mama mondays: precious gifts left behind

It was a card at the bottom of a pile, stained with dried liquid. While sifting through the two-months’ worth of items in our minivan’s jungle of junk, I nearly missed it.

Then, on a lark, I opened the envelope with my name and address on the front, expecting to find little more than an outdated invitation for a birthday party already passed. Instead, I found the note Roberta had sent a few months back, just before her cancer took a turn for the worst.

A simple thank-you note turned to gold in my hands as I read the beautiful expressions of gratitude from this mother-faith friend who passed on to eternal life last Tuesday.

How had she found the time? How does someone about to leave this world summon the energy to turn to others and let them know they’ve been appreciated? I had not expected a note. The gift was small and unconditional, and yet she’d found a way to turn it into a moment of grace for me.

Just before my blogging friend Emilie Lemmons died in December of 2008, instead of skipping Christmas cards that year, she did her best to get as many hand-written notes as she could out into the world. She was intent on letting the people she loved know it. And now, those who received her words treasure them as no other. They are among the precious gifts left behind.

My grief is only beginning to sink in. I was not as close to Roberta as some. We met through a mutual friend in 2000, at that friend’s funeral. Roberta was like a light that kept the memory of my other friendship alive. But I also loved her by her own worth. She was a fellow mother of five with a strong faith and great love for her family. I admired her deep values and commitment to Christ, of “living simply so others might simply live.” On those points, we always hit it off, and I know that if we’d had more time, we would have had many more points of agreement.

It wasn’t nearly enough time, and yet I feel so fortunate to have been in her presence, even for a little while.

This weekend was taken up with basketball tournaments, a church fall festival, a fundraiser for another friend whose daughter has Cystic Fibrosis, and Roberta’s prayer service and funeral. At the latter two, I had a chance to meet Roberta’s beautiful children for the first time, to receive not one but two giant hugs from one of her sons, to hear her oldest son speak of his mother’s last words on this earth, which she had directed at him: “I love you.”

Following Saturday’s funeral, another of Roberta’s sons (there are four plus a daughter) headed to the state football championship with the rest of his team and coaches. It was hard to comprehend how in the morning, he watched his mother’s body be laid to rest, and by evening, he was experiencing his team’s shot at the  championships.

With one second left in the game, the score was tied 21-21. A field-goal kick by our team would determine the outcome. When I saw on TV that the football had made it, had cleared field-goal range, I jumped for joy, squealing with happiness, despite being in a public place. Yes, it’s great to know your school’s team has won a state championship. But it’s even better believing it may have happened because a mother’s love transcends time and place.

I don’t know whether saints really care or have the power to effect the outcome of a high-school state championship. I do know that Roberta cares and loves her children, and that if she was given any influence at all over the game’s outcome, she may very well have had a hand in nudging that football to victory just to see her son smile.

Roberta, thanks for reminding me you’re still with us. And thanks for making me smile, too.

If you have some time this week and would like to hear my interview with Roberta on Catholic radio from this past summer, you’ll find it here, #40 on the left bottom corner of the podcast section.

Q4U: What are ways you’ve become convinced that a loved one’s spirit is still alive and among us?