Abide With Me

crossAt a somber Good Friday service twenty-five or thirty years ago, the congregation sang “Abide With Me” and I looked up in the dim light to see tears in my mother’s eyes. I was eight or ten or twelve – too young to understand her anguish. She was grieving, as though someone had died. Someone close to her. Someone she knew well, and loved.

 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, Lord abide with me

Age has brought me bits of understanding, and I now grasp the immense faith on display in Mom’s tears. Someone had died. Someone close to her. Someone she knew well, and loved. Jesus Christ, her friend and Savior, died on the cross to redeem her and give her eternal life. It wasn’t a tradition she observed out of habit, not just something she believed. She was certain of His suffering and death, and mourned it.

Swift to it’s close ebbs out life’s little day

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away

Change and decay in all around I see

O Thou who changest not, abide with me

It’s been nearly a year since Mom died, suddenly and unexpectedly – a thief in the night on a Wednesday afternoon. We sang “Abide With Me” at the funeral and I cried, but I haven’t since then. I’ve been waiting for the heavy hand of grief to fall on my shoulder but it hasn’t. I miss her, but I can’t be sad for Mom. She loved the Lord she served so deeply that His suffering brought her to tears, and now she’s risen to eternal life with Him. Who can cry over that?

I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless

Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness

Death where’s thy sting, oh grave thy victory?

I triumph still if Thou abide with me

I rejoice for a faith that made Mom’s Savior real and alive and present for her. I pray for that kind of faith. For myself. For my wife and children. For my father and sister and nephews, for my in-laws, for my friends. For you. The glory of Easter outshines the sorrow of the grave for all who believe. Christ has Risen, He has Risen indeed.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies

Heaven’s morning breaks and Earth’s vain shadows flee

In life, in death oh Lord abide with me

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Mom died in May. It was unexpected, a heart attack I guess, and it came on the heels of a couple rough years that included knee and ankle surgeries that left her immobile for many months. But she was getting better, walking without a cane finally and driving herself to the Y and then for coffee and a $1 McDouble with her buddies. She was sixty-seven, and Dad had retired just three weeks earlier – timing that was terrifically cruel to him, in my opinion.

Anyway, Mom knew me better than just about anybody else. We shared our joys and sorrows in a way only a Mom and son can. She understood from her own occasional darkness the melancholy with which I am sometimes tinted, and knew when to offer encouragement and when to shut up and let me be gloomy.

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She also embraced silliness. Reveled in it. She loved musicals – especially Fiddler on the Roof – and one night last winter I had “Sunrise, Sunset” in my head but couldn’t remember all the words. My sons and I got Grandma on the speakerphone and we worked through it until all four of us were belting it out in harmony: “I don’t remember growing older, wheeeennnn diiiiiiid theyyyyyyyy?” Then we said, “Love you Grandma” and hung up. She was always up for that kind of goofing off, and I’m smiling now remembering the laughter in her voice that night.

A few weeks before she died, I was out and about for work and had a little time between appointments, not far from her and Dad’s house. Dad was off somewhere so we ate lunch together, watched Days Of Our Lives, laughed. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. It doesn’t matter. We just enjoyed being together, and that turned out to be the last time we had each other to ourselves.

During that visit I told her I was thinking about naming a restaurant in Salvation Point after her. We talked about what it would be called, and what the sign might look like. Before I left that day, I had her write her name and some of the restaurant names we’d played with on a scrap of paper. That scrap sat on my workbench for a few weeks.

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The night before her funeral, unable to sleep, I went down to the workshop in the wee hours of the morning and got to work.

I took some thin copper wire – 22-gauge maybe? – and “traced” her handwriting by bending the wire with a fine needlenose pliers. Where the letters made angles too sharp to bend, I soldered pieces together (the “n,” the “i,” a few other spots). I also made solder joints where the wire crossed, like in the double Ls, to give the thing some stability. I then bent the whole assembly into a gentle curve and sprayed it turquoise – Mom’s favorite color.

The rest of the sign (“Clean Plate Club”) was just printed from a Word document. The plate was scavenged from a miniature playset of one kind or another that my boys outgrew. (I have a collection of similar tiny plates, spoons, coffee cups, toothbrushes and a very small scissors that I or a modeling friend will someday put to good use.)

The plate and signature I glued to the Design Preservation Models building with CA (super glue).

It’s not a good enough tribute to my Mom, but she would have gotten a kick out of it.

Janibelle Clean Plate Club serves Chicken Paprikash, Chicken Cacciatore, Beef Stroganoff, and darn good chocolate chip cookies – all just like Mom used to make.* It’s the only place I can get the stuff anymore.sign

*In fairness, the secret to Mom’s chocolate chip cookies has been revealed – Dad made them.