Living Love, Speaking Love


“Be still, my soul, and steadfast. / Earth and heaven both are still watching / though time is draining from the clock / and your walk, that was confident and quick, / has become slow. So be slow if you must, but let / the heart still play its part. / Love still as once you loved, deeply / and without patience. / Let God and the world / know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.

Mary Oliver, “The Gift”

(I have been learning to write memoir for the past few months. This kind of writing requires deep digging. Sometimes, though, when the stories appear, they almost write themselves. So it is with this one.)

“Ma-ma” had to have been one of my earliest recognizable words. Embraced by the lavish love of a grateful mother, I was the first-born after two miscarriages had postponed her longed-for child. She would be the Mama who fed and bathed and dressed me every day. Who bundled me up in winter to take me for a sleigh ride and some fresh air. Who tenderly held me when I was baptized, freshly dressed in the elegant family heirloom baptismal gown.

“Mama” became “Mommy” when I was old enough to pronounce two different vowel sounds. After my afternoon nap, I would get up on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth and singing, “Mom-my, Mom-my, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” until she came to get me. She always came.

Mommy was the one who rubbed Vicks Vapor-Rub on my neck and chest when I had a sore throat, placing a white wool sock around my neck, fastening it with a large safety pin. Healing hands and beef bouillon and saltines were always ready for her children when they were sick.

By age 12 – and adolescence – “Mommy” became a more sophisticated, “Mom,” for the next 31 years.

When I was 13, Mom was the one who watched over me for six weeks when I got a kidney infection and pneumonia over Christmas. The cure was mostly lengthy bed rest. Mom made sure I had fresh sheets every day. She fed me soup when I was too weak to feed myself. She sat and held me when I had a fever. She kept me company when I still had to be in bed but felt better.

In my teen years, Mom was my comforter when I threw myself face-down on my bed, crying, feeling homely and rejected. As she sat quietly next to me, she would rub my back and say, “Sweetheart, some day someone will come along who will love you for who you are. Your time will come.” And she was right.

She was always there.

The last time Mom and I talked, I was 43, and she called me just to chat. She was good about that. But that evening, I was late for an important dinner, and I impatiently shortened our conversation after a few minutes. I said I would call back. I didn’t tell her I loved her. I didn’t take the time.

I didn’t call her back.

A week later, all of that lay behind me as I stood beside my mother’s bed in the ICU of the hospital in Bemidji, Minnesota, in 1984. Two days earlier, she had collapsed outside a college classroom where she and my dad had been attending a class for seniors. She had not regained consciousness. Her family had flown, literally, to be there.

It was “probably” a stroke. Each of us visited her for the first two days as we waited for some sign that she was “with us.” None had appeared.

On the first day, I began to call her, “Mama.” I didn’t know why. I just couldn’t call her anything else. I was as lost as a baby.

As the eldest of her three daughters, I silently took on the responsibility of supporting our dad. I was the only one who would see him cry. None of us had ever seen him cry.

On the last day, everyone else had to return to work and children. It was just Dad and I.

In the afternoon, I went in alone to see her. To see if there could be a change…

She was propped slightly on her right side. I knelt on the cold, hard floor to see her face, which was still calm and unperturbed.

“Mama,” I gently called. “Mama, can you hear me? Mama, if you can hear me, open your eyes.”

For the first time, her eyes opened, and they looked straight at me. I think I stopped breathing.

“Mama, I love you! I love you, Mama!” My eyes were locked into hers.

She gazed at me for a few seconds and then closed her eyes.

“Mama?” I tried again, but those few moments would be my one precious gift. The circle was complete. My first word and my last. Mama. It held our lifetime.

Did she hear me? Did my mama hear those words of love that I hadn’t said to her the last time we talked? I chose to believe so. Don’t most of us want the chance to say one last good-bye?

She died late that night. I was able to be with my dad as we both said our last good-byes. He wanted me to stay. I was there to hear his last words to his wife, my mom. Indescribable blessing.

What I did do was tell my dad for the next 28 years that I loved him every time we were together. It had never been our way. But it became my way.

The last time I saw him, he seemingly no longer knew who I was. Before I left our visit, I went around behind him as he sat in his wheelchair. I leaned down and wrapped my arms around him and said, “Dad, I love you.” When I went back around to say good-bye, tears were running down his cheeks.

We never know. There is so much we do not know. But I do know that in some precious, mysterious way, gratitude for wondrous things and for amazing love does make a difference.

It’s all grace.

And I’m very okay with that.

23 thoughts on “Living Love, Speaking Love

  1. Hi Martha 😊 I ended up visiting here based on a recommendation by Ann…and I am so touched by you and your writing. I read this post at home and I was in tears, but I had to leave for an appointment so could not comment then. I am sitting in a waiting room feeling my feelings…and tears are filling my eyes…again.
    Thanks for sharing from your heart with such honesty!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lorrie, I’m so glad you visited me, and even more glad that we’ve found connection! I went to your blog and read your “It’s Not Cancer” piece and knew we were kindred souls. I’ve found wonderful new friends in this blogging experience, and Ann is one of the steady, gentle, understanding souls of this earth. I’ve been trying to “follow” you but so far my email address is not succeeding. I’ll try later, because I want no new friend to pass me by! Thank you for your “feelings and tears.” They are precious.


      1. Welcome…welcome, Martha 😊 Thank you so much for stopping by and it is wonderful to connect! Ann is everything you said and I’m so happy she she brought us together.
        I’m sorry my site was being quirky…I hope you come back and it works for you.
        Have a wonderful rest of the week and I can’t wait to walk around more of your blog. Sweet Blessings πŸ˜ŠπŸ’œ


  2. Thank you for sharing this beautiful love story…In life, love is really the only thing that matters. Thank you for sharing this precious piece of your heart. It matters that you tell your story. It matters that love stories are told.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Martha for sharing these sacred stories. What a gift you have for writing. You bless us with your words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, my dear friend! Writing has become my soulmate in retirement, and even more so in the pandemic life. Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing each other. I’m back to masking after the shingles…signs of my “old” immune system that needs protecting. Be well!


  4. Wow, I have shivers in my soul. You captured the essence of your mother-daughter relationship with such care and delicate details. I am sure she heard you say the last β€œI love you” to her and that she felt the strength of your love. Just like your dad heard and felt your love even when his memory was faltering. Thank you for this reminder to live and speak my love whenever I can.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. My son died 4 years ago. He was minimally conscious for 15 years prior to his death. My comfort comes from hoping that all the time I spent with him during those 15 years, on a certain level, were meaningful to him. I believe it was and I believe the same for your experience.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Bernadette, I am convinced that our loved ones are aware of our presence even in a coma-like state. There are many stories like that, including the night that my husband died. I’m so glad that you have had that comfort. It is real.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope you’re right about that. My mother lapsed into a coma the day before she died, and I was with her the whole time. I read to her just in case she could hear my voice.


    1. Thanks so much! I must admit, I was in tears often writing and editing it! I always read a post aloud many times to see if it flows. I never did get through this one without those tears!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your title is absolutely spot-on perfect…because these words are pure living, speaking, and breathing love! And how appropriate that you used the Mary Oliver quote which ends, β€œThat the gift has been given.” Because this, my friend, was truly a gift.


    Liked by 2 people

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