Death is more than a goodbye. The experience is all the things that lead up to that final breath and the things we carry forward. The experience is also the other side of goodbye.
Goodbye —from godbwye, a contraction of God be with ye from 16th century English— is a moment that marks a transition, a liminal space or moment from which the before and the after spread in opposite directions.
God is with us in this moment. And in many ways, mom is with us.
On the other side of goodbye
Now that we’re on the other side of goodbye, what do we carry forward? How are we changed?
Yesterday, I moved and stretched —I exercised— for the first time in months. An urge to move took over, like mom pushing me out of my desk chair and to the yoga mat.
It’s time to start taking care of your body.
Last night I wore one of the gowns mom wore when she became bedridden. I didn’t have any epiphanies wearing it, she didn’t come to me in my sleep, but I did sleep, deeply, long, for the first time in three weeks.
I’m not sure what will be on the other side of goodbye, but I will be mindful and open to the gifts of this life, to gifts I receive and gifts I’m privileged to share.
We memorialized mom last Saturday. Her beautiful service was followed by fellowship at her church and then at her home. We remembered and celebrated her well.
I’m sharing a eulogy from her service and the list of prayerful acts from her order of service. I hope her example can help at least one more person be mindful of the gifts they receive and the gifts they sew in the soil of the hearts they touch.
I don’t know what to say.
I started writing eulogies to you in my head well over a year before you stopped breathing. We all knew this day was coming, and I knew capturing you would be hard. I wasn’t wrong.
Did you see that first response to your obituary? It came from Athens, Alabama, and started like this:
I loved this lady and her family. I can’t believe her obituary didn’t mention she brought us shaved ice snow cones…
Right off the bat, a deficit in the description! And that was a long obit, Mom!
How do you frame a life anyway? It’s hard to capture everything you have been and are to all of us.
I could focus on the sports. You were a key member of any team you played with, a true team player on and off the court. Just last night your friend said you were the best basketball player Bogalusa ever had. You were an amazing coach and a genuine physical educator who did all the exercises with all the classes.
Or maybe I should frame you as the adventurer. You allowed life in and followed your sweetheart 8,407.6 miles from Highway 60 to make seven new homes. And that’s just calculating the one-way trip to each place from Plainview.
Maybe I should frame your story in vegetables and flowers. How about cookies, pralines, and brownies?
I’m clueless where to begin.
Maybe that’s the frame. Clueless. You were clueless.
You spent your life performing prayerful acts: physical, tangible acts of love towards people, towards the land, towards the community. And you had no idea how beautifully those prayerful acts landed on the hearts, soil, and structures around you.
You were clueless but do you get it now?
You were a star on the court, but off the court, you avoided taking up much space. Maybe you thought no one noticed you, but we saw you, Mom.
And guess what, we didn’t buy it when you told us “I’m not this..” or “I’m not that…” I’m sad that you didn’t believe you were smart and beautiful, but your I’m not that takes the cake was “I’m not creative.”
I snorted my coffee when you said it.
Who were you kidding, Mom? Seriously, you were not only smart but one of the most creative humans I know. You did crafty creative, like that decade worth of macramé room dividers, hanging tables, plant hangers, book shelves, window treatments, and Christmas ornaments that you wove with your precious hands. But you were also smart and creative in the way you tackled projects, in your prep work, in your interactions with people, in your life hacks.
Remember what I told you when I discovered that you had a subscription to Mother Earth News?
“You’re a hippie in disguise!”
Made my liberal heart happy, even if you qualified your love for the magazine. “I don’t agree with everything they say, but they have great ideas and information.”
You’re just an old hippie, out here on this beautiful land growing food and flowers to share, harvesting rainwater, reusing every possible thing. How many tools did you make with an empty one-gallon milk jug? Stacks and stacks of newspapers that you salvaged and lovingly arranged over garden rows.
You were clueless, Mom, but I hope you know now.
Remember that letter you received, when someone from somewhere, maybe Gallatin, Tennessee, wrote to you after decades to tell you how much influence you had in her life?
You sat on the back porch shaking your head, “I can’t believe it, I had no idea…”
Clueless. You cried a little.
We’re spinning around just now, a little clueless ourselves, sorting out what to do next, but I’m releasing the need to control it all. Because, I know you’ve left us well.
You won’t be here to take the operation overboard, but we have the recipes for Christmas cookies and candy and will make enough to share, enough to savor your prayerful acts of Christmases past.
When the next Snow Moon pulls the plants through the soil, you won’t be here, but the daffodils you planted decades ago will rise in bright resurrection. And as we recover the garden you tended, we’ll walk past the drunken gladiolas whose bulbs you stuffed into the soil last century.
What about all the other places? Maybe you should check the flowers in our yard in Spain. Some might be descended from your handiwork. Does the willow you had planted still dance in the breeze?
What flowers and bushes did you plant on Nichols Circle in Gallatin? Check. Maybe the bushes are still there. Wouldn’t it be something if the zinnias continue to reseed after all these years?
Remember those giant garlic flowers in Port Gibson? Do you think the people in that house know to use the garlic or are they just mowing the flowers down?
Your prayerful acts will return to us year after year, even when the memory of your acts fade and disassociate. And that’s the miracle isn’t it? Something you did so many years ago will touch someone who is clueless, a stranger who never knew you. A flower descended from seeds you planted with patient steady hands might brighten that stranger’s table, bring a smile to her child, push hope up through the soil of a broken heart.
I’m not fussing at you for being clueless. It’s charming. But I hope you know now the impact of your prayerful acts over the years, tucked in the soil with the promise of spring, woven into our hearts with love to light the years we face without you.
Honoring Mom Through Prayerful Acts
- Plant a vegetable garden, even if you don’t eat them. She planted peas, butter beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more, but didn’t eat most some of them.
- Plant zinnias among the vegetables in your garden.
- Reuse and repurpose, old newspapers to block weeds in the garden, old milk jugs become scoops and soft shovels.
- Before spring warms the soil, plant daffodil and gladiola bulbs.
- Pull weeds from the cracks of a walkway, even if it’s not your walkway.
- Take the time to prep before you paint, and paint with patience.
- Bake more gingersnaps, snickerdoodles, oatmeal, chocolate chip, and sugar cookies than your whole community could possibly consume.
- Make pralines, divinity, and trash as the holidays approach. Keep homemade alive.
- Wear a colorful shirt and slack combination.
- Teach, a physical skill (jump rope, alley-oop, floating serve, racket grip), a recipe, a gardening hack.
- Tickle a foot, tease a friend.
- Bring brownies to church.
In spite of (maybe because of) loss and sadness, we move forward. We transition to the other side.
On the other side of this goodbye, my blog will change and re-center. I’m not sure where I’m going and what I will explore next, but I know I’m not leaving mom behind. My intention moving forward is that the words from mouth and the acts by my hands be healing, helpful, and kind, that they bring more light.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022
Hi Pennie, I decided to visit your blog today to see how you are doing. I have learned that your Mom is gone. I know from my own experience of loss that nothing can really prepare us for the moment of losing a loved one, even when we know that it is coming, even when we see it as a release for them. They leave a hole in our heart that can never be truly filled. Other experiences come and go, we learn to live with that empty space, and laugh, and even be happy. But it’s always there. I don’t know if it’s really empty, that spot, or it’s a link with the ones we cared so much about. It’s painful and it’s beautiful.
I will be thinking about you.
I am sorry your mother is gone. At the same time, I am happy you had the opportunity to love and be loved by such a wonderful person.
A beautiful tribute, Pennie, that I’m so sorry you’ve had to write. Looking forward to where your blog will go next, but I well know it will be with your mom in your heart.
Thank you for writing this. It is comforting read your words.
Thanks, Amy. Lifting you too.
I, too, have been writing my dads eulogy these many years. And I believe, as you do, she’s still with you in the many seeds she dropped as she journeyed her life. Something you see will make you smile, a smell, a breeze in your skin, will make you smile and remember her. What is remembered, lives. Love you, chosen sister.
Thanks, Debbie. For all of it.
What is it the ubiquitous ‘they‘ say? “As long as someone remembers you, you’re never really gone”? I would add for your Mom: “As long as they see a single flower you planted, remember a single skill you taught, taste a single bite from one of your recipes, touch one thing formed by your hands…and many, many more, you will never be forgotten.”
Beautifully said, Pennie!
This is really beautiful. It brings to mind Mercedes Sosa’s version of “Como pájaros en el aire.”
Thanks for the reminder. I’ll return to Como pájaros en el aire.
Not only was this a beautiful tribute, but I also wish you the best in the coming months as you do your “reset”. As long as you and others remember her life, and those flowers continue to bloom, your mother lives on in the echos of her actions. At least, that’s what I believe.
Thanks, Alana. And I believe it too!