My mom's wake was in the church she attended. It was an atmosphere that offered me air to breathe and one with which she would have been pleased to be resting during the vigil dedicated to her. I am so grateful for my friends who traveled the distance on a weekday to support me when I know how busy life can be. Surprised by their presence is a complete understatement. Astonished is more like it. My gratitude wept through the pews.
As the ritual of mourning with friends and relatives, prayer and song, images of the life and death of my mom came to an end, one of my friends who had traveled in from Chicago texted me after she had left to remind me to take the cookies she had brought. Cookies, I thought? Did she bring cookies? Into church? From Chicago? And they were where? An open room she had found as a holding space? I was baffled over this sweetness of cookies that was left somewhere for me to find.
Distracted by the coming and going of people, I had no idea she had come full-handed with something so meaningful. I know this friend intended to bring food to those of us in mourning, anticipating there would be a room with food for the hungry. What she didn't know at the time is the significance of what she brought. She could have brought a tin of cookies, a paper plate of cookies or cookies scrunched in a square container. When I finally discovered the mystery room where she placed them, my eyes lit up with delight. Sitting quietly on the counter of the darkened room was a massive round tray of frosted cookies. Here's the thing. My friend wasn't aware that my mom was known to make trays and trays of Italian cookies, rounded out, and piled high to the heavens with flavor. She made them for my wedding, afternoon teas, dinner parties, book club, this group or that. The frosting wasn't so much my mom's thing, but it is mine, and this simple little divine gift was what I needed at that exact time.
I carefully picked up the tray of brightly iced smiley faces and summer-shaped cutouts, and with my spirit lifted, I slowly walked the center aisle of the church to meet my mother and the floral bouquets that surrounded her at the foot of the altar. With no one else around, we had one last gentle communion of our own, a soft dance uniting our sugar and spice. The moment subtly fills my hunger pains for her even now, six months later, on this Fat Tuesday, my first one without her.
On Fat Tuesday, my mom and I would call each other to discuss all things, Mardi Gras, Paczki Day, and Lent. The conversation would have no form, ending, or beginning but was more like a series of statements and questions we'd ask through the phone line and not wait for each other's answers.
Happy Mardi Gras.
I've overeaten sugar.
We shouldn't eat so many sweets.
Do we like the Polish pastry, paczki anymore?
Or are we buying them in honor of dad?
Yes, why wouldn't we buy them?
I'm not too fond of the filling.
The prune filling was ok.
This bakery makes the best paczkis.
They don't taste the same as they used to.
I honestly don't like them at all.
I remember your dad used to get up early in the morning and bring home a box.
I do love king cake.
I'd love to be in Venice for Carnevale.
Are you getting ashes tomorrow?
Where are you getting your ashes?
Are you doing anything for Lent?
Are you hosting a Lenten book club?
A faith-sharing group?
How can I find a faith-sharing group?
Where can I find a faith-filled event to experience during Lent?
And here, I rest with the memories of what once was, while I presently search for thoughtful conversation, a life-giving community, and a meaningful Lent. I feel I have been in the desert for a long while, and crave a drenching of spiritual nourishment. Yes, there are offerings out there, and yet, I long for something I am not finding this year. I can't fully explain the who, what, when, where, and why for what I am looking. Some things at certain times of life are unexplainable.
So I will do something that came to me a few years ago as my mom was declining through Alzheimer's. The idea was to write a series of reflections during Lent entitled, 40 Days With My Mother. But then why would I write reflections when there are several sources with reflections? I let the thought die the first year, and last year I vaguely started but didn't get very far. The idea came to me again last night when I couldn't sleep. 40 Days With My Mother even though my mom isn't here. Why not? What do I have to lose? Will I fulfill it this year? There's only one way to find out. Will you join me?
I am not going for perfection. If I did, I wouldn't be writing this right now. I don't have an outline. I am more interested in intention and honesty and to act on this little call that keeps nudging me. Even though this is online when many people go offline during Lent, it will be inline with love—served on a comfortable platter with a dollop of reflection, perhaps a little prayer, sugared with sprinkles of hope and wholeness. Maybe I'll scratch all that out and come up with my own recipe.
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I invite you to journey with me. And for the record, an open heart and mind will be good companions! Please share with a friend you think might be interested.
Happy Fat Tuesday!