 19, 2003 Requiem In Pacem And on that day, we gathered on the shores of that terrible lake. We were all there, breathless and expectant, our faces bathed in the orange glow of the fiery sea. And suddenly there came the sound of horns and drums, and suddenly He was there, the Conquering King, riding on His white charger. And behind Him, half-dragged, was Death himself, his hands bound with a chain that the King held in His hand. He rode to the dais that was set up by the fire’s edge. At His command, the black-robed figure was loosed. At His command, Death surrendered up his scythe. Then, with a shout of triumph, He hurled the Grim Reaper into the lake. And we sang and we laughed and we wept, for the final enemy was defeated, and we were there to see his fall. And the memories of pain and doubt and horror and sorrow were swallowed up in victory. (The next post is here.)


A Mother’s Passing–Coming Home

(The previous post is here.) We returned to a clean home. The trip itself was uneventful. We left my father’s house (no longer my parents’ house…) and headed for Peoria. It was a calmer trip than the one that we had made the week before. Crystal and I talked. We laughed at times. And I did not feel guilty for smiling. But when we finally arrived at home, we were so tired. And so it was a blessing to find that, in our absence, our friends had cleaned our house. There was food in the refrigerator, purchased by my co-workers. There was a promise of meals, from our church. Home was…well, it was home. It was good to be back. The week was busy. Work threw me a special birthday lunch, while Crystal scrambled to put on the elaborate party that she had been planning, back when the world was normal. I think that, in the final count, we celebrated my birthday four times. Seems about right to me. And, of course, work was waiting for me. The major program rewrite that I am helming was still awaiting me. There were meetings to be attended, plans to be laid, notes to be taken. I was drawn back into my normal routine. Slowly life returned to normal. And yet…. On my cubicle wall, surrounded by the quotes and comic strips and Japanese prints, I have cleared a little section. And there I have posted Mom’s obituary and two pictures. Sitting above them on the top of the cubicle wall is Linda, the pink flamingo. The first picture is of Mom and I when I was five or so. We are sledding, and someone snapped a picture of us coming down the hill together. Mom is laughing. Her eyes are dancing as we slide down the hill. The second is of Mom, taken only a week or two before she died, standing in her garden and smiling quietly. She looks so peaceful, so serene. So content. There was no occasion for the picture, but everyone in the family now has a copy. This is Mom the way that we remember her, the way that she was before she was suddenly taken from us. And when I look at those pictures, I can forget, for a moment, the coldness of her brow as she lay in the coffin. And for a moment, I can smile as I remember her. Before the pain threatens to overwhelm, sometimes I can remember that she is smiling now forever, and that her pain is gone. But I am left behind, and the grief is sometimes too much to bear. (The next post is here.)


A Mother’s Passing–Aftermath

(The previous post is here.) The days begin to run together in my memory, and so I will not attempt to distinguish them. It is enough to know that we stayed with my father for nearly a week, leaving on Tuesday morning to return to Illinois. This was a time of mourning, a time of rebuilding, when the family huddled around each other and tried to close ranks. I didn’t really want to do anything; I just wanted to be close to the ones I love. And so I spent time with my brother. I tried my hand at golfing with my father. I spent some time with Crystal, just driving and talking. I tried to encourage Gabrielle as she struggled to adjust to being the woman of the house. I was able to meet Lily, my newest niece who is only a few months old. We talked about Mom frequently. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. During this time, the Lansberry family was of great help to us. Already they had dropped all their business and driven to Erie with us. Now, they took my children for several days so that we could have a chance to mourn, picking them up in the morning and dropping them off at night. Each night, when I found that I could not think, Jay helped me determine plans for the following day. One night, they spent an evening with us, having brought over peanut butter pie from Marketplace Grill and the fixings for pina coladas. We had a Puerto Rican party by crowding into the kitchen and jabbering at the top of our lungs while Jonathan and I debated the finer points of making the drinks. Fourteen adults in a small room. It was a great time. We could not have made it through without them. *** I did not bring back much that belonged to Mom. My wife, sisters, and sister-in-law divided up her jewelry, so Crystal and Arianna both have some special jewelry from Mom. I did not receive any of her jewelry (although I was once given some). Instead, I returned home with a single item: a pink flamingo Beanie Baby. You see, at some point my mother had fallen in love with pink flamingoes. Not the bird itself, mind you. No, she loved the tacky plastic lawn ornaments that have become classics in the minds of many. Those around her encouraged this habit by providing her with as many pink flamingoes as they could find. Jeremy even found a calendar featuring posed pictures of various pink flamingoes. It wasn’t that Mom was blind to the hideousness of these plastic avians. Rather, it was precisely because they were so tacky that Mom loved them. They are like she was: loud, outrageous, and full of life. So, if you were to poke through her garden, you would find several pink flamingoes peeking out of the foliage at you. There were a couple of flamingoes in the front yard that she even dressed up, changing their costumes for various occasions. During the summer, they were dressed as tourists. During Tom and Elizabeth’s reception, which was held at the house, they were dressed in tux and bridal gown. During Halloween, they were in costume. One was a pirate, as I recall. So, while I was passing through Mom’s workroom, I discovered that she had a Beanie Baby that is a flamingo. Those of you who have not worked with me may not understand that my constant companions at work are my Beanies. I was never obsessed by collecting them, you understand. Actually, Mom bought me the first one (a bat that I named Floyd), and the rest have tended to follow naturally. This was the case at my previous job and is still true in my job at Samaritan. So I asked if I could have the pink flamingo. She now sits in my cubicle at work, with Floyd and Lloyd and the others. Her name is Linda. *** My brother came over the day after the funeral. He had gone to the gravesite that morning and discovered something amusing. The cemetery had erected a temporary marker and had misspelled our last name. “Benezraâ€?. I laughed so hard that my brother thought that I was strange. You see, everyone misspells our last name, and each time that I think that I’ve heard it all, someone mangled it in a brand new way. Benezra, Benerza, Benezi, Ezra, Ben, Benzera. It is a constant curse that follows us. Paperwork is lost, documents are misspelled, telemarkers stumble over their tongues. It made me laugh to think that this mistake had followed Mom to her tomb. I know that she would have thought that it was hysterical. *** I have already said that I did not return home with much that belonged to my mother. But one thing that we did bring was the journals that she was keeping for the children. She did not get very far in writing them; her life was full and she did not have much time to write. Yet she was trying to reach out to her grandchildren who had moved far away. She wanted to offer them words of comfort, words of encouragement. While we were still in Erie, Crystal and I sat down and read them. In general, they each ended with entries made on November 2, 2002. The day that Crystal miscarried and Naomi, our unborn daughter, died. And so my mother wrote to my children about Death. What follows is are excerpts from those entries. ————————————————————————————————- Dear Arianna, Tonight I write to you about Death. Death and Sorrow has touched your family. How much of it did you understand? There was a baby in your Mommy’s tummy and now there isn’t. Cricket died and we don’t even know if the baby was a girl or a boy. Your Daddy keeps saying “sheâ€? so we’ll assume that Cricket is a little girl. She’s in heaven now so you might ask why are we all crying? We cry because we never got to know her, and because your mommy and daddy feel such pain at her loss, and because one should always cry at Death. Remember Jesus knew He was going to resurrect…no, bring Lazarus back to life in a few minutes and yet He wept. If the Lord of all can weep at Death, surely we should…. Dear Isaac, It’s been a long while since I’ve written and now I am going to write about a hard time—now. I should have written about visiting you in Illinois and your face being the first of the grandchildren I saw. You were supposed to be napping, but you heard us and looked out the window with your wonderful smile—and then you woke up everyone else telling that Grandpa and Grandma B. were here. Tonight, however, I need to talk with you about less happy times. One day this week, your dad left you at Lansberrys (well, more than one day) and you didn’t want to stay and your dad told you he needed your help because he had to go fight the monsters. At that point I’m sure you had no idea that the Monster he was fighting was Death. Your baby sibling died tonight and since your mom named the baby Cricket and since your dad calls the baby “sheâ€? and “herâ€?, I will also. She was so young, but so real to us. I was looking at patterns to knit after I finished with Aunt Adiel’s baby. Thinking Aunt Adiel likes this; your mom would like this instead. I thought of Cricket as #6 (grandchild) and another precious being. But she died and is with Jesus so why do we cry? 1) We wanted to know her. Your father said as he wept that he wanted to be a daddy again. 2) We should always weep at Death. Jesus did and He knew He was going to bring Lazarus to life again. I am writing about Cricket in all your journals because she is a part of your family and should not be forgotten…. Dear Samuel, Baby Cricket died today. Your dad talks of her as a she. Your mom named her. It is very hard to have a baby die who you haven’t seen or felt or known. Just bloody tissue at the end and yet a precious soul who is with Jesus. We cry because we did not get to know her…I think our combined tears would make a good sized lake…. This is harder than usual for me because I can’t come over and hug you or change a diaper or fold laundry or wash some dishes. Anything to be useful—and perhaps that is what God is teaching me—to trust Him to care for those areas I used to take care of. ————————————————————————————————- Once again, it was as though God had allowed my mother to speak to us from her grave. “I’m okay now, but it’s okay to cry, too. Just don’t forget to trust in Jesus.â€? And it will be hard. My mother was a central part of our family. She was the birthday organizer, the holiday coordinator, and the preserver of family traditions. She was still young and had not begun to hand down any of those duties. Who will take up her place? I do not know, and it hurts to think of traditions being lost. Yet, God is faithful, and I need to learn to “trust Him to care for those areas [Mom] used to take care of.â€? *** In the refrigerator were two Milky Way Dark bars that Dad had bought for Mom while he was out on July 19. The dark chocolate helped ease the headaches from which she suffered. On Wednesday, Gabrielle divided them equally among us, and we all ate. I don’t know what this meant, but it seemed right. It was taking care of unfinished business, and we did it together. You know, Mom used to divide all our food. It was a skill, too. There were seven of us, and no food comes in packages of seven. However, my parents believed in being equitable. So Mom would take the remaining piece and divide into seven equal pieces so that we could each share the final piece. Often this resulted in miniscule slivers of pepperoni or coin-sized pieces of hot dog, but we didn’t care. It was the principle of the thing! Besides, it forestalled any squabbling. After all, we were each getting a fair share of the food. No one could argue with that. So I got my piece of chocolate from Gabrielle, and when I ate it, I cried. *** I do not mean to suggest that all was gloom during that week. In fact, I was glad to be able to be back in Erie for a while. I just would have preferred there to have been a different occasion. And so, in proper time, we celebrated birthdays. Elizabeth’s birthday is on July 28, and so we had stayed in Erie to be able to celebrate with her. That was important to her, and so it was important to me. Also, on Sunday, my family surprised me with cake and ice cream. My birthday is on July 31, and they wanted to do something for me while I was there. As I recall, it was Adiel’s idea. Over the years, our family has learned the importance of joy even in times of pain. Special days like birthdays or weddings were not set aside or overshadowed by times of grief. There is a time to everything, and that includes birthdays and dying days. We learned it from Mom. And so, nine days after Mom died, we celebrated Elizabeth’s birthday. We watched her compete in a soccer game, which her team unfortunately lost, and then we returned to the house for ice cream cake and presents. But even at the party, there were shadows of grief. After all, Mom wasn’t there. And, the next day, I was leaving. (The next post is here.)


A Mother’s Passing–Tuesday, July 22, 2003

(The previous post is here.) On Tuesday morning, the sun broke through the clouds. Which is as it should be. Today was the day of the funeral. Crystal and I were sleeping in the living room, so I was awakened when Elder Swanson stopped by to leave us a letter of encouragement. I wish that could remember what it said so that I can share it with you, but I cannot. Mike Ross, who is a member of the church and a friend, was unable to attend the funeral and so sent an email expressing his sorrow and offering words of encouragement. But the strangest letter that I received that day was from…Mom. I was passing through her workroom again, when I decided that I should check to see if there were any more library books left back there. We had already made two trips with books, and I wanted to see if we had missed any. So, I was poking around. First I found Mom’s notebook where she kept her “to doâ€? list. Saturday, July 19, had only a couple of entries. “Glenn called.â€? “Stake tomatoes.â€? The next day was empty, and I saw, in those blank lines, the fragility of life.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’� (James 4:13-15)

Then, my eyes lit upon a piece of stationery with my mother’s handwriting. It was a letter that she had written but had not yet sent. As I read it, I was shocked. It was addressed to my Uncle Don, but it could have been written to me. Part of the letter read something like this:

“We struggle to find the words to say at times like these, because we are trying to find the words that will fix the pain. But there are no words that can fix it….There is no good time to lose a parent. Love, Linda.�

God, in His Providence, had allowed my mother to leave a letter to comfort her children. It was like getting a hug from Mom, telling me that she was feeling my pain with me. Strange, since it was her death that I was mourning. But it was what I needed, and so God provided. I was left with awe at the ways of God. In traditional manner, I still had not written what I was going to say at the funeral. So I wandered out into the garden to write what I would say. It was so beautiful. The raindrops were still clinging to the flowers, and the sunlight made them sparkle like precious jewels. And suddenly I knew what I would say. So I wrote and I cried and I wrote some more, scribbling down my notes. And then, before I knew it, the time had arrived. We left the house and went to the church. It was time for the funeral. My father waited at the front door to be greeted by those who wished. He had asked Jonathan and I to stand with him, in case he could not deal with it. But he did fine, as the people began to fill the church. There were so many. They just kept coming, and coming, and coming. People from the congregation. People from other congregations. Other local pastors. People from the neighborhood. All of them people who Mom had touched. And they just kept coming and coming and coming. We ran out of room in the sanctuary. More were seated in the cry room. Others were seated in the foyer. Others still were seated on the stairs. Adiel and I later estimated that there were easily one hundred sixty people at the funeral, and there could have been many, many more. It would not surprise me to discover that there were over two hundred in attendance. I lost it a couple of times during the receiving line, but generally I did okay. And then we heard the piano begin to play. Rich Mullins. “If I Stand�. I walked by my father down the aisle. Both of us started sobbing halfway down. I remember carrying him and he carrying me: the two of us leaning on each other for support as the music welled up and rolled over us. Somehow, by the grace of God, we reached our seats. And then, we sang.

Whate’er my God ordains is right: Holy His will abideth; I will be still whate’er He doth, And follow where He guideth. He is my God; Though dark my road, He holds me that I shall not fall: Wherefore to Him I leave it all. Whate’er my God ordains is right: He never will deceive me; He leads me by the proper path; I know He will not leave me. I take, content, What He hath sent; His hand can turn my griefs away, And patiently I wait His day. Whate’er my God ordains is right: Though now this cup, in drinking, May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking. My God is true; Each morn anew Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart, And pain and sorrow shall depart. Whate’er my God ordains is right: Here shall my stand be taken; Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet am I not forsaken. My Father’s care Is round me there; He holds me that I shall not fall: And so to Him I leave it all.

And then it was time for the children to speak. I am the eldest, and we were going in age order. So I took my notes and began to speak. I have been told that my words were moving. I am just glad that they were coherent. What I wanted to say made so much sense in my mind, but it did not seem to come out right for some reason. But I tried to draw on the metaphor of the garden. I spoke of being out in Mom’s garden. I told the people how Mom had told me that it had been a wonderful year for flowers. The vegetables weren’t doing well, but the flowers were blooming everywhere. This is obviously a gift from God. And so I explained how, very soon, we were going to go out and plant my mother in the ground because we believe that, one day, new life will bloom from that which we have planted in the graveyard. Just like Mom’s beloved flowers. I also commented on the time of Mom’s death. When I lived at home, the end of the work week was 11:30 on Saturday night. Then Mom and I would sit down together and watch Star Trek together. In a way, her Sabbath started a little early. And so I said that it was appropriate that she died at that time. God was calling her to her rest. And then I told the people that Mom had not just worked at gardening in her back yard. We, her children, were her garden, and she had been blessed with the chance to see us bloom. She had seen five grandchildren. She had ministered in the community just by reaching out to those around her, and so, I told the people, that they were part of Mom’s garden as well. And I spoke of how Mom would sit on the back patio in the cool of the evening, enjoying her garden, enjoying the fruit of her labors. And it is as if Jesus called to her from the back door, “Linda, time to rest.� I had considered ending by reading a passage from Lord of the Rings, one of Mom’s favorite books. Instead, though, I had remembered a poem that Mom had found and had given to me in jest. So, I read it instead, over the body of my mother who had fallen asleep in the Lord.

Moving In With My Son When I’m an old lady, I’ll live with my son, and make his life happy and filled with such fun. I want to pay back all the joy he’s provided Returning each deed~ Oh, he’ll be so excited When I’m an old lady and live with my son~ I’ll write on the wall with red, white, and blue and bounce on the furniture Ya, wearing my shoes. I’ll drink from the carton and then leave it out. I’ll stuff all the toilets and oh, will he shout! When I’m an old lady and live with my son~ When he’s on the phone and just out of reach, I’ll get into things like sugar and bleach. Oh, he’ll snap his fingers and then shake his head, and when things get tuff I’ll hide under the bed. When I’m an old lady and live with my son~ I’ll sit close to the TV, thru the channels I’ll click, I’ll cross both my eyes to see if they stick. I’ll take off my socks and throw one away, and play in the mud until the end of the day. When I’m an old lady and live with my son~ And later, in bed, I’ll lay back and sigh, and thank God in prayer and then close my eyes; and my son will look down with a smile slowly creeping, and say with a groan, “She’s so sweet when she’s sleeping.” When I’m an old lady and live with my son

I was surprised at myself. I only choked up once while reading the poem and actually managed to finish it. I hadn’t been sure that I was going to be able to do so. I was in tears as I returned to my seat. My father stood to receive me and embraced me. My wife took me into her arms. It was so hard, so hard. Others followed me. Crystal spoke on how Mom had become her mother, giving her a Godly example of motherhood when she so desperately needed one. Jonathan remembered spending special time of his own with Mom and read the lyrics of a song by one of his favorite musical groups. All I remember is one line. “Why did my mommy have to die?� Jonathan’s wife Carrie offered some expansion on the obituary by explaining some of the things that Mom was. “Unlicensed medical consultant�, “wedding planner�, and “interior decorator� were only a few of the entries. She said, “She was the one you called when the weird or unusual happened, because the weird and unusual happened to her.� So true. So very, very true. My sisters had their own contribution, although they went up together. Adiel read from another hymn, and Elizabeth and Gabrielle both had selections from The Chronicles of Narnia. Each time our father stood to receive us from the platform. I was honored by his respect and concern for us. And then Pastor Hughes preached the sermon. And it was wonderful. The blessed hope of the Gospel was soundly declared and proclaimed to all who were there. All were challenged to consider the realities of life and death. The irony is that I had been doing just that, during the past week. In retrospect, I see that God was preparing me for what was to come. However, at the time, all I knew is that I was working on memorizing the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth Of all things visible and invisible And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By Whom all things were made; Who for us and our salvation Came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, And was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets; And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church; We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; And we look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come. Amen.

As I type this, I am listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor. In fact, the specific part that I am listening to is the “Symbolum Nicenum�. The Nicene Creed. It’s in Latin, but it is so beautiful. The exultation when they sing “Et resurrexit tertia die�. “And the third day He rose again.� It makes me want to fall on my knees. It makes me want to cry. It makes me want to sing. Why? It’s not because the music is so moving, although that’s true. It’s because the truth is so moving. Jesus Christ was resurrected. That is the hope! Can there really be anything else to look to? On Saturday, my family was cleaning the Samaritan Ministries building. So I was listening to the Symbolum Nicenum with the volume turned all the way up. The building is a converted church, and the acoustics are pretty good. So I was enjoying listening to the music and considering the truth that it was conveying. In particular, I was mulling over this phrase “And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.� As a Christian, this is not my home. Rather, we look to a future land, where the dead are raised to new life and together all who are found in Christ enter into the world to come, where no shadow or stain shall ever touch us. And we can know this, because Jesus has gone before us. As Pastor Hughes said, “He really died. He was as dead as Linda is.� Yet He rose from His tomb and was resurrected. And our hope is sure. Pastor Hughes reminded us that many saw Him after His resurrection. Five hundred, in fact. The reality of the Resurrection is sure, and because of that, our hope is sure. As Pastor Hughes preached, the sky began to cloud over and thunder began to rumble. As the funeral was ending, it began to rain. As it should be. I was a pallbearer. I carried my mother to the hearse. The procession was the longest that I have ever seen. You would have thought that a queen had died. And perhaps that is truth. Indeed, a queen had died, and it was right that all should mourn her. At least, so said my heart. Even the skies wept as we bore my mother to her grave. I was a pallbearer. I carried my mother to her grave. The people from the funeral home didn’t understand. They kept offering me an umbrella. I didn’t want one. If God had seen fit to send the tears of heaven on us, then I was content to bathe in them. There was comfort in the rain. Our God wept with us. At the graveside, we committed Mom to the earth and into the hands of God. One by one we filed by her casket. The single rose was joined by carnations that we placed there. And, after I had passed by, I stood to the side, holding my wife, and I read from Luke:

Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bondservant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32)

As we left the cemetery, the rain slowed and stopped. By the time we had returned to the church building for the dinner that had been prepared, the sun had returned in all its glory. As it should be. Adiel’s husband, Josh, had a different explanation for the rain. He reminded us that Mom loved to dance in the rain and so the rain came to remind us of her joy. Perhaps we are both right. I’m sure that I wasn’t nearly as social at the dinner as I probably should have been. But I was weary. The food was wonderful, though, and I appreciated greatly the care that it showed for my family. Soon, however, we returned home. The rest of the family gathered at the house later, and that was good. The New Jersey contingent was returning home the next day, and so we were able to be together. We laughed a lot. I was teased about my receding hairline, but that’s normal. We enjoyed the pistachio fluff that one of the neighbors had made. We gathered around each other. It was good. But then it was time to go. We said our goodbyes. We hugged and kissed. And then we went our separate ways. And that night, I found that I could sleep. I had buried my mother, but there was still the peace of God. In Him I found my comfort, a shelter from the storm, and there I drifted away into slumber. (The next post is here.)