© Dave Berman 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregationchurch
May 8, 2011

Click here to listen to the whole Mother's Day Service (mp3 file)

Let me introduce myself to those who do not know me. I am Dave Berman. My mother is Jeanette Berman, one of the founding "mothers" of this church.

I am up here today to honor her by sharing with you my thoughts about some of the gifts that she gave to me and to my sister Susan, and how the nature of these gifts changed as the nature of our relationship evolved, as all relationships do, over the years. My suspicion is that many of my thoughts apply to mothers in general. But having had only one mother, I have no way of truly confirming that fact. Every family has their own story.

A minor note, the last time I was at a church podium was 50 years and 50 lbs ago. It was at an LRY (now known as "UU Youth" so I have been informed) confab at the San Jose Unitarian Church. The sermon topic, as I recall, was basically, "Hey, parents, forgive us our trespasses, we are still growing up and you were young once also. We'll get there."

"Mother, Do You Remember?"

The tables have turned a bit now, my sister and I are now "all growed up" and are fully responsible for our mother's health and financial wellbeing, a responsibility that neither of us ever envisioned nor wanted.

The past 4 years have been extremely hard on my mother. She has had to deal with a debilitating stroke that took her from the active, engaging, independent woman you all knew to someone who has had to slow down, find a different life, and depend on others to provide for her care. It also has been a learning experience for me. I found myself caring far more for my mother's well-being than I thought I would, and becoming terribly concerned about her quality of life. This little homily is to honor her by sharing with her and you my thoughts on why her life is important to me, as well as some of the lessons I continue to learn from her. Please note, though I speak in the first person, most of these thoughts and feelings are also held by Susan who is not able to be here today.

I suspect my relationship with my mother is not all that different than many folks. We had our ups and downs, joys and disappointments. And like many families, we had our family secrets that caused much family distress. But my mother, my sister, and I persevered and our relationship was maintained. Our family connection was always there. It was not until my mother had a stroke that I truly knew how strong that connection was.

Susan and I both turned out to be reasonable adults, carrying our weight in the world - at least I think so - due in no small part to our mother's care, her work, her values and her perseverance. One thing I have noticed is that parenthood never ends; it just takes on different forms as we age. For example, one time as an adult I found myself in a bit of a box financially and turned to my mother to borrow some money, which came forth readily. I paid it back on time and with interest, mind you. And so it goes with my own son. Then, as we all cruised along, living our lives, dealing with our personal issues, and enjoying the pleasures we seek in life, my mother had this stroke.

My view of her, my relationship to her, and the amount of spare time I had for myself all radically changed. As discomforting as this was to me, it did not come close to the discomfort my mother must feel to see her life change so radically. Over the past 4 years, I have learned a lot about my strengths and limitations, my mothers strengths and limitations, and to truly value the life that continues to thrive in her.

One of the first things I noticed was the need for planning and patience in all things related to my mother. My mother no longer casually goes to the movies or for a walk around the block. Someone has to plan every activity and prepare for all the contingencies, transportation, and personal care, identifying and scheduling important activities, and so forth. She is now completely dependent on other folks to provide the simple enjoyments in life we take for granted and do for ourselves. As we are all finding out, even the logistics of getting my mother to church is a strain. Patience and planning are virtues I keep learning over and over again.

But what about my mother's patience and frustrations. It is surely tried as she works at communicating her needs. It is tried yet again as she must wait for people to become available to help her. Yet in spite of these frustrations, it is clear to me that she takes pleasure in the life she has and provides pleasure to those who are around her and take care of her.

I see the bonds between her and her fellow residents - a population that constantly changes due to death and the ever-increasing care requirements of some residents. They are the bonds that develop over a shared meal with people who sit at the same table every day. It is the camaraderie of being in the same station in life and in the same proverbial boat. When we come into the dining room, my mother reaches out to touch people. It is her method of saying hello. I watch as folks always respond to her with a smile and care in their expression. I have had to learn to push my mother's wheelchair much slower when she is around people she knows and cares about.

I also see deep bonds between my mother and her companion, Christine, who spends 15 hours a week taking my mother on walks, reading to her, shopping with her, taking her to movies, and so on. I watch the very real communication between them with admiration. Christine clearly has the instincts for communicating with my mother. She has a patience and dedication to her that I truly appreciate. It is a patience I continually struggle with.

Spending time with my mother is often a challenge for me. My mother clearly understands more than she can communicate and appreciates the support and efforts of her friends and, hopefully, her son. My excuse is that I am terrible at foreign languages. I was lucky to escape with my life in college - a C and a D in German, both due to the generosity of the instructor (my apologies to Ursel).

What I am good at is all the other stuff: working through the many logistical, legal and administrative challenges in managing my mother's affairs. It takes its toll. But it is a necessary set of tasks and is something I do reasonably well. So I do it with as much love and grace as I can muster.

As I look at my mother's life. I look for those ways in which I can enhance her quality of life and then act on those items that for me are actionable. I know that my mother did the best she could raising us when we were vulnerable and needed her. My sister and I continue to do the best we can for her now that she is vulnerable and needs us.

I have had to come to grips with identifying what I can do for my mother - and, by extension, for others - while still honoring my own life and figuring out how I can make the two meet. My mother's stroke has brought this issue more clearly into focus. I gain satisfaction knowing that what I have done has provided clear benefit to her. And I have a clearer understanding of what I can do and what I cannot do, with the realization that I must act on what I can.

Hopefully, by sharing these thoughts on Mother's day, I have created a better understanding of the gifts mothers give their children and to their community and how my mother continues to provide sustenance for us all.

Thank you for listening.

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