I wondered the other day how a mother could even think that, let alone say it. But then Mama was a woman who defied exact definition. She was strong, smart, courageous, sometimes outrageous and above all, ruled by a faith that was simply unbendable and unquestionable. That part of her was definable and clear: She believed unyieldingly in an Almighty God who never left her side. Even when it could have seemed that He did.
Her loss had been profound. Downright grievous. The pure wretchedness of the heartbreak had been hard to witness. I was the first one to glimpse it, watched as the pale shock of the horrible news settled over her face then dragged her shoulders down from straight to weighted.
Dazed, she handed me the kitchen phone and silently shuffled away. I finished the call she had begun then found her in the den in her favorite chair. One hand was pressed to her mouth, as the first tear slipped from her eyes. Once that tear had been brazen enough to escape, others fearlessly flowed in rapid succession.
I sat down on a footstool and scooted it closer. I took one cold hand — like me, Mama always had cold hands — and held it while I stroked her leg with the other. "Oh, Mama," I whispered. "I'm so sorry. So very sorry. I know how this breaks your heart." Her face crumbled into the ugly cry and I joined her, saddened by her loss more than mine. After all, it was her son who was gone, a child she had brought into this vale of joy and grief.
Sorrow rarely tempted her to tears but this was different — this time it refused to be turned away by her famously steely resolve. It was the kind of raw sorrow that demands respect through the currency of sleepless nights and haunting pain.
The hardest thing I have ever faced was watching her grief though she stoically sought to navigate around the burden, never allowing self pity an entrance to her thoughts.
For Mama's generation, especially for those stubborn mountain people from the loins of which she sprang, death was never allowed to have victory over the living. Time after time, they met death's rudeness with a cold-eyed look and determination to focus on life, not on the grave. After that day, she refused to cry more, seeing tears as a surrender to the villainous shadow of death. The pain, though, remained.
A month before she died - 75 days after my brother's call away from this life - she wrote a note to her friend, Mary Jo, who, kindly, returned the note to me. She knew it would be important to the archives of my heart and that it is.
"Death has caused a void in my heart which never can be filled," Mama had scripted in her familiar handwriting. "Continue to pray for me because prayer is what has gotten me this far."
Then she wrote what she said so many times in her life, "It's hard to understand but this I know: God makes no mistakes."
See, Mama was raised by people who never understood much of what came to them in life for most of it wasn't anything to brag on, not in those mountains in the trying years of the Great Depression.
But they never questioned the mighty God of their beliefs, never challenged Him on his judgment compared to theirs, never stopped loving Him despite it all. They just dug in, held on and prayed for the grace to survive one more day.
"God makes no mistakes." I read the words over and over. Mama was practicing what she had preached for a lifetime.
That's a lesson worth toting with me on down through the journey of life.
This is a special Mother's Day column by Ronda Rich, the Gainesville-based author of several books, including "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Sign up for her newsletter here. Her column appears regularly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.