As a child I often woke in the middle of the night. It might have been fear of the dark, a bad dream, a strange noise or a loud storm. For a short season, when I was 12, it was an irrational fear of death. Whenever I woke, I would run, crying, to my parent’s bedroom and my beautiful, loving Mum was always there to take me back to bed, hold my hand and watch me back to sleep.
In all seasons, my Mum has been a constant in my life. Her love, care, comfort and encouragement has been a certainty.
Last night it was my time to watch my beautiful Mum sleep – from a distance, on a screen – desperately wishing I could be there to hold her hand, as she moved from this earth to heaven, having come to the end of a life so well lived.
Unlike when I ran to her as a child, there was no fear for my Mum last night, she was at peace. She knew it was time. Over the past year she regularly struggled for breath, which caused much anxiety. She was ready to rest.
So typical of my Mum, as loved ones wept and said their goodbyes over recent days, she bravely kept telling family members not to worry about her, but rather to take care of each other. Right to the very end of her life my Mum modelled her heart for others. It’s a hallmark of her humble approach to life that I hope I will always carry with me. It’s so easy in life to focus on your own circumstances and challenges and yet my Mum throughout her life reminded me of the importance of perspective – that there were always others with greater needs.
The fact is my dear Mum was ready for heaven. I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready for her to go. I wanted more time with her. I wanted to get to Newcastle. I wanted one more hug, one more conversation. But as I sat last night watching her on FaceTime, I was painfully struck by the fact that it was time for Mum to go.
My Mum knew I had been battling to get an exemption permit to travel to NSW, but she kept telling me not to worry. She would often say: “You don’t always get what you want in life; but hold on to all the good things you do and make the most of them. Hold on to the things that matter most.”
And so today I grieve my dear Mum. I will miss her greatly. But as I mourn her passing, I hold on to the things that matter most. I am so, so thankful for her wonderful legacy. I am so thankful for my precious family and tribe of friends. I have sat at the beach today – and taking up her words – I have listed so many things I can be thankful for in my life – big and small, extraordinary and mundane. And at the heart of these things is the richness of relationships. That is certainly something that my Mum modelled in spades. She loved her family and she invested in so many loyal friendships.
Only two months back, my Mum moved into residential aged care, bravely making the call herself. She knew she needed supports that she could no longer get at home. It was a huge move, one that I have been playing emotional “catch-up” with. Mum and Dad had lived together for 58 years and suddenly they were living under different roofs. This happening during a pandemic made it all the harder for family – and many of you will know the pain of dislocation in 2020.
And yet I looked forward to seeing her soon; I looked forward to at least one more Christmas – because if there was one thing my Mum loved it was Christmas. She was a generous shopper, she loved the joy of gift giving, she loved all the family packed in together; she loved a predictable feast, she loved the wonder and hope of the season, captured by her large Nativity collection.
But like so many of you have done before me, I will need to navigate Christmas 2020 without my Mum, given the rapid deterioration in her health over recent months. As her physical body gave way to the process of ageing, her faith remained strong and secure, and she cherished moments with family and special friends. She was very thankful for the wonderful care from the staff at BaptistCare Warabrook.
And yes while we will hear and heed Mum’s words to take care of each other, I know how much I will also miss my dear mum; a gift from God.
My Mum could have walked down different paths; but she was most at home with humility.
It took me some time to see it – but she understood contentment – in a world that can chase success and happiness in so many different places. She cherished family and friends and serving others. She lived a simple life – but a very rich one. She taught me so much – most of all – the importance of living with a focus on serving others; from which you discover purpose and joy.
I saw that as a child through her tireless commitment to serving at my local primary and high schools. She and my Dad rolled their sleeves up for so many years on Winter weekends as key volunteers with West Schoolboys football. And my Mum loved her engagement with her Uniting Church faith community – a place of hope, service and wonderful friendships. Beyond formal activities, she understood that “faith without action” means little. She was practical in her care and her love for others. She was also generous with her time and her heart was to see others do well.
A few days ago someone left a big box of books at our front-door for our street library. Included in the many books was a set of late 1970s Australia-NZ Encyclopedias. I don’t think they will be high in demand at the library, but I had to smile when it came to the timing of the drop-off.
When I was 10, I won a national geography project competition. My prize – a full set of Australia-NZ Encyclopedias. I was stoked. I mean, it would be a long time before Google and I loved encylopedias.
Truth be told, I didn’t do much of the work on the “award-winning” project. My Mum did the bulk of the work, but she did so quietly, behind the scenes, wanting the very best outcome for me.
That’s how she lived her life – cherishing relationships – and wanting the best for others. She didn’t seek the limelight.
No, my Mum wasn’t perfect – in fact, there’s always a danger in trying to keep everyone happy; something I have needed to learn. It was probably the biggest chink in her armour.
But her strengths far outweighed weaknesses and today I am blessed with the legacy of a life so well lived.
And as I grieve today, my heart is also with my Dad – a good, humble and gentle man who loved his wife so much. It’s hard for me to fathom life for Dad without Mum; harder still because they are creatures of habit; change has never been one of their strong cards.
I love change – I breathe it. It’s been a strong suite in my professional life – managing and facilitating it. But I didn’t get that from my Mum and Dad. They have lived with predictability; their routines have rarely changed; they lived in the one home for 52 years and they holidayed every summer for five decades on the Gold Coast – doing the same things each and every vacation.
But today I see and celebrate aspects of this predictability that I know I have all too often taken for granted. I am blessed by the predictability of loyal love, generous grace, unsolicited kindness and the treasuring of family and togetherness.
As I celebrate my beautiful Mum and my authentic Dad, I also today want to thank my big brother – Brett Pilgrim – for all his amazing care and hard work over this challenging past year and my beautiful wife – Megan Pilgrim – who I have the absolute privilige of doing life with each day.
As my Mum and I have cried together over recent days my mind has kept coming back to Psalm 23. I read the Psalm to her last week.
My Mum knew the Lord was her Shepherd and she wasn’t afraid of the “valley of death” – as she held confidently to the fact that she wasn’t walking into the valley – but through the valley. So many times in life she has reminded me of that – when life has been hard, she has quietly but persistently reminded me that I would make it to the other side.
Mum – take your well-deserved rest on the other side! Rest well and thank you; thank you so, so much! We will miss you so, so much.
But on this side, we will seek to make the most of your legacy. I pray I will continue to reflect and act on your example. On this side, I pray I will continue to learn and apply lessons from your life – one so well lived!
Rest well Mum; my dear, loved Mum!