Friday, January 22, 2010


What a week...

It started Sunday, the last time I had Mom's spaghetti. It was my favorite dish of hers since I was a little kid. She hadn't cooked spaghetti much lately.

Certainly not for a crew that included Dad and my family. She was nervous about it turning out well. She kept saying "Gosh, I hope this is going to be ok. I hope you guys like it."

"Like it? What do you mean like it?" I said. "It smells delicious." A little taste-testing, as the sauce and meatballs simmered, confirmed it was delicious.

"Yah. Well. I'm not so sure," she said.

"C'mon, Mom, your spaghetti is awesome. It's the inspiration of Sunday Night Spaghetti Night at our house every week."

What a week...

Here we are at the end of the week. So much has happened so fast. It's hard to make sense of much of anything.

To really know anything right now is impossible. Except now I know that Sunday was, in fact, the last time Mom will ever make me spaghetti again and, more importantly, talk spaghetti with me.

What a week. Eating Spaghetti made by Mom. Talking spaghetti with Mom. One last time.

What a gift that has turned out to be for me.

What a week...

Some folks, especially at times like these might think life is a three-act play:

You're born. You live. You die.

That's it. Three acts. Lots of motion. Maybe lots of commotion. Pretty much one straight line. Til it ends. Then it's over. A lot of work. Maybe some heart. Maybe a little soul. But not much in the way of awareness of Something bigger, Someone else at work among us, with each of us, in our world.

That's not the three-act play Mom lived. Not for one minute.

Mom's play went like this: Becoming. Preparing. Returning.

Not a straight line. But, instead one continuous circular motion.

The story of this kid from Minot, North Dakota is how she lived and loved living. It is a story of always, always laboring. Always in motion: Becoming. Preparing. Returning.

And even in the middle of the heartbreak of this week, I'm finding consolation believing that her story is playing out exactly as she wished it might.

Mom has made the ultimate return this week to God. God, Who she believed to be The Giver of All Life. God, Who she spent a lifetime preparing for and with Whom she has returned to, now intimately reunited.

This is what I see here at week's end, that Mom's becoming and preparing for and returning to was all about this: Becoming a Resurrection Woman, preparing to share everlasting life upon her return to our Lord, forever.

At spaghetti dinner Sunday night, one of the things Mom got to talking about was how impossible it has been for her or Dad to get a hold of anyone in this big, dispersed family of theirs.

Every one of you kids has cell phones. But no one can be reached. She didn't get it.

What if Dad or I had an emergency, she wondered. All you kids. With your cell phones. Phhhhhht. We can never get a hold of anyone.

Instead of coming around to her way of thinking and saying something you'd think reasonable or, maybe respectful, and saying it to a couple of 75 year old people, who happened to be your parents, and happened to be the people who loved you into this world in the first place. Responding with something reasonable, respectful like, "You know what, you're right. Whenever you guys call, I'm going to pick up. No matter if I'm in a meeting. Or on another call. Or in a cab. Or whenever or wherever. I'll pick up."


Instead, I gave my folks some genius, gizmo, tech-talk, pep-talk advice: "You guys need to learn how to text."

And then, being smart guy techno guru oldest kid in the family, I said if you have an emergency just text CODE RED. You know just like Jack Bauer on 24. And then I'll pick up. Anytime. CODE RED. I'll pick up.

Mom just looked at me: Phhhhhht, she said.

Dad just looked at me. He didn't say anything but his look said the same thing Mom just did. Phhhhhhht.

Wednesday afternoon. 3:35. I got a text. CODE RED. Not from Mom nor Dad. From my wife. Call Dad. Mom stroke. ER. Methodist Hospital.

I called Dad’s cell. He did what 75 year old guys do when their cell phones ring. He answered.

He said a lot for a guy who a lot times doesn't say much. He said it fast. But it was a little hitch in his delivery that said it all. "it's not good. Mom's probably.... (hitch).....not gonna. It's probably not something Mom can survive."


I jumped onto Highway 100 from my office in Bloomington, heading north toward Methodist Hospital. Somehow, I got behind this big SUV, mud-caked, knobby-fat-tired, monster machine, going like 80 mph up 100.

It was one of those trucks you see images of on TV in the Metrodome driving over other trucks and cars with a deep-voice guy, in an echo chamber, describing utter destruction with passion and delight and "If you bring the kids...popcorn's free."

No time to make value judgements just then because I got a CODE RED going and I gotta get to Methodist and this guy is clearing a path and I'm going with him. Or her.

And about halfway up 100 going 80, I notice this monster truck's got a bumpersticker in the middle of all that mud. It was a little thing. Not fancy or in your face like many bumperstickers.

This little thing stuck to the back of this monster machine simply said, "Love Your Mother."

I'm in the midst of this CODE RED going 80 on 100...and there's this bumpersticker on a monster truck telling me to get my mind right.

Love Your Mother.

I started to repeat it out loud. Love Your Mother. Yes, I love my mother. CODE RED. 80mph. Love Your Mother. Of course, I love my mother.

That guy or woman and that monster truck and that bumper sticker, what a gift. A profound, poignent message of love, of the essence of God from the wild, chaotic street. A message coming from a place where Mom always believed you find such messages in the messiness and brokenness of this thing we call life here on earth.

Love Your Mother.

Mom loved Jesuits. She loved their music. She loved their authenticity. She loved the encouragement of Jesuits from St. Ignatious across the ages to seek and find God in all things. Mom loved them because she believed with them that our God is an Incarnational God. One who is with us. Among us right now. Laboring with us. Like during a CODE RED on Highway 100.

The first principle and foundation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatious begins with words telling us that, "God who loves us creates us and wants to share life with us forever."

This was the foundation of Mom's story and spirituality, and her continuous journey of becoming, preparing and returning. All the things in this world are created because of God's love and, when you see life through that lens, they can become a context of gift.

I heard a line Mom liked from a Jesuit once. It was following a couple of weeks of late season college football when this Jesuit said, as Mass was winding down, “Two weeks ago, Notre Dame beat BYU, proving God is a Catholic. Yesterday, Boston College beating Notre Dame proves God is a Jesuit.”

Mom loved that line, but not only because it is funny. For Mom, God is a Jesuit, was theology.

St. Ignatious said God invites us to hold ourselves in balance and not fix our desires on health or sickness or wealth or poverty or success or failure, or a long life or short life. All things, St. Ignatious held, have the potential of calling us closer to God. And the only desire and the one choice, St. Ignatious says, and I know Mom believed this to her core, is to choose what better leads to God's deepening life in her and in each of us.

For Mom, the richest work of spirituality was discernment; that thing St. Ignatious described as movements of the soul. It's about how God is at work in our lives moment by moment, moving us day by day, always moving to bring us closer to the Giver, the Gifter, the Source of Life.

And beyond Mom's spaghetti, this is what I loved most about her. And it is where we connected the most. One-part spaghetti. One part, the bigger part, souls. Each informing the other, our souls as spaghetti, messy, tangled, lumpy, delicious, filling, abundant.

The last direct words Mom and I shared were in saying goodbye to one another Sunday night. She said she wanted to have coffee; wanted to talk about Haiti and finding God in that tragedy; about finding God in the response to the mess and chaos of Haiti. She said we should go have a cup of coffee and talk about that someday soon. Sure I said. That'd be good. Let's get something scheduled. Those were our last words to one another. Words of connecting. Words of getting time, to talk about how God is at work in the world.

The thing about Mom is that she wasn't a Thing Person. She was a Time Person. All she wanted was time with the people most important to her. Dad. Her kids and our spouses. Her grandchildren. Her siblings.

She treasured time and connection more than anything and she was on that course this past week. Beginning with Sunday spaghetti with our crew. Then breakfast with my youngest sister and her kids Monday morning. Mom's oldest sister said they talked Tuesday for an hour. Likewise for her youngest brother too. He told me they were on the phone together also on Tuesday.

Time and Connection. That was the important stuff for Mom. It was one important way for her to absorb God at work. And it surely moved her soul closer to God as a result.

Mom's spirituality made a lot of sense to me. It drew me closer to her. It draws me closer to God and will continue to do that for the rest of my days.

I understood Mom as my Mother the Monk way better than Mom the Beancounter who'd not stop until every last cent in their checkbook balanced. Or Mom the Secuity Guard who'd stick a dull 4-inch long butter knife in the paper-weight-one-eighth-inch thick door-jam to keep bad guys out when Dad travelled out of town. Why she stuffed blank checkbooks in a plain brown paper bag marked with "LIVER" on it and placed the package in the fridge or when both of them stuffed some vital documents in an empty ice cream container in the freezer, I don't know. She and I didn't share this kind of practicality or pragmatism or wisdom.

I can easily imagine one of her first questions of God this week was how she birthed and raised an oldest son who, along with his family, is completely serene in our inability to answer the home phone when it rings because we simply can't find or don't remember at all where the half-dozen or so cordless phones are in our house or in the garden or in the woods out back.

The look on her face at our home when the phone would ring and ring and ring and we'd sit there and keep talking or doing whatever, my family and I unfazed by it all, this was something Mom couldn't grasp, this kind of messiness, and, yes, maybe I have taken the concept too far. In any event there wasn't any judgment from her. Just a simple, Phhhhhht.

Back at the hospital Wednesday, I first saw my youngest brother, Tom, in the hall of the ER. Tom’s eyes confirmed Dad's words 15 minutes earlier. It wasn't good.

I saw Mom lying in the bed with all manner of medical gear stuck on her. I saw Dad standing over Mom. Standing over his beloved Mac. His life partner for 53 years.

My God. This was the beginning of heartbreak I never knew before. It was the beginning of the final act in her life's play, playing out over the next few hours among Mom and Dad and us kids. All of us being together with Mom in her final moment of becoming, preparing, returning.

What a week...

I miss Mom here at the end of this week. I miss her terribly.

And yet, I have also come to know this, and this is real because I notice its movements in my own soul and I know Mom would understand this because of her own spiritual experience, that in the midst of all this pain, I am consoled, quite consoled; that Mom is now returned to where she had spent her whole life aimed at what she hoped to become, and what she had prepared for with all her heart, her mind and her soul all her life and that is, as St. Ignatious says, "Sharing life now with God forever."

One time a number of years ago, I was driving Mom somewhere, probably out for a lunch date. She was looking out the front window of my car. She said, out of the blue, "I know how this is all going to end."

"How's that?".

She turned her head a bit toward me, looking at me from the corner of her eye. She said "It's Good. It's going to be Good."

What a week...

I can't get that bumpersticker out of my head. Love Your Mother. Going 80 up Highway 100, I read that short message right then as a commandment. Of course, of course, Love Your Mother.

As this week has unfolded, something's moved me to see Love Your Mother not only as Commandment, but also to see it now as Signature.

As in: "Love, Your Mother."

And in the life of Mom, I'm seeing her story of Becoming, Preparing, Returning, a little clearer here at week's end with this as the culmination of her storyline: It’s Good. It's going to be Good.

I see this and treasure this as a tremendous, consoling gift, given to me, from her and from God; a beautiful gift of message that somehow reached me from the mess of the CODE RED speeding streets of We the Living, not as a commandment, but as a simple, loving, soft Signature to her storyline, spoken directly to me, right when I needed it most.

As in: "Hi Tim, it's me. It's good. It's going to be Good.

"Love, Your Mother."

(Mom died unexpectedly January 20, 2010. These were the words of my Eulogy for Mom at her Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday, January 23.)



  1. Dear Tim:

    What beautiful thoughts. I didn't know your mom - first and last time I saw her was at your wedding to Mary Alice. She sounds like a truly spiritual woman and her death was going home. I know you, your dad, and siblings will miss her terribly. I am sorry for your loss. Maureen

  2. I've been praying another line from the First Principle and Foundation these last two weeks:

    We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one.
    For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

    May even this time of sadness call that response forth in you, and in those who loved your mom.


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