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A couple of years ago, I decided to take time off from blogging for The Twelve so that I could concentrate my creative writing energy on my doctoral dissertation. Little did I know at that time that my energies would also be needed to navigate a global pandemic as a mom and a pastor and to journey with my own mother through her cancer diagnosis and treatment and, eventually, her death at the age of 70.
I return to The Twelve today with my first of four blogs about my mom’s death. Today, I write about her Last Supper. In the weeks to come: the Last Question, the Last Conversation, and the Last Sea.
My mom loved food. She wasn’t a foodie or a chef and her tastes weren’t adventurous, but she ate what she loved and she loved what she ate: juicy hamburgers, McDonalds ice cream cones, cinnamon rolls made from frozen bread dough, macaroni salad, half a burrito from Plaza Mexico (Dad would have the other half).
As many of you know, chemotherapy affects your tastebuds and your tummy. During her illness, Mom deeply grieved her loss of appetite. She was constantly searching for flavours and foods that sounded good or tasted good. Our daily morning FaceTimes often included a few minutes of her food diary: what she’d eaten the day before, how much of it she’d eaten, if it had tasted good, if it had stayed down, etc.
On All Saints Day last year, it became clear enough to all of us that her end was near. It was time for me to get on a plane, cross the border, and join my siblings and my dad in caring for Mom in her last days. I arrived at her condo in Minnesota early in the afternoon on Monday, the 2nd of November, and sat by her side as she drifted in and out of sleep.
That evening, she woke up and looked around. She was agitated. “Where’s my food?” she asked. “Who took my food? Why didn’t anyone feed me?” No one took your food, Mom. You’ve been sleeping! Are you hungry? “Where’s my food? Who took my food?” Okay, Mom. Let’s get you something to eat.
Mom’s dear friend, Marcia, had brought over a Scandinavian almond cake with strawberries and whipped cream, and so we got her a piece of that. But then she noticed my brother eating some bread with strawberry jam, and she certainly wanted a piece of that. I helped her eat the bread and jam, and then the cake.
This was her last meal. And she enjoyed every bite. She died about 48 hours later. (I will tell more of the story in posts to come.)
A few weeks ago, I preached from Acts 2:42 where we read that the early church devoted themselves to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. And I was struck that these were the things that occupied Jesus’ last evening with his disciples. He taught them. He fellowshipped with them in service and song. He asked them to pray with him in the garden. And at the centre of it all, the breaking of bread. A meal. The last meal.
But it wasn’t really the last meal. Because Jesus rose from the dead, the firstfruits of those who fall asleep! And what did he do with his disciples on the other side of his death? He ate fish and bread with them. And what’s more – before he died, he promised that he would one day eat the Passover meal with them again at the time of its fulfillment in the kingdom of God.
So, the Last Supper wasn’t Jesus’ last meal. And the Scandinavian almond cake with strawberries and whipped cream wasn’t Mom’s last meal.
And she knew it. As soon as her prognosis became clear, Mom started longing for the new heavens and earth. She focused her energies and her appetites on the wedding supper of the lamb. “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
This image hung on the walls of all of our parsonage dining rooms as I was growing up. We ate our meals anticipating the great feast. As Mom neared death, she could see it. She could taste it. “I’ll save you a seat at the table, Heidi,” she said to me a few different times.
At my mom’s funeral, her friend, Marcia, gave my sister, brother, dad and me each a gift: a tin for making Scandinavian almond cake, a serving platter, and the recipe. This week, I made the cake for the first time.
I made it and ate it in remembrance of Mom’s last meal – and in anticipation of all the meals to come. Save me a place at The Table, Mom.
Thank you… It’s a particular form of writing that I’ve missed these last couple of years!
Thank you for this reflection Heidi.
So much revolves around feasting. Luke’s account especially. The Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Yes.
Present now. And in anticipation. Bless you in your work going forward. Can’t wait for the other installments.
I’m looking forward to writing the others as well. They have been waiting in my heart until this Twelve return.
Lovely writing, Heidi. A beautiful tribute to your Mom that shows your profound love and respect for her. I knew your parents back when your Dad and I were students at Westminster. I remember them well. Please greet him for me and express my sorrow for the loss of his dear wife, your Mom.
Oh, thank you for connecting, Jim! I know they loved their time at Westminster. Dad is doing quite well – moved to Florida and remarried in May. I will pass your greetings along!
Thanks, Heidi. This was beautiful
Thank you, Rodney.
Thank you, Heidi.
You are welcome, Christopher.
Thank you Heidi! A beautiful tribute to your mom.
Aw, thanks, Dee. It’s good to see your name here. Hugs.
Brings tears as I remember your mom. Our connection was through Young Children & Worship. She was a gifted trainer and a gift to the program.
Oh, Lynn. She LOVED Children & Worship so very much. I am so grateful for the gift she was to C&W and the gift that C&W was to her.
What precious memories of the past. What precious anticipation of our eternal future. I eagerly look forward to your next three blogs.
Thank you, Jerry. Yes, I am grateful for this space within which to process my grief through writing.
Truly a lovely piece of writing, Heidi. Reminds me of my final visit with my own mother, who mustered the strength to ask if I wouldn’t mind going out and bringing her a White Castle hamburger. (For those not familiar, a small greasy delicacy!) I picked up a 1/2 dozen, and she managed a few small delighted bites. That feast in heaven is surely a bit better!
Wow, Thomas. THANK YOU for sharing this memory of your mom and her White Castle hamburger bites! There’s just something about the sensory delight of food.
Heidi – I knew your mom and dad way back when your family was in Pipestone and we pastored a church in Edgerton. We shared meals and fellowship fairly often. And I have a cookbook that has your mom’s blueberry pie recipe that I made many times. Food brings connections.
Blessings to you and to your family. Greetings to your dad.
Thank you, Eleanor, for making a comment!! Oh, that was some time ago! I love my memories from Pipestone and Edgerton – and I love her blueberry pie recipe. I have made it so often… A number of years ago, she made a cookbook of her recipes for each of her kids. Blueberry pie is in there – along with about 20 other pie recipes!
I still love to go through my mother’s cookbooks. I think we counted that she had 13 when she died. Many with more recipes stuffed between the pages, that she had cut from magazines. And her notes in the margins tweaking her favorite ones. Thank you Heidi for rekindling precious memories.
I love this, Gary! Thank you for highlighting the precious legacy of the cookbooks and recipes. My favourite cookbook is the one my mom made for me of all of her favourite recipes, complete with pictures that she reprinted from times she made the recipes with us or with her grandkids…
My mother loved food and I grew up viewing the dinner table as the time for wonderful food lovingly prepared, and a time to connect, talk, argue, and enjoy everyone present. This tradition has carried through into my life with a desire to fill our table with delicious food for ourselves and others, always with a table well set with cloth napkins and the dance of color, texture, talk, and fellowship. It took me a while to understand the profound nature of this gathering at the table – the feast experienced now in communion and the foretaste of the perfect table of the Lord already set for us. Thank you for beautifully sharing these last moments with your mother.
Oh, thank you for this, Janice! I love the way that you treasure and steward your gift of hospitality. Just beautiful.
Thank you for this. I remember the last time that my mother ate before her death. I spooned chicken soup into her mouth and wondered how many times she had done that for me when I was small and helpless.
I look forward to the next three installments of the series.
Thank you for this, Mark. Yes, the feeding was such a brutiful role reversal. When I look at the picture I posted here, I see that my mouth is open in the way it would be to encourage my children to open their mouths when I was feeding them when they were small… Spoonfuls of chicken soup. I will treasure this thought.
Heidi, I knew your parents from their time in ministry in West Des Moines. Because your mom loved making pies as well as eating them, I gave her a pink Longaberger pie plate which I’ve seen in some of your posted pictures. (For a point of connection, I’m an aunt of Sarah Nieuwsma Schemper.) Thanks for all your posts about your lovely mom! Blessings!
This is so beautiful, Heidi. As was The Last Question which I just read. Thanks for blessing me today.
Hi, I found this blog as I’m searching for that Heaven’s feast image you wrote was hung in all the dining halls and for your mom to see.
May I ask- how can I get a copy of that image to gift to my mother for Christmas? Her best friend used to have it hung in her home and when she passed, she wanted to have it. But alas, it was gone.
Hello, Kathleen! I did a little google search and it looks like this image is out of print and only probably available through sites selling vintage things. Here’s a link I found: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/1967-photographer-bud-meyer-king-1797478818