City Social Magazine

MAR-APR 2017

City Social Magazine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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Page 31 of 59

W. N I cho L a S aBR aha M , Ph.D., LP c - S Resetting Default a Memorial to my Mother I have many memories of my mother, but none so great as her hospitality to those who were less fortunate and those who were basic workers—those who would be considered the Stranger. She would give drinks and sandwiches to the postman. She would give clothes to the poorest of the poor. Where she found them I don't know, but she needed no organization to assist. It was direct. There was no middle management of her generosity. She was passing it forward long before it was popular. For we all wore "hand me downs" and when we outgrew them, they were passed on to the next generation. What greater love. She never enjoyed cooking but lived for her garden, from which came fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and at times, even watermelons. And as a part of her hospitality, she shared them with neighbors and those who were less fortunate. She loved to sew and made all of the vestments for my Priestly ordination in 1982, an unbelievable chore and challenge. I make no pretenses that my mother was a Saint— at least in the eyes of Rome. But she was to me, better than the notion we had of Saints. She was of both heaven and earth and perhaps that is what made her a special creation. Much different from many, she did not drink. And while she did smoke, at the age of 40 years old, Lent came and she decided to take a 40-day break. She never picked up a cigarette again. Strong-willed and a woman of determination, I often wonder what she could had become had she had a formal education. For in those days, she was blessed to have made it through the 8th grade. I never learned why she quit school, but I suppose that the period was about going to work or taking care of sisters and brothers who were younger so that the mother could work. She was tougher than nails, but as gentle as the quilts she made at night when she rocked next to my Father. Which is why she and I had such a conflicted life together. I couldn't stand up to her strength and power—though she considered herself weak, she was anything but, and when it came to her understanding of right and wrong, there was no grey. Such was the teaching of her very fundamentalist Christian background. Finally, in my late thirties and after having a nervous breakdown, I began to uncover the raw but real truth in me and decided that she would have to love me as I am or not. It was on her. If she could love the stranger and be hospitable to those she knew not, surely she could learn to love her son and his orientation, whose values, while not of hers, were as much rooted in God's love and acceptance of the way things are. I had concluded that the greatest of family values were in fact handed down very clearly, and nothing would get in the way of unconditional love. For a few years, we didn't speak as a result of my decision to leave the Priesthood and my heart ached during this absence, as I knew that she was hurting as much as I. And then, as God works in mysterious ways, we met one summer at my brother's home in Nashville. They came in bearing what was, at the time, a very expensive video camera and gave me a hug. Our relationship after that time was awkward but worth learning how to love each other again for who the other was, not what either of us wanted the other to be. It was December 20th, 2000 when I last saw my mother at a casino in Tunica. We had a most delightful brunch and as she was enjoying her favorite food, crab legs, she looked over at me and asked if I was happy. I smiled and said that I was very happy and that I loved her. That she had been the best mother anyone could have had. I apologized for whatever suffering I had brought upon her as I knew enough about her life to know accepting me was not an easy thing. She broke down in tears and said, "all I've ever wanted was your happiness. You look happy, and I am at peace. You are a gifted man and God will continue to use you." We hugged and then went to gamble, her new pastime as she had gotten older. As we said goodbye, she dried my tear with her handkerchief, which she had often done, and said "God is good son. And much more loving than any of us. Remember that God will not lead you where he will not support and sustain you." We hugged and wished each other a Merry Christmas. She died 14 days later. And I have been grateful for our "last lunch" for the past fifteen years. Fifteen years ago on January 3, 2001, my mother suddenly died from a brain aneurysm. My father found her in the bathroom and screamed for help as they were alone. She was 72 years old. I was vacationing in Destin, Florida when I received the call from my sister Susan, and remember driving back to Baton Rouge, where my brother from Houston, Tommy and his family picked me up to make the six-hour trip to Clarksdale, Miss. As I sat in the back seat, I called my friend Dot-T Dehmer in Jackson and told her the news. As I cried, she was clear that the next few days, even years would be difficult—as there is no loss like that of one's mother, regardless of the relational struggles that might have gone on through life. As I clicked off the cell phone, I remember vividly saying, "that's my friend, that was my friend. I had to call my friend." I'm not sure why those words came out of me or why I began to cry so tenderly. But I'm sure it had to do with hearing words of love, support and even challenge. But coming from a friend, I also knew that she was one of the many who would be there to get the eight children and surviving father/ husband through this period of mourning we were about to enter. The next few days were a blur. But a few things stand out. At the end of the funeral, my brothers and sisters went up to the altar and sang her favorite song, "it only takes a spark to get a fire going…". The entire assembly joined in and while we cried, we felt a deepening of faith that life had not ended, but had changed. Not only for my mother, but in fact for all of us. For that is the power of death. Everyone is changed. Not just the dead. We are all connected and to lose a loved one is to undergo a profound transformation that can only be experienced; it cannot be put into words. I recall at the gravesite, after the ritual was concluded, we cried and hugged one another and told her good-bye. I walked over and noticed my friend from Tennessee. We had been friends for many years and he happened to be on a hunting trip in Arkansas. With love and thoughtfulness, he drove to the funeral and expressed the sympathies of both he and his wife, who was also dear to me—and still is. Then, something happened that to many may be unusual. My friend broke down and cried. In fact, he wailed. With his head on my shoulder, he seemed to be out of his mind for a few minutes, out of control, out of meaning. I allowed him to cry with no intent to stop him. And so it went for a few minutes. Once he regained composure, he looked at me with a deep love and said, " I never grieved when my mother died. I can't thank you enough for this opportunity." And that's the power of both death and life. That's the power of friendship. That's the power that unfolds when one feels safe and secure enough to release long-held emotions that were not even on one's consciousness. I looked over at my Mother as she lay in the casket and smiled at her—thanking her once again for caring for the stranger. I'm not big on morals of stories as I think everyone should read into it as they wish. But I will conclude with this hopeful thought: Never give up on love and forgiveness. Never give up on your children. Never give up on your parents. R E a D U S o N L I N E a T W W W . c I T y S o c I a L . c o M 32 Dr. Nicholas a braham is a writer, speaker, musician and licensed professional counselor in private practice. h e can be reached at

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