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April 15, 2006
My father was angry at me when my mother died -- angry because I was graduating from seminary only a week or two afterward, and wanted him to come. Angry at the formality of the ceremony, at the parade of faculty, all the colors of it. Angry at the coveted tip of the Old Testament professor's hat only I and a few others received, signifying that we had graduated with honors. Angry at everybody's happiness.

We don't always do well by our families. I should have known better than to invite him so early in his bereavement -- if it were now, I would not do such a thing. But I was young and self-centered, brokenhearted at my own loss but resilient. And I was far too myopic to see, yet, that everyone else didn't always feel as I felt and want what I wanted. It takes decades to learn that. Some of us never do.

He was also angry because a consoling tract someone had given him suggested that there was great comfort in having a daughter who reminded him of her mother in some ways. He told me that, his voice rough with controlled fury as we sat at the table that afternoon having our tea. That the tract was stupid, that the person who wrote it obviously didn't know a thing about loss, what it was like. An initial stab of unspoken hurt -- ,i>how could he say that having me wasn't a comfort? -- gave way quickly to something more useful: my first understanding that here was a husband, not just a father. A person. It takes decades, also, to understand that our parents are people, that there is more to them than their relationship to us. Some of us never do that, either.

Scripture fails to record the anger of any of the bereaved in the Passion narratives. We see them fearful and sorrowful, but we do not see how them angry because the sun has come up again, because people are still selling bread in the streets, that children are laughing, as if nothing had happened. They are furious. They do not want the only comforts available to them: those are not enough, not at all. They want something they know they cannot have.

Oh, yes, you have a daughter who resembles her mother. Oh, yes, people have been very kind. Oh, yes, you do believe in heaven. Yes.
But you think you may explode if people don't stop telling you about all the good things you have left. You think you would trade them all, and your own life as well, for just a little more of your lost love. You believe in resurrection, but resurrection is not what you want, not right away. We don't want who we will be. We only want who we were.

Mother, this is your son

This is not my son.
You are my son.
This is my son's friend.
He is about your age.
He is strong and vital, as you were.
just this morning.
before they began to do
what they are doing to you now,
Before they drove nails into your hands
as if they were blocks of wood,
before this happened to my baby.
Now, we stand and watch,
your best friend and I.
I cannot bear to see,
but neither can I bear to leave.
And neither can he. And so, I do love him.
I love him for staying.
So I will not argue with you now
about this.
I won't allow our last talk
to be an argument.
I want so much to help you get through
this it tastes like blood in my mouth.
And there isn't anything else I can do
to help you since they won't let me come
near you, let alone touch you.
They won't even let me give you a drink.
I can't even brush your hair
out of your eyes.

You are going quickly now.
This cannot last much longer.
So all right. When this is over,
it will be John and I.
I will love him,
because he will remember you.
And you will be
all I'll want to talk about,
for a long time after this is over,
long after most people think
it's time I got over it.
But there was a time you lived in me:
I held you safe right here,
under my heart,
in the place
where you have an open wound.
You were part of my body then.
I would be part of yours now.
I would leap
to take your place up there.
I would laugh
if they drove nails into my hands
instead of yours.
I would look down at you
looking up and I would see
your chest heave with your crying
and mine would heave
with my failing breathing
and I would shout, "He lives!"
and send my last breath to the sky,

Yesterday and today, this is what we have wanted. This is the bargain we have imagined: My life for his, okay? Do we have a deal?

We have no deal. There are no deals. We wait for Resurrrection, and we do not understand.

The poem reproduced above is from my 1999 poem cycle "The Seven Last Words of Christ," three of which were first published in 2000 in Cross Currents and the entire cycle in Women's Uncommon Prayers (Morehouse:2000). Women's Uncommon Prayers is available at
April 24-25 Barbara Crafton will lead a retreat for older adults at the the beautiful Cerveny Conference Center near Live Oak, in the Diocese of Florida. Contact or phone Melody Marshall at 352-375-7876
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