Wedding Photographer | Los Angeles | Southern California
Laura LaBerteaux

Dear Mama- Lily’s Story

“Christ-centered homes are fortresses.” -Elder Ronald A. Rasband

My mother

Cleaned her glasses on her shirt and

Worked quietly.

A genealogist for hire, only no payment accepted.

Books over here, books over there, and a book in her hand.

The one who answered, “Does Heavenly Father have parents?”

The procurer of fine goods and products to delight grandchildren.

Mender of clothing, of hearts.

A stalwart Webelos leader who tucked in her shirt uniform.

Hers is the return address on 16 years of letters to a friend in prison.

Cultivator.

As mithril to Frodo, my mother to us.

I answered the phone as I was pulling dinner rolls out of the oven,

and it sounded like my dad was hysterical about some joke. My dad is a social joker. I waited for the joke, but his words were confusing. “When I walked in, her head was leaning over her shoulder… the paramedics asked me to leave the room… working on her for 30 minutes now… okay, we’re going to the hospital now.”

“This isn’t funny, Dad!” I shouted. Why was he laughing so hard?

I had never heard my Dad cry.

“Dad, all we need to do is say a prayer.” I offered a prayer, knowing that if we prayed, Heavenly Father would hear our prayer and everything would be ok. My mom had told me that countless times throughout my life. After that he hung up and drove to the hospital.

I looked down at those rolls. I turned off the oven and the stove. Something had been cooking in a pot, I don’t remember what it was. I left it there. I packed the rolls. It was time to go down to the hospital. We packed and got into the car and shortly into the drive another call, “they called it.”

It was hard to breathe.

I knew it had to be me. I don’t know why I knew that, but it was clear in my mind that I needed to call and tell my family members that Mom was gone. I felt sick but I picked up the phone and called my sister. She screamed, she sobbed. I did not know what to say, but the words came out of my mouth. I testified that the Atonement was real, that Jesus Christ lives and that we will be together forever. I continued to work my way through my siblings, my mom’s parents, and her siblings. We had an hour’s drive to the hospital after all. With each phone call, another support structure in my world crumbled. I left those I cared about most with their own screams, as I said goodbye and called the next loved one. I can still hear those screams.

By the time we got to the hospital, I was numb. I looked at my mom’s empty body, held her heavy lifeless arm, and no longer felt anything.

As part of this “Dear Mama” series, I have been asked to talk about a difficult period of mothering in my life, and how I was able to work through it, in the hopes that it might reach YOU and help YOU.

My mom died.

I lost the foundation of my existence. We are taught to build our foundations on Christ, and I really believed that I had. But I realized during this dark time in my life that my foundation was built on my mother and her exemplary strength. My knowledge of my Savior was beautiful and a treasure, but not my foundation. And when my mother died, all the light went out of my life. I no longer felt that I was alive, yet I felt that at any second I would die from the pain I felt. I lost 15 lbs in the two weeks that passed after my mom’s death and I was 8 months pregnant with our fourth child.

How did I mother my children? I did not. They needed breakfast the morning after my mom died. I poured them bowls of cereal. When they needed baths, I bathed them. When they needed hugs, I hugged them. But I was not there. I acted robotically, mechanically. The days were dark and the only light I felt was when someone else brought light with them. My husband did this so well for me and our children. And others too; I felt their light, their hope that life was good.

We were blessed to have made friends with a mortician and his wife when we lived in their congregation some years earlier. They had built a relationship with us out of sparring jabs made in love, you know how that works? The kind of people who are teddy bears armed with fiery tongues? I love them. They have such tender hearts and when I called to ask if they could help us with my mom, they rescheduled a trip to Hawaii to do so. When we went to dress my mom for her casket, I was startled to find that they had her on a table with a bright red fleece blanket on her. At the hospital she had a crisp white sheet on her. I felt this warmth run through me, and I realized they knew how to mourn with those who mourn. The wife of the mortician gave my children some paper and crayons to make pictures for the inside of my mom’s casket. We placed the pictures by my mom’s face.

My sweet mother in law came to our house every day after my mom died until my baby was born. She ran kids to and from school and helped with anything I needed. I was sick from the pregnancy and had a cough that I could not shake. She is an angel forever. My aunts and uncles, siblings of my mom, reached out to fill in the hole that my mother’s death created. They do things my mom used to do and it makes me cry and feel happy at the same time. When I talk with them it heals my soul.

When our fourth child was born, she brought with her such comfort. We all held her, she was warm, alive, and she had tiny feet. I felt my mother near me when I held her. Family members reached out with open arms to welcome this tiny child, because they knew she would grow up without knowing my mom. It hurt all of us to think of that thought.

Also, I asked for Priesthood Blessings. In one blessing I received, I was counseled to be grateful to the Lord, because He had blessed me in ways that I did not even then know. I scoffed. Outright disbelief. I could not feel any measure of gratitude. I wasn’t even grateful to be alive. I thought back to an experience I had 4 months before my mom died. Our Relief Society teacher had not shown up. In the five or ten minutes we had for an opening prayer and announcements, a topic came to me, and I shared it with the sisters. It was this: I felt the Lord’s love for the women in the room, and his concern for them in their trials. I talked about my own struggle with anxiety and many women opened up about their struggles as well. We had such a discussion that day, I remember it clearly. I testified of power of the Atonement, of the very real pierced hand of the Savior reaching out for ours. And my sisters in the room joined their testimony with mine. But after my mom died, I reached out for that hand and felt nothing. I prayed and felt nothing. I went for months on the memory of my faith.

There was no great moment of healing or understanding.

Gentle reader, I wish that I could write exactly how I got through such a time. It was gradually, over months and then years that I have come to feel the love of the Lord again. It was one loving visit from a friend at a time. At times, the Spirit whispered to me that dear friends and family were praying for me in quiet spaces of their homes and I felt that power and it lifted me. Many meals were brought in to our kitchen with simple expressions, “I made this because I thought your kids would enjoy it.” At one point, my second oldest told me that during that nightmare drive to the hospital, her brother had held her hand the whole time.

And with the hope that I might feel the warmth and light of the Lord’s love, I rebuilt. I faced my children. I faced my husband. I took stock of how absent I had been and I was thankful for them loving me anyway. We cried together. And I honestly examined my faith. My mother lived a beautiful life of discipleship. It was her faith that amplified all she did. It is time for me to let my faith power my love for my children. I need my Savior. I need Him when I have no answers for my children’s questions and when I am too tired to make something for dinner and when I want to tell my mom about the funny thing the baby did. No, none of us are the same. My daughter had a meltdown just four days ago because she misses her grandma so fiercely.  We ache. (Also, please don’t ask me to make the rolls for Thanksgiving. No more rolls.) Nevertheless, we cry together and we look for the Lord together. It is beautiful. It is light.

It is my foundation.

They are in the backseat holding hands. “Mom,” Jessica, my second oldest says, “Greg held my hand the whole time.”

November 8, 2019

  1. Aine

    November 9th, 2019 at 2:26 am

    I love this. I love you.

  2. Aaron Eggleston

    November 9th, 2019 at 2:45 am

    Thank you for sharing this, Lily. You wove a lot of deep feelings into it. I felt I could relate to your pains and joys through your words.

  3. Sara Holmes

    November 10th, 2019 at 12:10 am

    You are a treasure Lily! Such a beautiful message among the tragedy. You painted a lovely picture of your mother with your words. What a joy you must bring to her, even now. Lots of love to you as you keeping moving forward. My heart goes out to you and your family. Xoxo

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Photography
Laura LaBerteaux