She was standing on my front porch, right where I would find her. I rushed up and hugged her. I was so happy, although she was dead. Her body was like ash in my arms, crumbling and decayed. She was dead, but I was not afraid or repulsed. She took me up, like in a flying dream, but not a flying dream. We flew into space, into the vast darkness and pulsing light. I felt celestial wind in my face. It was exhilarating.
I asked, “Is there a heaven?”
She said yes.
“What’s it like?”
Like this, she said, like this.
My mother died on April 13, 2001. Seven years, and this is how I remember her.
It was an attribute of her deep Christianity and her final, modest confusion that my mother believed she was dying on Easter, and it was, for her. But for the rest of us it was in the small hours before Good Friday, the dark night after Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper, when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them.
Not too long ago I chanced upon a telling of what has become a bit of family lore, that my mother, a devoted Lutheran and good churchgoer, had never known that I was Buddhist. She would not have stood for that, the reasoning goes among my relatives, who have mistaken the strength of her faith for hardness.
What is true for me, what I remember, is what my mother said when I told her of my first encounter with my Buddhist teacher and the peace that I had found. What she said then, 15 years ago, was what today I recognize as the ultimate sanction a mother can give.
“Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.”
It’s not that she was flawless. She did a lot of things I know she wished she hadn’t, a few things I wished she hadn’t, and some of them, like marry my difficult dad, she did more than once.
Still, none of that stays.
What stays is something else, something that is replenished with every recollection, with every blink and heartbeat.
When my father died four years after mom, he had just begun to keep company with a sturdy and decent woman. I told her of my dream about my mom and she made it real.
“When you can remember it,” she said, “it’s not a dream. It’s a visit.”
My mom brought me right back home, to the front door, and then she said something.
“There’s only one thing I want you to do.”
What is it, I asked. I would have done anything she said. I was filled with immense joy and thankfulness.
“Love Jesus,” my mother said.
I will, I said. I will.
Only later, upon waking, did I wonder. And then I stopped wondering.
I am sorry.
I am sorry that I am too often clever, unkind, rude, and critical. Too snide and quick. Sometimes when I am like this it causes others to hurt. Even when it inflicts no outright pain, it causes confusion, and that is the most chronic and enduring pain of all. So for your sake, for my mother’s, and for all of us, I’m sorry.
I offer this reparation not because I am a Buddhist. Not because I was raised a Christian. I say this because I am my mother’s daughter. Being my mother’s daughter is the only way I can know who she might have been, and the only way you can know her is through me. This is how I keep her alive. This is how I keep peace. By loving as she asked me, as she showed me, as Jesus loved.
There are many names, but only one love.
Rest in peace, Mom. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.
Artice Patschke Tate
June 20, 1933 – April 13, 2001