I am sure some of you will be able to relate to the kind of extended family i am about to describe. My parents immigrated from Egypt in the late 60s with a handful of other Coptic Egyptians. It was not long after that they along with a priest from Egypt formed the first Coptic Orthodox Church in North America…meeting in a small chapel on the second floor of a church that is still nestled behind the Eaton Center in downtown Toronto. Slowly more friends and families immigrated and congregated…and so, by the time I was born in the late 70s I was born into a community that was tightly knit by its roots of the home they left, the experience of immigration to North America and by their deep faith.
I was born into an extended family that knew me from the moment i came to be until this moment today. Going to church every Sunday throughout my upbringing i would see the same familiar faces, bond with the same friends i had since before i was consciousness of my own being and sense the many people loving me and watching over me and caring for me. Although i have been absent from Toronto throughout much of my 20s and into my 30s these connections were always there and this family would always care for me in my absence. They knew when i was overseas teaching in Southeast Asia, they knew when i was working in Yemen, they knew when I was living out East and through conversation with my parents were always thinking of and loving me.
The gift of this community and family is that it meant there were so many mother mothering each child. So many caring, smart, intuitive, passionate, warm mothers looking out for this flock of Egyptian youth making their way through an upbringing quite different than their own. We were all so lucky to have these moms lovings us in all directions…innately enveloping us.
And so, another such mother, just like my mom, passed away this weekend. It is not that i spoke with her very often but i knew she loved me and cared for me and always asked about me. She visited us in the hospital frequently when mom was sick. And she too has daughters who adore her because there is nothing not to adore. And she too has a congregation of children who grew up with her love wrapped round them.
It is the nature of life. It is inevitable. Our mothers are being taken. And it is juxtaposed by new mothers being given. Many of my Egyptian friends have children but it is only in the past couple of years and particularly this last year and in the coming months that so many of my dear friends from all different nooks of my life have become or are to become mothers. It is such an amazing time to see these sisters of mine become transformed…to see them born as moms.
And so, as always it is strange to feel as though i am watching something unfold beyond myself, beyond any of us. To see this great shift in life take form, where it feels as though changes are being made in order for new spaces to be created, where one things is making room for another without particular question or reason or qualifying manner as good or bad but rather simply being.
And so, much gratitude to mothers for all they have done and all they will do. To the moms that have mothered for so long and to those that are in their first moments. What a precious gift to be a mom and to be mothered be it by one or many.
One day, during the week before my mom passed away, we were all sitting at the table having dinner. At the end of the meal, a whole bunch of us got up to put dinner away. My mom was too weak and tired to help but she expressed that we were all doing so much and that she felt badly that she could not get up and join us. My brother responded with what I thought was the perfect answer. He said: “Mom, this just goes to show how many of us it takes to do what you have been doing alone your whole life”. So true. In the days leading up to my mom’s departure to heaven, it took so many of us to try to keep the house running semi-normally. As the days continued to pass, I could not help but think of my brother’s comment. It was so true and so fitting for the situation. Now that mom has passed away, I find myself thinking about this even more. I think about how despite her physical absence, we still benefit so much from all the work she has done for our home. It goes beyond saying that we have benefitted enormously from her raising us, but the little things have begun to stick out to me more in the last couple of days. I look at how she has lovingly decorated the house with pretty paintings and framed family pictures, how she has organized the medicine cabinet and how her kitchen is fully stocked with all the kitchen tools a family could ever need. It never occurred to me that even after her passing, we would continue to benefit from the household that she had put together and kept up for us.
Noticing these little details reminded me of a Proverb from the Bible that my mom loved to read. It’s the passage she read to me at my bridal shower. It is also the passage that my grandfather would often read to my grandmother every so often. The entire chapter is about the “virtuous woman”. It was so sweet when my grandfather would read it and then lovingly gaze at my grandmother and say to her “that’s you”. What a blessing it was to witness such love (you’ll understand what I mean after you read the passage below). Whenever I would come across this chapter I would always think about my grandparents, but this week as I looked around our family home I could not help but think of how fitting this chapter is for the legacy that mom has left behind:
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
(Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)