My mother lived what could be called an ordinary life. She travelled when young, then settled down with a family, involved herself in the lives of her children and friends, and enjoyed a brief retirement. Her main interests were her faith and her family. She served at church, helped at the hospital and supported causes like Alzheimer’s awareness, missions, and hospice care. She wasn’t a leader outside our home, she wasn’t loud, she could be depended on to help but she wasn’t the focus of attention and did not want to be. She was the first to volunteer to help bake for an event, do dishes, host a visitor, or clean up, she liked to laugh and she enjoyed her friends.
Her life was not characterized by great academic or professional success, she didn’t travel the world, she didn’t write any books or make any speeches. She taught children in Sunday school, visited lonely old ladies, laughed and cried with her sisters, cooked and cleaned and did laundry, and was a servant to her family. She was a normal person, sometimes she got mad, sometimes she was bored, sometimes she felt frustrated. She entertained strangers, supported my father, cleaned up after us, and usually put her own needs last.
Now that she is gone, there is little tangible evidence that my mother was ever here. There is no statue, no fortune, no heirlooms, no mansion, no memoir. There are a few old clothes and shoes, and some letters and photographs. When seen in its entirety, her life can be summed up as one of quiet service.
For the last years of her life my mother was changed irrevocably by Alzheimers’ disease. It didn’t seem fair. The body was here but the person was long gone. We only saw the outer shell wasting away, and the inner person seemed to have disappeared altogether. We saw an old lady who could not speak. We saw a deteriorated body and a devastated mind. We mourned for the person she had been long before she died. Her life seemed pitiable, and cruelly cut short.
But when her funeral came, and her friends gathered and paid their last respects to the damaged body this lady left behind, this is what they sang:
Behold the daughter of the King
All glorious is within
And with embroideries of gold her garments wrought have been.
She shall be brought with gladness great and mirth on every side
Into the palace of the King, and there she will abide.
Somehow the impact of the years of illness was minimized by these words, and I was able to see again the beauty of a quiet life lived in service to God and to others. My mother was a King’s daughter. I had lost sight of that.
What is really important in life? It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the things that matter in the rush and bustle of life and work. It can be easy for me to forget that how I live matters more than what I might achieve. I had thought that my mother lived an ordinary life, but now I am not so sure. The beauty of a consistently unselfish life, lived out in care for others is a rare gift to leave behind.