A Great Writer
For the first time in my life, I was at a loss for words. This is not an easy thing for a writer. In the past, the words just always seemed to flow. But circumstances were different now.
All the arrangements had been made. The music was selected. And the flowers had arrived. It was time to catch up on some much needed sleep, for tomorrow would be a hard day.
That night, my mother and I checked into a motel. After unpacking our bags, I fell right into bed, totally exhausted, and pulled the covers over my head. My mother lie on the edge of the bed, pillows propped up behind her back, with the night light on, scribbling her thoughts endlessly on paper.
"Mom, what are you writing? Are you going to bed soon?" I asked, half asleep.
"In a little while," she said, flipping another page.
Six or seven pages later, she was finished.
"Mom, what are you writing?" I asked again, poking my head out from beneath the covers.
"I'm writing your brother's eulogy," she replied.
"What? Mom, there's no way you're ever going to be able to read all of that tomorrow. You'll never make it through the first paragraph," I said.
"I can do it," she said. "A mother does what she has to do for her child."
God had taken my younger brother Billy in his sleep at the tender age of 32 for no apparent reason. But then again, it really doesn't matter. The end result is the same.
Searching for Answers
The mere thought of public speaking gives me anxiety attacks. I was panic stricken, knowing that if my mother couldn't finish the eulogy, then it would be up to me. So, the next day, I sat in the funeral parlor rehearsing her lines, knowing that at some point, I would have to pick up the standard. I asked God to give me strength and peace.
"There's no ending," I told Mom.
"I don't have an answer--yet," she replied.
"An answer to what?" I asked.
My mother turned and walked over to her son in the casket. She placed her hand gently on his arm and stood there for a long time as though she were having a private conversation with him. The two of them always were very close. Then she noticed a difference in his face. Something had changed. The smile that had been there for days was gone.
"He looked tired as if to say, 'Mom, it's time. It has been seven days now, and I'm tired. I must go.' Yet, it's hard to let go," she said.
I, too, had noticed the smile on my brother's face. It was as though he had been sent an angel to take him home. Someone he loved. Perhaps, his father, whom he hadn't seen since he was a little boy.
My mother kissed Billy on the forehead. Tears fell from her eyes. Then she walked towards me.
"I know the answer now," she said. "Everything's going to be OK."
After everyone was seated in the chapel, my mother took the podium and began to speak. I sat on the edge of my seat, ready to catch her should she falter.
"I'm doing this because I know that no one else can," she said, looking out amongst family and friends.
The room was so quiet you could almost hear her thoughts. Heads hung low in sorrow as they listened to the pain in her voice.
My mother spoke of life, love and values. She thanked family and friends for being there for her son--for guiding him in the best of times and the worst of times, at home and in his personal life, and at work.
She began: "When I received the phone call that my son had died, I screamed . . . and screamed . . . and life stopped totally for me. Just like you, I couldn't believe this was true. He was too young. It was supposed to be me, not my baby. I begged God to take me and give Billy back in exchange. I asked for mercy, for this not to be true and to let this be a bad dream. But it was not."
Even at my mother's weakest moment, there was strength in her voice. I sat in the front pew next to my sister-in-law, now my sister, with a box of tissues ready to burst.
My mother went on to tell the story of how the women in our family flew to Bermuda, where my brother was living to search for the truth--only to find that, yes, it was Billy.
She told of how he touched the lives of people there and here that he loved, protected and worked with, and spoke of his accomplishments. She described him as a man like his father, whose shoes would not be easily filled.
"Most of all, he was my devoted, loving son, who just called me Mommy, not Mother, just Mommy," she said.
With my hands clasped, I listened to the irony and beauty of her words. Before me stood a woman I admired, a woman of great inner strength, who at age 54 had buried two husbands and now two sons. But most of all, I saw for the first time a great writer, one who had written and delivered a speech that would forever be instilled in the hearts and minds of those in attendence. I was so proud of my mother.
I sat patiently waiting for the grand finale, the clincher, the ending of the story that would offer an explanation for my brother's sudden death. After all, mothers are supposed to know the anwers to everything. I knew she wouldn't let me down.
Then came the punch line that would give us all closure . . .
"Today, as I looked at Billy, I asked God, 'Why did you take my son?" She said. "His answer was 'I gave you mine, can I not have yours?"
First published in the GettysburgTimes in 2001
More by this Author
Fourth of July photos in Gettysburg, Pa., of living historians from the Civil War Heritage Foundation re-enacting history.