Seven Simple Words

My mom passed away 6 months ago today. I miss her every day. There are traces and reminders of her everywhere in my world. Why wouldn’t there be? She was an integral part of my life for over 65 years.

So many things speak to me of my mom – of her gentle and quiet ways, of her love for God and her family and friends, of her appreciation for life and all its beauty. I smell lilacs in the spring and I think of mom. I see a chocolate birthday cake and I think of mom. I hear a good joke and I think of mom. I could go on and on …

Recently I finished reading through my mom’s diaries. Beginning when she was 14 years old, in 1936, she wrote faithfully almost every day. Later on, in her 90’s, as dementia, the death of my dad, and her move from the family home began to take their toll, her writing became more sporadic. Then gradually it came to an end. Throughout the volumes of her recorded life mom would often begin a new year by dedicating it and her loved ones to the Lord. It was not uncommon for her to give an overview of a Sunday’s message at church, or some volunteer work she’d been involved in. Mom would write consistently of family events and celebrations, milestones and achievements, challenges and griefs to be borne. She would mention someone she was praying for. And often I came across the remark “I am blessed”, or “I am thankful”.

In the last several years of her life – as is common with those dealing with dementia – mom had several go-to statements that she would revert to with amazing regularity. As I would spend time visiting with her there were inevitably three things I could count on her to say:

  1. She would ask about family members, what they were up to, and how they were doing. Then she would ask “Are they happy?”
  2. She loved to quote an old war song from years ago called “Carry On”. The refrain concluded with the words “Carry On, Carry On, Carry On”.
  3. In saying goodbye after a visit together, mom would invariably include the admonition to “Be Good”.

I can still hear mom’s loving, gentle voice encouraging us all to be happy, to carry on, and to be good.

This past week, in reflecting on these words from my mom, I began to sense a deeper meaning behind the oft-used phrases she spoke regularly into my life. People with dementia talk most often, and repeatedly, about those things that are deeply important to them. So I began to think again about my mom, her life, and what she held most dear.

Mom was a Bible believing Christian whose strong faith was an every day, down-to-earth affair. Because of who she was at her core, I’m convinced she was getting at something very specific and beyond the obvious when she asked if those close to her were “happy”. Whether consciously or not, in her last several years, as she herself became more mentally and physically incapacitated, I believe mom wanted to share a message with us. She had found the secret of true and lasting happiness. Psalm 144:15 says “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord.” Too often we spend our lives looking for happiness in all the wrong places or ways. The answer to our yearning for true happiness (some call it joy) is very simple – God. Mom knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt, and her desire was for her loved ones to know this too.

“Carry On” was a way mom encouraged herself, and her family, to not give up in challenging times. She would sing the refrain (and it delighted her when we would join in) in a rousing way intended to inspire, give hope, and raise us above whatever burden might be weighing us down. I believe mom meant it as a way of affirming the truth of Galatians 6:9 — “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We can carry on only because of Christ in us. He enables us and He rewards us when we choose to keep going, in His strength, through the tough stuff of life. This way of living gives us an imperishable testimony and legacy to pass on. My mom gave me a rich inheritance in so many ways. I want to “carry on” so that I too can have such a blessing to leave behind.

And then mom would tell us to “be good”. It was one of the last things she ever said to me. I believe now that she meant so much more than just not getting into trouble. It went beyond “behave yourself”. It was more than an instruction to be kind, be responsible, be dependable, be helpful — although I’m sure it included all those things. I think mom was pointing us to something more fundamental. She was encouraging us to be like Jesus. The Bible teaches that no one is good except God alone (Luke 18:19). King David wrote that “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). I think telling us to be good was yet another way mom used to point her loved ones to the Lord. Apart from God, no one can ultimately be, or do, good. But when we submit our lives and our wills to Him, all things become possible. So when I live in a way that allows Christ to dwell in and through me, I can be good because He is good. My mom was a wise woman who knew where true goodness was found.

It’s been 6 long months since I last heard my mom’s voice. But this past week I have been hearing it again – in a deeper, more profound, and sweeter way. It’s been a blessing to perceive in a new way the meaning of those seven simple words repeated often by my mom: Are you happy? Carry on. Be good. They are priceless messages from mom’s heart to mine in this time when I miss her so very much.

Thanks Mom! I love you!


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