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May 8, 2011: “Mother’s Day: Lessons From Mom”

Grandson of Eva Christina Johnson and Elizabeth Ann Severance (Heath), Husband of Cathie Lenore Harvie Severance, Father of Cristina Mae Schroeder a new mother, Katie Anne, a mother who lost her baby, and Elizabeth Jane Severance, Grandfather of Liberty Rose Schroeder, step grandfather of Aaron Schroeder, Son in law of Catherine Harvie, who died in 1980, and son of Eva Mae Severance, who died in 1999.

The poet, Audre Lorde expresses her experience of pregnancy and childbirth in her poem, “Now That I am Forever With Child”.

How the days went while you were blooming within me.
I remember each upon each–
the swelling changed planes of my body,
and how you first fluttered, then jumped, and I thought it was my heart.

How the days wound down
and the turning of winter, I recall,
with you growing heavy against the wind.
I thought:
now her hands are formed,
and her hair has started to curl,
now her teeth are done,
now she sneezes.

Then the seed opened.
I bore you one morning just before spring– my head rang like a fiery piston;

my legs were towers between which
A new world was passing.

Since then
I can only distinguish
one thread within running hours:

You, flowing through selves…
toward You.

        And I wrote a poem some years ago for a memorial service:

The Death of Mom
To lose one’s mother
a singular sorrow
like no other.
Is it not like
all at once –
Kisser of Wounds,
Listener of Woes,
Santa Claus,
Easter Bunny,
Tooth Fairy
Even the childhood
God herself? -A. Severance

        My daughter, Elizabeth loved to write poems as child; this on was from when she was 8 to her mother; she is now almost 28.

My Mom

My mom is full of love
Like a dove
She has three kids
She is the best thing that ever lived
My mom is wonderful
She leads a life that is playful
My mom is a great teacher
And she is married to a funny preacher

I love my mom!! Elizabeth Severance-age 8

        Mother's day is a sacred day, but also a difficult day; as they say, "If it's not one thing it's your mother." We honor mothers, remember those who have departed this life, but will live forever in our hearts, and we also have very mixed feelings, for not all childhoods were as sweet and as happy as mine.

        You might like to know that what some might call the original Mother's day was marked by what is described as "orgiastic excesses," writes Columnist Liz Smith, in her book, The Mother Book.  There was a roman holiday celebrated three days past the Ides of March called "Hilaria, dedicated to a pagan goddess, Cybele, known as "the great mother of the Gods...the All-begetter, the All-nourisher...," and sometimes as "Mother of Nature."  Her holidays utilized drums, cymbals, flutes, and horns- all played very loudly. Because she also represented fertility -in humans, plants, and animals- so her holiday was: "typified more by carnality than carnations."

        Some Mother's Day, I think I'll title it "More by carnality than carnations." I think that might generate interest from passerby's reading the sign. After all, we know how most mothers, at least, become that way!

        Yet most of us remember our mothers as our first God, or Goddess, of course; though biology, nature, and the process of life created us; it was she who truly gave us life and nurtured us in so many ways.

        Egyptian men were awed by maternal behavior patterns, wondering why women did what they did to maintain the race.  Maxims written about 1500 B.C.E said: "Thou shalt never forget thy mother and what she has done for thee...  For She carried thee long beneath her heart as a heavy burden, and  after thy months were accomplished she bore thee.  Three long years  she carried thee upon her shoulder and gave thee her breast to thy mouth, and as thy size increased her heart never once allowed her to say, "Why should I do this?" "

A primitive Ethiopian woman expresses the basic psychological attitude of primitive mothers: “How can a man know what a woman’s life is?…The man spends a night by a woman and goes away. His life and body are always the same. The woman conceives. As a mother she is another person from the woman without child.

        She carries the fruit of the night nine months long in her body.  Something grows.  Something grows into her life that never again departs from it.  She is a mother.  She is and remains a mother even though her child dies- though all her children die.  For at one time she carried the child under her heart.  And it does not go out of her heart ever again.  Not even when it is dead.  All this the man does not know; he knows nothing.  He does not know the difference before love and after love, before motherhood and after motherhood.  He can know nothing.  Only a woman can know that and speak of that.  That is why we won't be told what to do by our husbands."

        Life itself learns from mothers, and the Mother Goddess was probably humanity's very first deity, and when we think about it, it makes more sense than Father creator, or that Eve was created from Adam, even if it was just for the ribbing!  But remember there are two creation stories in the ancient book of Genesis; the first one is where God makes both Adam and Eve in what God says, mysteriously, in our own image will we create them! It is not until the second story we get the Adam first, then Eve out of his rib. Let us use the word God in our own translations of our intuition of what he, she, or it, might mean, but keeping in mind it may be the very source of life. What a mystery is motherhood, conception, birth! Where were we before we were born?  Do we go back there when we die?

        Our mothers gave us birth, my wife Cathie, gave birth to our three daughters, and last summer, our oldest daughter Cristina gave birth to our granddaughter, Liberty Rose, and we were there! Both Cathie and I so dearly wished that our mothers were still alive to become great grandmothers and impart their respective wisdom to their granddaughter! And we also grieve because we remember the baby our daughter Katie lost in her miscarriage.  Life and death intertwined, joy and sorrow. Is that not part of Mother's day as well?

        I inherited my sense of humor from my mother; it runs in her family.  I remember lots of laughter and love growing up as I remember in our family as our girls grew up. Family was important, and it was a cause of grief when we moved from PA near Cathie's widowed dad to San Antonio; it also put us much further away from my parents in NH. Then coming here to accept your call meant moving away from our grown children!

        I still carry a lot of guilt about being so far away from my mother; and when I dropped off my daughter, Katie, at college way up in St. Paul, Minnesota, I cried for both myself and for the sudden realization of what I had caused my mother as well! Roots are hard enough, but oh, those wings, that's so difficult!

        My mother was no saint, though occasionally she played the martyr and for good reason. And yes, sometimes she drove me crazy! But what great discussions we had growing up, especially about sex and religion and even politics. In 1971, when I was a senior in college, my father had a stroke that left him brain damaged though he was fine physically. It wasn't severe, more like a frontal lobotomy, but he was not the same man. He couldn't work or drive any more; he was 58. He outlived my mother by 2 years when he did in 2001. Yet I still remember with great fondness the gatherings around the kitchen table when we would come to stay for a week or three during summers.  I learned about love and life from Mom, and there was nothing I couldn't ask her about growing up, we often talked long into the night. We enjoyed each other's company and knew that we were alike in so many ways!

        I was truly blessed with a wonderful childhood and family and feel more grateful as the years go by, especially as I parented my own children! There is rarely a day goes by that I don't think of her and thank her for all that she did and all that she was.

        Church was always important to her, though she was certainly no goody-goody. We went to church as a family regularly; it was expected and I never remember minding. The church community was important, and many of my best friends had grown up in the church with me, especially in the youth group in high school. I have 2 different pictures of her and dad on my desk in my office at church. It is still hard to believe she is gone from this earth, though, of course, she lives on in my heart.

        Not all of us have been that fortunate and we live our lives with difficulty sometimes because of it. Most of our mothers did the best they could, often under difficult circumstances, sometimes with dysfunction and illness. Many learn to forgive the past, even though we cannot and should not forget it. Sometimes we have to be separate from our mothers and this day brings much pain. May we find other mothers, other people who we can love and can nourish us.

        Let me close with a poem I wrote after my mother's death from lung cancer; she had been a smoker. I co-conducted her memorial service and read it there.

Ashes to Ashes; All fall Down

This is the poem I never wanted to write,
Perhaps I could not even imagine the need.
Surely the world does not end;
surely love does not die.
How then shall I bury the ashes
which gave me birth some 50 years ago
when they were reconstituted into a physical being
who would give me the life of birth- my mother, God rest her soul.

Ashes to ashes; all fall down.

Do ashes age as flesh does,
do ashes feel pain any longer, suffer more?
Are the ashes real as my mother surely was
even if she was always aging
from birth until just a minute ago when she suddenly wasn’t there.

I returned to the family homestead just a day too late
she had already traveled from cancer to ashes.
It was a life too late.
How quickly we are so cruelly reminded
that death is part of life,
that the universe continues as if nothing ever happened.
Death is no monster,
it might just as well be God,
mother nature,
calling one of her own back
to the dust to dust cycle,
ashes to ashes; all fall down.

But these ashes are like no other
these are no plain someone else’s ashes;
they are, they were, my mother after all.

I know in my heart and mind and soul
in my flesh and in my spirit,
in my past lives evolving into the present one
which will I believe go on to other lives
until the ashes come and claim me as well,
when I will hear haunting children’s voices playing a game
(they do not yet realize that it is actually time they are playing with)
‘Ring around the rosey, pockets fall of posy, Ashes, ashes, all fall down.’
I read somewhere
that children’s game was begun
during the Black Death Plague
of half a millennium ago.
Today, poised to enter the next millennium,
the game is played still by sweet and unsuspecting children
Who think that they will live forever.

But poof! We are gone, borne on a sudden gust of wind.
Become part again of earth, from human to humus.

Can ashes love? Can they cry?
Feel pain or loneliness, or even happiness?
Is the mysterious spark
that leaves our body after the flesh machines have run out of gas,
out of spirit, out of soul, out of life,
out of heart beats and blood flowing,
can that be burned into ashes,
or does that, like a fine and welcome rainy mist to a dry field,
settle on the loved living?
‘Ashes to ashes; dust to dust; all fall down.’

Death does not end a relationship; it transforms it onto another plane
which exists only in our hearts..
The earth opens wide and swallows the empty body-husk.
Words, as best we can string them together and
share them with one another,
are uttered and poems and Bible verses read…
A song is sung, and tears water the buried ashes,
now part of the very ground we stand upon,
connecting grave stones and lost and wandering souls,
right up to us, family.
She has returned to the endless beginning
beyond flesh and blood, beyond particular belief, above doctrine and preacher.
I will speak to her still in the clouds, the wind and rain.
I will live out the part of her which is within me,
which I have passed on to my loved ones
who will pass it on too one day, perhaps when I am the ashes
that I want the family gathered to scatter.
Scatter me in Champagne and drink a toast to me, to love and life.

A. Severance 1999

         May the love of all our mothers, living and dead, be with us now in a peace which passes all understanding; may we learn how to return that love, and to give the world the love it needs to grow and mature. I thank my mother, Eva Mae, for a wonderful loving childhood, Cathie's mother Catherine for a great adulthood, and Cathie for being a wonderful mother to our children; I wish that love to all of us.