Tag Archives: mom

One Day, Two Good-byes

Sunday will be a unique day in my life and my ministry.  In the morning I will preach my last sermon for my congregation after five years of ministry; in the afternoon I will conduct the memorial service for my mom who died at the age of 89.

I choose October 25th to be my final Sunday a month ago.  Like all good-byes I am experiencing a mixture of emotions: sadness, loss,  but also some excitement and hope as I embark on a new venture.  I have sensed the powerful prayer support of family, friends and community as I transition in my ministry. (Read more here)

Mom and GraceMy mom, Sylvelin Keller, had been a nursing home resident for the past four years as dementia robbed her of speech and memory.   She did not know my name or converse when I visited but she could still smile and laugh.  She seemed happiest when she held her great granddaughter, Grace.

I was away at a pastor’s conference last week when I received the phone call that my mother had died in her sleep.   I was both surprised and relieved.  She had always said she wanted to die in her sleep and her wish had been granted.  Before I left the conference to travel home, my bishop gathered the other pastors around me for prayer.  Again I felt the great cloud of witness surrounding me.

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visit from FarFar and FarMor

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visits from FarFar and FarMor

My daughter, Suzanne Keller, wrote a post on Facebook that describes her relationship with her Farmor (grandmother):

As a child who grew up with scholarship and the struggle to dissect understanding of things as others created them, my Farmor was the greatest force of unrelenting creation I can remember.

She made things with her hands and her heart and turned the world from a place of study to a place to leave a thousand tiny marks. She sewed, she baked, she cooked and she made memories that my dad could recount with fondness with her own two hands. She sewed and embroidered entire expanses of my childhood. She lived across the country, but with one plate of cookies created an entire iconic aspect of my Christmases. She was a craftsman of cookies and memories, a legacy of genetics and stories.

My Farfar left me his name on a chain from fighting in World War II, and my Farmor left me with a packet of recipes and the understanding that a thousand little creations can create a story.

She and Michael Brashears, the two most creative people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing, passed in October. I wrote a poem in college calling fall the dying season, but what a hateful thing having the greatest composers of legacy leave us in the same month, if years apart. What a hateful thing to lose, what a beautiful thing to be transformed.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

My mother had five children, who now are scattered from Kodiak Island, Alaska to Atlanta, Georgia.  Coordinating the date of her memorial service was challenging.   Finally the date that worked was Sunday, October 25, the same day as my final worship service.  Mom had joined my congregation five years ago when she moved to Minnesota.   I had been her pastor during that time and now I needed to do her memorial service.  I did not feel the need to baptize my children or marry my son, but this is somehow different.  Maybe it’s part of the fourth commandment.  I don’t know.

All I know is that Sunday will be filled with some incredible emotions, both sorrow and joy, as I say good-bye to a tribe and to a mother.   The one sure anchor in the midst of these storms is the very name of my congregation: Resurrection Lutheran Church.

cropped-2014-rlc-logo-cropped-2.jpgJesus said  “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” John 10:25

Honoring Our Elders

I am in the sandwich phase of life. Though my children need me less each day, my mother’s care continues to grow.   I recently wrote a post about her fall and hip surgery: 86 and Laughing.  Her recovery continues and hopefully she will return to her apartment soon.

I sometimes wish my mother had made some long-range decisions before her dementia restricted her choices. She had always wanted to die at home in her own bed, but living alone became less and less an option as her dementia grew. My siblings are scattered from Atlanta to Kodiak, Alaska, and we knew we had to do something but no clear choice arose. We talked to Mom about moving, but she resisted any conversation on the topic. Her local neighbors and friends in Washington State kept telling us she should not be living alone. But anytime we suggested a home health care aide, she adamantly refused. Mom knew she was losing control but did not want some stranger to enter her home. Who can blame her?

My siblings and l wrestled with the fourth commandment: Honor your father and mother. What did honoring meaning in this situation? How do we love mom and make her final years happy, significant ones? There was no simple solution.

Finally in the summer of 2010, my sister  flew with mom to Minnesota for an extended visit. We had Mom visited a gerontologist, lawyer and financial planner. After three months in our home, my wife and I found a memory-care assisted-living apartment in Woodbury, near Resurrection Lutheran Church. With considerable reluctance my mom moved in and began the adjustment. We hung her family pictures on the wall, and made sure she had plenty of crossword puzzles to enjoy. Within a couple of weeks Stonecrest became her home.  Her recent fall and surgery may only be a temporary set-back.

I am still unsure how to honor my mom, other than to visit, pray and remind her that she is loved by all her children, grandchildren, friends relatives and God. Fortunately, she still honors me with a smile and a hug.  And I smile each time I am so honored.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the blessings of family.

Mother’s Day

Sylvelin Keller with her brother Jerry

Tomorrow will be only the second time in the last thirty years that I will actually be with my mom on Mother’s Day.  Last July she moved back to Minnesota after living in Washington state for over fifty years.  Her dementia had progressed to the point where she could not live alone in her house in Bremerton.   She now lives in a memory care unit in Woodbury, near Resurrection Lutheran.

It is easy for me to focus on the losses her dementia present.  Every time I take her out of her apartment for even a few hours, she becomes anxious, wondering when she will go back to her house in Bremerton.  She will frequently comment that she is so confused, unable to remember the lunch she ate fifteen minutes ago. “I am a hopeless case.”

But joy still breaks through. She smiles whenever she sees a photography of her grandchildren, especially her newest (and only) great-grandchild. She proudly exclaims, “You know what his name is?  Troy VINCENT!”  (Vincent was the name of my father, who died in 1995.)   She also remembers that I am at a new church, Resurrection Lutheran, and that my son’s fiancé is named Maggie.   Deeper emotions seem to make for deeper, more lasting memories.

Her dementia has cause some moments of humor. I had to take her out to sign some papers a month ago.  At the lawyer’s office, she had to sign and date several documents.  Each time she dated the document, April 7, she turned to me and with a big smile said, “That’s your birthday, isn’t it?  Happy Birthday!”   She must have dated six document that morning and each time she wished me Happy Birthday, as if it were the first time. The lawyer got rather tired of it, but I beamed each time she said it.  I flashed back to all the special birthday cakes and parties she gave me as a child.

I don’t know how many birthdays or Mother’s Days I will share with my mom.  Each will be a gift from God.  May your Mother’s Day be filled with joy, hope and loving memories.

Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8