~ By Elizabeth Dilley
In the past month, I have received two gifts. The first was a knotted cross, given to me and four other women by a dear mutual friend, around whom we virtually gathered over the past year as that friend received treatment for breast cancer. This cross is a celebration of the knotty ways that we are tied together through laughter and tears, prayer and phone calls. One of us referred to this as a sign of our “knotted group of sister pastors.” We weren’t all close to each other a year ago, but we have been bound up in prayers, emails, FaceTime conversations, and celebration over the last twelve months. This cross reminds me of those friendships, the one around whom we rallied to support, and the One who supports and binds us all together.
The second was a red glass bead, made in part from my mother’s ashes. She, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer within the last year. She, too, was the recipient of prayers, phone calls, texts, tears, laughter, and quiet, gentle breath. In the end, that gentle breath simply slipped out of her, as gentle and as easy as one could hope for, with her wife and younger daughter by her side. This bead is a celebration, too, of who my mother hoped to be and who she hoped for me to be, a reminder of who I hope to be for myself and for my child, and as a sign that my mom is still with me, even though she is also with God.
I wear these gifts together to remind myself that life and death are bound together, not as enemies, but as pieces of a whole. I am the friend who raised a glass of champagne with my cancer-free friend a few weeks ago, and I am the daughter who spoke at her mother’s memorial service just a few days ago.
I am also the mother to a curious child who wonders and worries about death. At the memorial service, my daughter asked to see Mom’s ashes. Naturally, I opened the beautiful urn, selected by my sisters and my stepmom, and showed her the clear plastic bag in which the ashes were contained. Satisfied, my daughter flounced off to explore the rest of the sanctuary. My stepmom, taken off-guard by my actions and my daughter’s reactions, said, “What are you doing?!” She was unprepared for such exposure. “I need a little warning next time,” she said, hugging me. I touched my necklace, mindful that those ashes are not just contained in an urn, but they are with me every day. My daughter often touches the necklace, fascinated by the bead, which she says “glows” from time to time, and also interested in the knot, whose meaning is a little obscure for her.
But perhaps less obscure than it needs to be. The first question in the Heidelberg Catechism is, What is your only comfort in life and death? I did not grow up memorizing this Catechism, but the answer has long since found resonance in my heart: “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” For now, the reminders of life and death lie twinned upon my neck, knotted together and knotting me together in the abiding love of God.
God of all our days and of all eternity, may this be the message my daughter hears from me about life and death, and may it be the message that gives me strength and courage. Amen.