Last Sunday we held a memorial service for my mom, Priscilla Ann Carlson. She died at home with my dad by her side in mid-October due to complications from an aggressive cancer diagnosed a little more than a year ago.
She was the oldest daughter of first generation devout Swedish immigrants. She was also a woman of abiding Christian faith, who throughout life, including during her dying, believed wholeheartedly in God’s gracious presence and faithful care.
At the end of what would be my final visit to my mom, I said to her the truest and most comforting words I knew, “The Lord is with you.” She looked up at me from her hospital bed, and quietly replied, “I know.”
My mom was a lover of the natural world. At her memorial service her younger sisters recounted how ‘Cilla took them down to the small creek on the edge of their farm to reveal the hidden homes of the cagey crawdads under the flat rocks. My sister shared with me that thanks to our mom, she knew dozens of birds and their calls by the time she left home.
One of the photos on display at the memorial reception in the church hall depicted my mother looking adoringly at a toad being gently held in the cupped hands of a granddaughter, whose marveling gaze matches her grandmother’s. And my brother-in-law noted that despite our mother’s legendary hospitality to humans, there remained some uncertainty whether their was greater priority given to making sure the six bird feeders on the porch were full of seed or whether her guests plates were full.
As her oldest child I too was blessed, imprinted I suppose, by her attentive awareness and appreciation of the natural world. One of my very earliest memories is holding her hand on a warm summer day as we waded into the shallow salt water of a sheltered beach on the Atlantic, near Manchester by the Sea, to explore the bountiful barnacles clinging to the old sea wall.
There were multitudes of other occasions on which she turned my attention towards–or freed me from other less important responsibilities so that I would see and delight in–God’s world of wonders. While I don’t recall her ever voicing these words of the Psalmist, they surely were inscribed upon her heart, How manifold are your works, O Lord; the earth is full of your creatures!
So it felt totally fitting that a central theme of the remembrance I decided to offer at her memorial service would be a testimony to her delight in the earth and all that dwell therein. I easily imagined that this would be a welcome word and true tribute to my mom, as well as a grateful affirmation of her life as it had blessed my own. However, as the day of the service grew nearer I realized that to remember her aright I would need to say more.
I also needed to testify to my mother’s belated emerging recognition: it is now no longer enough (if it ever was) to simply enjoy God’s works; God’s creatures need to be strenuously protected. For despite her progressive diminishment over the last year she had continued to read books, watch the news, and talk with others in order to continue to learn, and so she was aware of the UN report on biodiversity warning of the extinction of over a million species within this century if humans persist in among other principal activities, burning fossil fuels and eating animals.
She knew that a growing and diverse number of researchers, including a favorite of her’s, Jane Goodall, have with increasing frequency and urgency been sounding the alarm of of habitat loss, resource depletion, climate crisis, and unintended ecocide.
Perhaps most personal of all for her: in the last year of her life, it has been the youth, including her own kin, who’ve those pulling the alarm, leaving the buildings, and flooding the streets to call upon their parents, grandparents, and all people to join them in effecting a radical transformation of our individual, institutional, and civic lives so that they—and future generations, especially those most vulnerable—may not be devastatingly diminished or entirely extinguished.
Although I didn’t know how I’d include this dimension of my beloved mother’s life, or how veering from the culturally expected unmitigated accolades of the deceased would be received, I trusted the Spirit of truth would guide me.
After realizing the clock on my phone indicated I’d gone on a little longer than my dear father had requested we speak at the service, I pivoted from a past gratefully remembered to my conviction that our mother would wish for us to also remember the future, the future of the children–all the children. I concluded by suggesting that we would honor her by attending to the words of another Swede who’d caught her attention, Greta Thunberg: It’s time to wake up!
I’ll have to wait to know for sure, but trust my mom will concur that that she was remembered aright.