Mothers’ Luscious Webs of Love – in Life and Death
A Message for James IV
A 14-year old young man received the best Mother’s Day gift anyone could imagine this week. In the precious entanglements of family, this bright and budding gentleman heard his father pay tribute to a visionary woman, the boy’s grandmother, in a deeply touching display of affection before a crowded room. And how did that happen? All because the boy’s mother read a book about another son who shared stories with his mother in the final days of her life. Those conversations became the substance of a book, and the web of mothers’ love for their sons and sons for mothers took over.
The End of Your Life Book Club
Let me explain. On Tuesday, May 3, the Center for Practical Bioethics held its annual dinner. Will Schwalbe, an author and editor, was invited to speak about his book, The End of Your Life Book Club. That’s the story about the son who shared intimate reflections with his mom during the final months of her life, inspired by the books they read together. They were both book lovers and their conversations about the meaning of those books deepened their love for each other and his depth of appreciation of her life. As they explored life in discussing the books, Will’s understanding of his mom’s courage and conviction about all sorts of things grew, expanding his appreciation for the causes she held dear and the virtues that guided her life.
But the Mother’s Day gift that I’m focusing on is not the one Will exchanged with his mom in live conversation, but the one he gave all of us in writing the book. Here’s why. At that same event, a young mother was seated near her son. He was attending only because his mother had read Will’s book. While reading it, she became convinced that her child needed to accompany her and her husband to the event because his father was going to be paying tribute to his grandmother during the evening. The mother of this young lad, in the reading of Will’s book, knew the importance of conversations that discussions about virtuous things and tributes can generate. And even if they don’t foment lots of talk from shy but handsome young men with braces, they can certainly imbue lasting memories for them.
When a tall, middle-aged man who happens to be your dad stands on a dais in front of 600 people saying tender things about his mother, midst tears and halting reflections interspersed with thoughtful composure mustering pauses, you listen! As a young man, you listen so you can ingest, long after the Andre’s chocolates dessert, the meaning of conviction, the importance of virtue, the purpose of family and the beliefs that drive hard work, unselfish philanthropy, thrift and generosity of spirit. You listen to your dad because your mom says it’s important, and you know that hearing him talk in front of a mass of people about his mom is important stuff, and because he is really talking to you as if there were no one else in the room. It’s that important.
I doubt seriously that Will Schwalbe ever imagined that his book about writings and conversations with his mother would create such a luscious web of Mother’s Day entanglement, but I’m glad it did. And I would venture to guess that his deceased mother’s spirit revels in it. Being part of it on Tuesday night gave tender affirmation to the work the Center — our work in promoting intimate conversations about love and life and dying and saying “goodbye” and “I love you” and “remember this.”
Tell Them You Love Them
So this Mother’s Day, James, IV, tell your mother you love her and tell her thank you. And remember what your dad said about his mother and what courage and character it took to say it; not in front of 600 people, but in front of you. And tell him that you are proud of him. That’s another important lesson from Will’s book. Telling someone you are proud of him is as important as telling that person you love him
I’ll be doing the same to my mom. I may get choked up, but hey, I saw a guy do that on Tuesday and he lived to tell about. Remember this…no matter how tongue tied you get, your mom will still love you, and she’s just as likely to tell you that she’s proud of you too.
Thank you, Will, and thank you, Mary Anne, for the book. Thank you, Michele, for sharing it with your family in a way that its reach spreads the luscious web of Mother’s Day gifts to all of us. And thank you, James IV and Virginia, for the reminder that people who are often larger than life are still sons and mothers in the intricate and intimate expressions of family life.
John G. Carney is the president and CEO of the Center for Practical Bioethics.