In 2016 we moved Mom and Dad from the apartment in Tacoma to an assisted living place in the artsy little town of La Conner, about twenty minutes away from Scott and me. It had become clear that Mom was evolving into Dad’s caretaker – actually, maybe she had been his caretaker for years and we just hadn’t realized. We recognized that both Mom and Dad could use some support in this new, and last, adventure in their lives on this planet.
A couple weeks after Mom and Dad moved to La Conner, I had the great good privilege to return to the local Unitarian Universalist church as their guest speaker. Oh, but I love that little congregation!
My husband and I brought Mom and Dad with us this time – we wanted them to meet their new neighbors at the Skagit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – I knew they’d be made to feel welcome and at home. And sure enough! – as soon as we entered the doors to the hall we were met by friendly hand-shaking people and surrounded by cheery laughter and smiles. In fact, one of the members was the widow of one of Dad’s old mountaineering friends and they immediately got in conversation about old times and mutual friends.
This was no hushed, sanctimonious, dignified fellowship. There was no one standing at the doors trying to usher people to seats, or bid them be quiet. There was no one trying to maintain any kind of decorum. Everywhere was laughter and old friends greeting each other, and new friends meeting for the first time, and love expressed. Everywhere was joy.
Mom and Dad sat in the front row of the church with Scott and me. There was a big smile on Mom’s face as she looked around the hall. In the front of the auditorium there are three beautiful, quilted panels of tapestry, depicting a scene in the Cascade Mountains – and I could see Mom’s eyes resting on the mountain scene, and appreciating its beauty. “My memorial service could be here,” she said. I smiled and told her that wasn’t something we needed to think about for a long time.
Dad, meantime, was perusing the agenda for the service and saw my name in it. He pointed to my name and asked me why my name was there. “Because I am a big deal,” I told him, grinning. He grinned, too, and nodded his head in acceptance – like, of course I am a big deal.
About ten minutes after the service was supposed to begin, the celebrant finally saw an opportunity to close the doors to the room and chime the service into being. Songs were sung, announcements were made, there was the sharing of griefs and joys – and laughter throughout. Attending a Skagit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship service is like being at a comedy club. I always feel at home there.
By the time it was my turn to speak, any nervousness I might have felt had disappeared in the laughter.
“The Healing Power of Love” was the subject of my talk. I talked a bit about my upbringing – raised by a non-religious father and a Christian Science mother – and how my parents had raised me to be a really happy skeptic: My dad taught me to question political and religious dogma; my mom taught me to question everything I saw, heard, and felt with the material senses. “My parents might not have shared the same religious beliefs, but they shared the same values,” I observed, “and they taught my brothers and me to keep an open mind, to not be hasty to judge others, to appreciate the beauty of nature, and to look for the good in people.” My UU friends nodded their heads at this – open mindedness and looking for the good in others is probably one of the cornerstones of the Unitarian Universalist church. Now and then I would bring my mom (who was sitting in the front row with my dad) into my talk – at those times I felt like George Burns feeding lines to Gracie Allen. Mom could have been a stand-up comedian.
I explained that I don’t speak for any other Christian Scientists when I speak about Christian Science – I’m only speaking for myself and my own experiences with this way of life.
I talked about how “God” is defined in the Christian Science church and gave the seven synonyms the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, gives for God: Principle, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Life, Truth, and Love. Lately I’ve been practicing substituting the word “Love” for “God” in my favorite Bible verses, and I shared some of those verses with the UU congregation: “Fear not, for Love is with thee… Be still, and know that God is Love… All things work together for good to those who love…” and here the congregation filled in the blank with me, “Love.”
I’ve come to a place in my life, I told the congregants, that if something doesn’t come from love or lead to love, I don’t want to waste my time with it. And they nodded their heads in agreement. I love these people.
Then I shared a healing I had experienced by drawing my thoughts close to Love: When I was in labor with my second son, I was told I would need to be given a cesarean – my son was in distress. As I was being wheeled down to the operating room, I asked my mom to call a Christian Science practitioner for prayerful support. When I got to the OR they hooked me up to a machine to monitor the baby. I prayed – and in Christian Science prayer doesn’t mean to plead with some anthropomorphic god to come down from the clouds and help us – praying, for me, just means to draw my thoughts close to the presence and power of Love.
I could feel the love from the doctors and nurses – I knew they wanted to help my baby and me. I knew that everything was unfolding as it should – under the direction of Mind. I found a place of peace. And suddenly the medical staff was looking at the monitor, looking at me, looking back at the monitor – and then they were all yelling, “Push! Push!” and my baby was born the old-fashioned way. One of the nurses was crying – she said she’d never been able to witness a vaginal birth before, and it was so beautiful. When I asked the midwife what had happened to allow my baby to be born naturally, she said, “We don’t know.” And when I asked my mom what the practitioner had told her when she called her, Mom said the practitioner had said, “Life loves that baby!”
It tells you something about the UU congregants that I felt completely comfortable sharing that healing with them. I knew they would understand the feeling of love that lay behind it. (After the service one of the congregants whose father was in the hospital thanked me and told me how helpful my thoughts had been to her – that meant so much to me.)
Maybe the thing I enjoy most about the Skagit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is that they let me have fun with them. They know how to laugh. They are natural Humoristians.
And they know how to love.
It brought me such joy to have Mom and Dad with me at that service.
I got to be the speaker at the local Unitarian-Universalist church today (via Zoom) – and, as always, I had such fun with the fellowship there. There will be an audio link to the talk in a few days, but in the meantime here’s the speech as I had it written out (of course, I sometimes deviated from the script in the actual talk). 🙂
Originally, I was going to talk today about the adventures I had with my centenarian father in the last few years of his life. But when my husband mentioned that May 9th was Mother’s Day I was, like, OH!!!! YEAH!!! THAT’s what my talk is supposed to be about!!! It’s supposed to be about MOTHER-Love! So that’s where I’m going to go today. I’m going to go to that place of Mother-Love.
As some of you know, I was raised in Christian Science by my own mom, so Christian Science is the way of life I’m most familiar with. In the textbook for Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy has this to say about Mother-Love:
“Father-Mother is the name for Deity, which indicates His tender relationship to His spiritual creation. ‘
“A mother’s affection cannot be weaned from her child, because the mother-love includes purity and constancy, both of which are immortal.”
“Love, the divine Principle, is the Father and Mother of the universe, including man.“
‘Man and woman as coexistent and eternal with God forever reflect, in glorified quality, the infinite Father-Mother God…‘
“In divine Science, we have not as much authority for considering God masculine, as we have for considering Him feminine, for Love imparts the clearest idea of Deity.”
Mother-Love isn’t flimsy and fragile. Mother-Love is unconditional, enduring, wise, just, brave, and fun.
My own mother was a wonderful expression of Mother-Love. When I was a little girl I’d play outside all day in the summers, and when I finally came in at the end of the day, my legs would be aching from all my playing. Mom would sit on the side of my bed and gently massage my legs and sing hymns from the Christian Science Hymnal. There’s one song, in particular, I associate with Mom during these times. I’m going to sing a little now, and as I sing I’m going to imagine my mom singing this to me. Maybe you can imagine your own mothers singing to you. The words to this song are by Frances A. Fox: “In Thee I have no pain or sorrow No anxious thought, no load of care. Thou art the same today, tomorrow; Thy love and truth are everywhere.”
I remember this feeling of being surrounded in a warm, light-filled bubble of Love, and the pain in my legs melting away. Moz taught me the power of Love to heal.
Moz was wise: I remember coming home from school in the first grade, telling Moz about my cranky teacher – she didn’t seem to like her students much. Mom’s response was, “Well, we just need to love the hell right out of her!” Mom didn’t commiserate with me, didn’t call up the school and complain about this teacher – instead she used this opportunity to teach me a life-long lesson about the power of love. I started my Campaign of Love the very next day, bringing in hand-picked flowers for my teacher, and leaving little notes of love on her desk. And by the time she met with my mom for conferences, she told my mom how very much she enjoyed me, and how much my kindness had meant to her. That’s when we learned that my teacher’s son and husband had recently died, and she had been going through some rough times. I’m so glad my mom told me to love my teacher. We never know what’s going on in other people’s lives.
Moz was a warrior for justice. I remember her shaking with indignation when I was a little girl and we encountered a racist at the Sears store. The man had nodded his head towards a Black family and said, loud enough so they could hear, that they should be shopping in their own store. When Moz understood what he was saying she was furious – “They have as much right to be here as you or me!” she told him, trembling with rage. The man had seemed to think Mom would be his ally, and seemed surprised this little 5’1″ woman was standing up to him. He got all red in the face and scurried away. That was a moment I will never forget – it had a huge impact on me. I remember feeling very proud to be Moz’s daughter. She showed me how to stand up to bullies. Last year when I attended the local Black Lives Matter rally, I could feel Mom with me. I think she was proud of me.
Moz was brave. In my twenties I was always going off on adventures by myself – hiking and traveling. And, now that I’m a mother of adventurous children myself, I can recognize the courage my mom showed during this time. She never tried to stop me from going on my adventures – even though I knew she worried. She showed the purest kind of love a mother can show by letting me go and live my life and understanding that it WAS my life to live. I think she must have come to realize, as I have come to realize, too, that our children own their own life experiences and it’s none of our business where Love chooses to lead them when they become grown-ups.
Moz knew how to laugh. A couple months before Mom died (although I didn’t realize at the time how close to the end she was), she asked to go to the dentist to get her teeth cleaned. So I brought her into my dentist. And, of course, she had all these forms to fill out. By the time I handed her the last form, she was totally exasperated. “Another one?” she asked. I told her to behave herself, and she said, “Don’t make me laugh – I’m trying to sign this thing.” She finished signing the paper and handed it back to me. “You know,” she said, “I’ll get all these papers signed, and then next week I’ll die.”
Missy, the dental lady came out to get her then, and Moz got up to follow her with her walker. “Watch out,” she said, “I don’t have a license for this thing.” Missy started cracking up.
Missy got Moz situated in the dental chair, and turned the light on to start working on her teeth. Moz told her to feel free to pluck any chin hairs she found. Missy started laughing. She handed Moz a glass of water to rinse. She asked Moz how she was doing. Moz told her, “I’m full of it.” Missy grinned, and asked, “You’re full of it?” Moz said, “Water, that is.” And Missy cracked up.
Then Hansrolf came in. Hansrolf is my favoritest dentist, ever. He’s like a stand-up comic. He and Moz immediately took to each other. Moz told him she came here for the entertainment. She told Hansrolf he should give Missy a raise. Hansrolf said what he needed to do was get all of us out of there – he was out-numbered and we were ganging up on him. Moz responded with some smartassery, and then noted, “I probably shouldn’t have said that, eh?” And Hansrolf said, “Not just before I start working on your teeth, no.” Moz started cracking up.
There was another day, near the end of her life, when I had a lot of errands to run with Moz – doctor’s appointment, supermarket, veterinarian’s. And we were sitting at the doctor’s office and Moz told the nurse, “We have a lot of appointments today. See? I wore my serious clothes.”
To which I replied, “Your shoes belie that.”
To which she replied, “I don’t have any serious shoes.”
Moz was a life-long learner. She had a thirst for learning and was an avid reader. One of her favorite authors was Carl Sagan – Moz loved learning about the cosmos. She also was a huge fan of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and actually got to meet him one time, with her dear friend, Jolene Unsoeld.
Moz had her own adventures. My dad was well-known in mountaineering – he’d climbed on some of the highest mountains in the world. But what most people don’t know is that Mom had her share of adventures, too. When she was four years old she contacted rheumatic fever, and her doctors told her family that Mom should lead a quiet, peaceful life. She did not do this. She climbed Mount Rainier twice, accompanied Dad on hikes all over the Pacific Northwest – on their honeymoon she’d climbed this humongous straight-up spire with him that looked like it was some made-up thing from a Hollywood set. Here’s a picture of her climbing over a fence to get to the spire…
A year or two after Mom died, Scott grabbed an old ice axe from the garage to take on a hike with us. We both assumed it was one of Dad’s old ice axes, but when we got up to the trailhead, we realized it was actually one of Mom’s old ice axes! It felt good to be taking her along on the hike with us.
Mother-love doesn’t die. In February 2017 I found myself in a position that seemed impossible. Moz was in the hospital with congestive heart failure, and Dad soon joined her there with a UTI. They were on different floors, both struggling to stay alive. I’d visit one and then the other and then go home, on high alert, and wait for the phone to ring announcing some new crisis.
Just before Moz was going to be released from the hospital, I learned that her assisted living place wasn’t going to accept her back into her home because of her medical issues. This meant I had two days to find a new home for Moz and Dad. In a panic, I started calling other assisted living places, but soon realized the cost of care my parents were going to need would clean out their savings in a couple months. I thought of getting into my retirement savings, but that wouldn’t last too long, either. And I really didn’t want to send my parents to some strange, unfamiliar place, anyway. I prayed – and, by this, I don’t mean that I begged and pleaded to some old guy sitting in the clouds to fix everything – I mean that I reached my thoughts out to Love and listened for guidance. The message that came to me from Love was that I needed to bring my parents into my own home and care for them myself. Scotty agreed to this plan and agreed to help. (I married an incredible man.)
I was still teaching full-time then – so this would be tricky. But it felt right to me to do this.
Hospice got in touch with me – bless them! – and when Moz was brought to our home by ambulance, a hospice nurse came over and showed Scott and I how to care for her.
We spent the whole day telling each other how much we loved each other. Moz was scared. She knew she was dying. She asked me what was going to happen – if we’d ever see each other again. And I told her that nothing could separate us from the love we have for each other – ” For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from Love.” (Romans 8) Mom’s eyes lit up with hope and she nodded her head in affirmation. She felt the truth of those words. Moz went to sleep soon after this, and in the early hours of the morning, while I slept on the couch next to her hospital bed, I felt myself brushed by joy and peace and love. I opened my eyes and it was very quiet and peaceful. I couldn’t hear Mom struggling to breathe, and I thought that was good – she didn’t need any medication. I started to close my eyes, and then I realized. I checked on Mom and she had passed on. But I could still feel her presence in the room with me. The room was full of joy and peace and love. I knew Mom was alright then.
I’m so glad Love had guided me into bringing Mom into our home for that last day.
So now I had to find a home for Dad – I’d promised Moz that she didn’t need to worry about him – that we’d make sure he was alright. Originally the plan had been to bring Dad into our home where he could be with Mom – but, now that she was gone, our home wouldn’t be the right place for him. The social worker asked us if we’d ever looked into adult family homes, and gave us a booklet with names and phone numbers.
When I got home from the hospital after my visit with Dad and the social worker, I went for a walk – at this point I was completely emotionally and mentally stretched – feeling out of my depth and scared about the future – and I needed to find some peace for myself. I prayed again – brought my thoughts close to Love – and suddenly I was filled with joy and hope – and a rainbow arched across the sky! I felt Moz there with me, reassuring me, telling me everything was going to be alright. I began making phone calls to adult family homes – and on the second call I felt I’d found the right place. My brother and I went over to check it out – there were bird feeders in the front yard, and cats and dogs – and I knew the woman who answered the door would have been someone Moz would have felt an instant kinship with. AND the cost of care for Dad would fit his budget!
I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. We had found Dad’s new home – a place I didn’t even know existed a day before!
We just never know. NOTHING is impossible to Mother-Love. NOTHING.
Not long after Moz and Dad moved to the Skagit Valley I gave my second talk at the U-U church. My husband and I brought my mom and dad with us this time –I wanted them to meet their new neighbors at the Skagit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – I knew they’d be made to feel welcome and at home. And sure enough! – as soon as we entered the doors to the hall we were met by friendly hand-shaking people and surrounded by cheery laughter and smiles.
Being herself an expert at loving-kindness, Mom immediately recognized the love she felt there, and said that when she died she wouldn’t mind having her memorial service at the U-U Hall – the way she said this wasn’t maudlin or anything – she said it in the matter-of-fact way that a woman who was almost 89 would say it.
Within a year Moz had passed, and I remembered what she’d said about wanting her memorial service to be held at the U-U Hall, and that’s what we did for her. It was a joyful, beautiful, music-filled celebration. She was exactly right. The U-U Hall was the perfect place to celebrate her life.
On the day of Moz’s memorial service something really wonderful happened. I was waiting for my friend, Teresa, at the Fred Meyer eating area – Teresa was going to help me figure out what I needed to buy for the memorial celebration.
Pretty soon this man came in with a backpack and all kinds of bags hanging out of his pockets and out of his pack. I saw him trying to organize all his bags and was kind of intrigued by him.
Teresa came in then and started chatting with some new friends I’d met while I was waiting for her. I left them for a moment to go to talk to the man with all the bags. I asked him if I could buy him a coffee at the Starbucks – and he asked me if I could maybe buy him a couple gift cards so he could buy food later. So I found the gift card rack and he picked out a Kroger’s card for food, and a Starbucks card, and I went back to the cashier to buy them for him.
The backpack man thanked me for the cards – he said he’d been having a really negative attitude about people up until then, and I’d made him feel better about life. Teresa joined us then and said, “Do you want to know why she bought you those cards today? Her mom died and today is the celebration for her mom, and she’s buying you those cards in honor of her mom who was the most loving person in the world.” And as Teresa told him this, I realized that it was true. Moz had taught me to watch out for people, and to do what I could to help. And the idea of that brought sweet tears to my eyes.
Mother-Love isn’t limited to one gender – every she, he, and they can share Mother-love. And it’s not just something we give to our own children. Mother-Love is available for all of us to share with all of the children of the universe.
There’s a song by Tracy Spring, a wonderful musician and friend and a member of the Bellingham UU Church, that’s been a great comfort to me in the passing of my parents. Like me, Tracy had been with her Mom when she passed, and this song is about her mom’s passing. It resonates with me.It’s called “Remember” and I’d like to share it with you now.
My son was traveling through Europe at the beginning of the pandemic last year, and borders were closing down around him, places to buy food and take shelter were closing down – and I was terrified. I remember watching the news one night with my husband, and I just couldn’t take any more. I got in my car and drove to a place where I could see Mount Baker and I prayed. Words from “Mother’s Evening Prayer” by Mary Baker Eddy came to me. The first verse, especially, gave me comfort: . “O gentle presence, peace and joy and power; O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour, Thou Love that guards the nestling’s faltering flight! Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight.” –Christian Science Hymnal #207, Mary Baker Eddy
I really like the idea that Love, God, owns even the waiting hours. Love owns even the in-between hours – the hours when we’re waiting for the phone to ring to tell us everything’s alright; and the plane to land with our loved ones; and the quarantine to end. Love owns even THOSE hours.
Sally found a rendition of “Mother’s Evening Prayer” on Youtube, performed by my friend, Lisa Redfern. Lisa wrote the tune for her own mother – it’s called “Sandra’s Melody. (The CD for this song can be found at lisaredfern.com.) Here’s Mother’s Evening Prayer performed by Lisa – I’d like to ask you to join me in singing this hymn.
I’ll be speaking to the Skagit Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship on Mother’s Day via Zoom at 10:30. This will be the third time I’ve had the opportunity to be the speaker there – and it’s always such a joy for me! It’s like being in a comedy club. The SUUF folks know how to laugh.
Here’s the announcement in their newsletter: A Love Story for Mother’s Day Karen Molenaar Terrell returns to SUUF to share some of the memories and stories from a love-filled life with her mother, Colleen “Mozzy” Molenaar, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 89. As a visitor to SUUF that year, Colleen was so impressed with our church that she immediately declared that it was where she wanted her final memorial to be held… and it was, just months later. Her grandson, Casey, described her as “… a giving and goofy woman.” Today we’ll hear from Karen about this, her “great taste in shoes” and much more.