I thought of her in that exact moment, when life itself went still. I had been running through a forest path and stopped at my favorite bridge, the one with stone lions guarding it on both sides. I took a moment to stretch and when I did, I saw a gorgeous, snow white egret frozen still in the water. Except he was upside down. Or rather, my view of him was. I was stretching down to reach my toes and saw the bird through the gap in my legs, my narrow field of vision filled with that lovely sight. I would have missed it otherwise, and gone along my run perhaps without this breath of stillness. She, the only pilgrim I really knew, reminded me to appreciate these simplicities.
We said goodbye to her, my mother-in-law, Susanne, three months ago. That is hardly enough time to heal a broken heart. I don’t think the right amount of time even exists. So you do what you can. That often means remembering the good moments she gave us, even after she was gone.
Here is another.
The year was just halfway gone and it had already been a long one, both sad and joyful. It was the year of Jonathan coming home from war, the year we welcomed our first nephew to the family, the year Susanne was diagnosed with something she didn’t ask for. It was also the year she bought a home. It was the place where she would grow many things. Flowers became the most visual sign of her work. Hibiscus flowers the size of plates in burgundy and soft pink. Sunflowers that grew taller every year. Mums, rich in orange and red and magenta. And, of course, the roses tucked along the back porch.
She also grew the hearts and spirits of those who came to her home and her ministry, Holy Paths. This soul work bore fruit unseen but with great impact. I can’t imagine the number of prayers she led or the hearts she helped heal. But I could feel it when I came home for family holidays. That joyful warmth, welcoming at all times. The home’s location was also a blessing, situated on a horse farm with a view to the Smoky Mountains on a clear day. Susanne always kept food for the horses, and it was a great joy for me to have them close every day I stayed there.
She kept a photo of her backyard view next to the refrigerator, pinned on a board with thank you cards and invitations and baby announcements. In the photo the horses are relaxed and grazing, the sky painted in slate-blue clouds. Despite the overcast weather, sunlight floods the trees, which have just begun to welcome fall. I always loved this photo. Looking at it now from my home in Brazil, I think about this mix of sunlight and shadow. Fall is upon her old home, a place she filled with love and light. I would really love to sit with her on the porch, steam rising from mugs of tea, while we watch the horses graze and the leaves turn. I imagine she can do that now, see the glory in that moment when a leaf’s green gives way to its new color.
Here is another moment she gave me.
I had never seen a swing so grand, at least not in person. I waited impatiently until the smaller, younger children were called away to other activities and I could have my adventure swinging from this decades-old giant. I grasped each side of the swing’s ropes, right hand, then left. Hold tight, I thought to myself. I backed up a few steps, then let my feet fly. The wooden plank seat held firm as I landed on it and felt that familiar freedom of the ground dropping from beneath me. After some extra pushes from Jonathan I was able to soar twice or thrice my height off the ground. This is where things could get scary. But they didn’t. The view was too stunning for that. With every crest of the swing, acres and acres of green and trees flooded my vision, broken only by the splash of pond to my right and the occasional dotting of the property’s white fencing. I found myself on this grand swing, in a Sunday-best-like dress, because of her. After my mother-in-law passed, some very kind, dear friends offered us a retreat to the stunning Blackberry Farms in Walland, Tennessee. This gift came from her deep friendships within her community, and at our moment of need they came together to give us a time of rest. Susanne was a great advocate for that, and I believe she is resting well now.
Thank you, Susanne, Mom, for this special parting gift. I am certain it won’t be the last.