Unwrapping the Gift(s)

What does it look like to live a good story?
Am I living a good story?
Why does it matter?

Those are questions the folks over at Prodigal Magazine have been wrestling with.

My mom lived a good story, and we celebrated her life six months ago. I’m reposting this today in order to join other writers who are looking for answers.

He beckons me to the table to review the order of service. “I have your mother,” he says.

And I don’t want to think of the feet I rubbed during the last weeks, the feet we slipped the pink-and-whites over, or the hand I held as she took her last breath reduced to ashes.

She would not be happy with us, likely, at all these preparations, at the busyness of this week.

But we want to give the gift of her, peel away the layers, unwrap the gift of her life.

I slip into my front-row seat on the sofa between my dad and Grace and gaze at the PowerPoint, still running, and the 11 x 14 photo, and I will myself not to cry.

The musician/cantor, the one we called only that morning, picks up her guitar and begins to sing.

I come to the garden alone…

Mom had asked Ruth, who came to the Cottage with her own guitar, to sing this.

The great-grandchildren bring their gifts to the table, tulips straight from the Netherlands. Gracee collects Lillee, and they come together, but Lillee is not happy about leaving her gift. “Flower!” she wails, and throws herself to the floor, and I laugh.

Niece Kristin reads from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

There is a time for everything . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh . . . a time to mourn and a time to dance.

And then Margaret, our cantor, sings a responsorial Psalm, the 27th, the one that contains my one-thing life verse.

And Mom’s family doctor, again asked only that morning, reads from Revelation 21:1-7.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes . . . there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain . . . I am making everything new.

Father John reads from Matthew 11:27-30.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Mom watched him on TV, and he gave the gift of 5 hours round-trip travel to help us remember her. And he reads a poem about Grandma’s Hands. And talks about how she transcribed the stories of others as a medical transcriptionist and then a court recorder.

And some of us share.

Dennis tells the salt-on-ice-cream story, and Abby talks about how Grandma made her laugh and some things Grandma taught her–like “No Christmas gift is ever predictable–unless it’s a coin.”

And she doesn’t know about the Hobby Lobby gold pirate coins scattered on the cloth-covered meal tables.

Grace reads what she wrote. Walks right up there and tips the microphone down to her level and talks about simple things (like drinking pop and being penpals) and simple gifts, like coins and “fragile things,” Grandma gave her (nobody knows Sissy and I have planned Simple Gifts for the closing song).

And I remember the battery shaver and gold pen Mom asked me to gather off her desk a few weeks ago for Grace because she didn’t want her to sneak a sharp blade to her legs like I did at her age, and she thought she’d love to write in gold ink.

I must remember to give those to Grace.

Sissy fights tears as she talks about hands. I don’t even think she planned to talk, but the poem hit a chord.

I tell about the Christmas I really wanted a hair dryer and how excited I was to rip off the wrapping (probably Sunday comics) to find a hair dryer box. And how disappointed I was to find black-and-orange stretch pants inside.

I eventually did find the hair dryer itself in a laundry tub in the motel. But I learned (and it became a standing family tradition) to never judge the inside of anything by the outside.

I share about how I was afraid to tell Mom I had a blog, especially since I read somewhere that one should write as if their parents were no longer alive in order to be more transparent, in order to pour the inside out, to unwrap oneself without fear. And how she encouraged me to tell, and how Mom became one of my biggest cheerleaders, even sometimes commenting anonymously.

And I think about how unsure I was about enclosing copies of my last month or so of writings in report covers and scattering them around the room during visitation. But how in my writing I think her gifts, her story, can live on.

I tell about her excitement over simple things–in seeing a space shuttle or the space station or even a jet pass overhead, in watching birds, in wondering at the “sunspots,” that I suspect her lenses created.

The joy of seeing deep in simple things.

It’s a gift.

Father John talks more about hands, and Sissy and I sing the first verse of Amazing Grace together. Margaret joins in on the second, and everyone sings the rest together.

We recite The Lord’s Prayer, and Margaret sings Simple Gifts and swings into Lord of the Dance.

And we are dismissed for a meal that includes dessert, an ice cream sundae bar–with hot fudge.

I think of One who was born in a simple place, cradled by simple hands.

His own hands healed the hurting and stretched out to conquer death.

And they wrap our stories in hope.

So we dance.

And the gift goes on.

And her story lives in us.


  1. says

    Dear Sandra, This is beautiful. How wonderful that your mother read your blog. My mother was called Home in 2004. I am grateful she is forever well and cherish the caregiving years. Love endures and grows. Blessings, Ellen
    Ellen Grace Olinger recently posted..More Inspiration

  2. says

    This is precious. An ice cream sundae bar at a funeral reception? Priceless!

    My mom’s story was one-of-a-kind. Mine feels like a shadow next to her sun. Now that she’s gone, I shine alone. It still feels cold.
    Megan Willome recently posted..The Butterfly Effect

  3. says

    Oh, Sandra. This is so beautiful.

    My mother’s service was not so carefully planned, and reading this, I feel like it didn’t reflect her. Didn’t really reflect our love for her.

    I understand what Megan means.


    She would have LOVED that ice cream sundae bar. I know what
    Sheila Seiler Lagrand recently posted..Papaya Lonely