Image courtesy of Rebecca Webb Wilson, Hawkeye Nature Photography
Reproach has broken my heart, and it cannot be healed. —Psalm 69: 22
My mother spent the last ten days of her life in the hospital. There were endless rounds of tests and a parade of specialists. Every day, as her situation became more complicated, she became more bewildered. Her mind had been sharp, but the combination of medications, the frightening and unfamiliar setting, the ever-changing cast of nurses and doctors and other caregivers made her uncharacteristically withdrawn and confused.
Sometimes she could be clear about what she needed—a drink of juice, an extra blanket—and I was grateful when I understood what she wanted and could respond. But one day she asked for “that blue flower.” “What blue flower, Mom?” I asked. She just looked at me and turned her head away. I thought she was confused, maybe even delusional. She fell asleep, but on waking she asked again for the blue flower. This happened several times. It was days before I remembered the blue flowers that I had given her for Mother’s Day. They had been forgotten in the crisis of her hospitalization and were, of course, completely gone by now. When I stopped by her house, there they were, on the hearth by her chair, brown and bone dry. My mother died a few days later. I was holding her hand.
In the years since her death, I have asked myself at least a thousand times, why didn’t I move heaven and earth to bring her blue flowers, to surround her with flowers, to fill her room with armloads of flowers? Why did I not give her that one thing that was well within in my power to give? It is a piercing regret.
Grief will often present us with those wrenching spasms of self-reproach. If only I had urged him more strongly to see the doctor. If only I had been easier to get along with. If only I had come home sooner. If only, if only.
It is helpful to remember that we are not in charge. And while we do impact some of what happens in our lives and in the lives of others, we lack the clout to chart the course of the universe. Healing comes as we gradually let go of all the useless self blame and recrimination and show ourselves a little kindness. Call the friend who loves you no matter what. Have some chocolate. Buy yourself blue flowers.
O God of all Gentleness, help me to put my trust in you alone. Amen.