Once upon a time, there was a rebellious girl who could do little right by her parents. This girl watched the adoration showered upon her younger sister and vowed that she would someday love each of her children equally, be they rowdy or be they respectful.
When she became a parent, she lived true to her vow. There were many things she didn’t do perfectly or could have done better, but each of her three sons knew how truly they were loved.
As they grew, she would look upon them fondly and reflect aloud on her old age to come. “When I am elderly,” she would say, “Middle, you will be the one to take care of me. You will be here in body and in spirit. Oldest, you will be here in spirit, but not in body. Youngest, you will be here in body, but not in spirit.”
Middle would hug her and cry, “Please don’t ever get sick or go away, Mother!”
She would hug Middle and say, “I cannot prevent these things, sweetheart, but I will be with you as long as I can.”
Oldest would protest, “But, Mother, I love you too!”
She would pat Oldest’s knee and say, “I know you do, sweetheart! But you are a wanderer, and you will go all the places your heart leads you.”
Youngest would protest, “But, Mom, I love you too!”
She would stroke Youngest’s hair and say, “I know you do, sweetheart! But you dream so many beautiful things, it will be hard for you to forsake those for this world.”
Many years later, when her sons had grown, she fell ill. As her body dwindled, each of her sons loved her in the ways they knew how.
When her body could no longer fight the cancer that had spread throughout her body, she died.
Oldest was there in spirit, but far away in body.
Middle was there in body and spirit.
Youngest was there in body.
Often in the days and months that followed his mother’s death, Oldest would curse himself for not being there to hold his mom as she died. He would feel unworthy of forgiveness and unforgivable.
But sometimes, he would remember his mother’s gentle words: You will be here in spirit, but not in body. In these moments, he would whisper a “thank you” to his mom for her wisdom in sharing the future she foresaw. It was as if she’d not only anticipated Oldest’s sorrow but bestowed upon him the grace he’d need to know she wouldn’t forgive him if she were alive.
Why, indeed, would she dream of forgiving him for being who he was? Who she’d encouraged him to be? She’d be far more likely to throw her head back and laugh before saying, “Should I forgive you for breathing, too?”
In these moments of thanks, Oldest renews his mother’s childhood vow. He will love each of his own children fiercely and equally, so that his love for his children also endures long after he is able to whisper it to them in the present
(c) 2011 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
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