Learning Life with an Angel


The month on March will be a great one this year…even on the 28th day. For that day will mark the anniversary of my mother’s death. For the first time in my 41 years living without her it won’t seem sad. I found out something that changed everything about my life and the people that God has placed in it for me. It feels good to be free from somethings sometimes and her life will be celebrated for what it was, and most importantly for who she came to know in the short time that she lived.
When I went to North Carolina several years ago I visited my mother’s best friend, Ellen and she welcomed James Edward and I for some sausage balls and aioli in what we call “the big house.” While sitting there I watched James Edward gazing at the walls and realized that in some very uncanny ways the “big” house was like my own. I had never really noticed as a child the pictures painted from the children hanging or the tiny plaques of hands from kindergartens long past, but like her home I had decorated my own in the exact same way. Interesting…I thought at the time.
You see I spent a lot of time there with her throughout my childhood. She was my mother’s best friend and the first to arrive when the news came that my mother had been hit by a train and killed. She dried my tears and buffered the other adults, who in trying to comfort me did more harm by trying to tell me in desperate explanations that what had just happened “was God’s will.” It would still take me almost 40 years to “undo” those words of “advice.” 
It was Ellen that I turned to for everything that required “mothering.” As I grew older I found myself understanding the world through her eyes and advice and soldering on through a Cinderella esque experience into my teen years. I did not “fit in” with my peers as I was labeled “the girl whose mother was killed.” I was different. I had to be to survive. She would sit and LISTEN to what I was dealing with at home with a person who felt more like an invasion than a “new” mother. Years of unhappiness and pain. She knew something about pain herself having been dealt her own hand in such matters.
When I left home to finish high school at an Episcopal girls boarding school she encouraged me to go find my place. She kept close to me and was never more than a phone call away to LISTEN and then in her special way advise. I did not recognize it then but she had become my mother. When Brian and I decided to get married I asked her to be my Matron of Honor and she stood right beside me and with I am sure an “invisible” yet ever present Lona Ann. When I came home pregnant with my only son, James Edward to bury my father it was Ellen who was welcoming with open arms. Through the years I have lived life with a closeness to her that is like no other and together we have seen too much tragedy.
Recently when I was there again I went to visit “mom” with James Edward and as always the “big” house was decorated for the holidays. Each room carefully placed in the exact same way as it has always been. The elves, made when I was a child placed playing their tricks upon the stairs…the trees set perfectly although new…not “new” at all. Stepping into her home I realized finally that the home I slept in had never really been my home and her home is “home.” This was an important revelation because much of my anger towards the person who lived in 1605 was deeply seated in years of resentment instigated by her lack of respect for keeping things exactly the same. I had felt deeply hurt that I could not bring my children to that place, where I slept because it had been sold and everything was gone. Not so this past year. I was completely set free of those thoughts. 
As we got ready to go she went to the “little” house where she pulled out a notebook filled with newspaper clippings. She said “here….take these” as she handed me a handful of columns. I looked down and I was amazed to discover that she had been a very well known columnist in our tiny town in Union County. What a surprise that there was an even deeper level of connection and similarity! As I read through her “stuff” I came to recognize our “voices” were very much alike. She had never told me that she had been the local celebrity columnist and she knew I had been writing my own column since 2006. As I read through her columns I found the threads of the ties that bind us. She had written about the experience of going through the dark and murky waters of watching her daughter fight and loose the battle of cancer, as I had written about the horrific suicide of my nephew. She and I both had written what it means to be a mother, a wife…and a friend. She wrote about my mother’s death too. It was in that moment that it came all together. Her friendship with my mother was for a greater purpose though neither my mother or Ellen knew it at the time. She was put in place long before my mother was killed to become the mother I would almost have never had! That was why my home looked like hers! That was why my sense of holding onto the past and keeping it for the future was so strong! I had learned character, understanding, devotion and acceptance from her. I finally understood she was not merely in my life but rather had been placed there for a reason. I was moved and at the same time I slipped comfortably into a space…a sense of belonging to a person perfectly…as is the unspeakable bond between a mother and a child. She is my mother and although she has told me many a time that “your mother would have been so proud of you,” I now need to say to her, it is Lona Ann who is most grateful to and very proud of her!
Father Mike spoke at church on Sunday in his usual fantastic way. He tied up real nice the fact that God does not want anything for us tragic or crappy….only LOVE. He sends to us angels that reinforce His caring, it is only for us to recognize them for who they are and why they have been sent to us. Life is not full of coincidences, God does not “will tragedy.” He does however in the most wonderful ways connect us all to be good to each other.           

Ellen and James Edward
James Edward in Mom’s Kitchen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.