My mother, Chistine (AKA "Aunt Chris" or “Ma”), died in January of 2022 at the age of 90. We were finally able to hold memorial service for her last month at the Presbyterian church in Washington that she had been a part of for more than 50 years. Ma was a kind and accepting person and, although she raised me Christian, she supported and encouraged me on my path to Buddhist ministry. She attended the Buddhist temple with me whenever she had a chance and also came to several NW District Conventions. Ma loved meeting and talking with everyone. One of my happy memories of one convention was how much she enjoyed listening to, and getting to chat with, Taitesu Unno—she never forgot him. For my message this month I wanted to share the reflection I delivered at my mother’s memorial service.
Photo: Ma loved to go camping! This picture was taken on a camping trip to celebrate her 88th birthday
A Remembrance of Ma
Ma was born in 1931 in Petersburg Alaska. Just 17 months later, her father died in a trapping accident—he fell through the ice in December 1932. Ma told me she did not remember this. What she does remember is that the next summer when she was almost 2, her mother had to leave. As a newly-widowed mother of two little girls, her mom had to go back to work. She’d been a teacher before starting a family, and now she had to take continuing education classes to renew her teaching certificate so she could start teaching again. Taking these classes required her leaving her 2 pre-school-aged daughters with family in Alaska and traveling south by boat.
Right up until she died, Ma would tell me the story of her mother’s leaving—the story of watching her mother riding off on that boat. Ma remembers leaving the dock and running through the woods of Camp Island. She was trying to follow the boat, that boat that was taking her mother away from her. Whenever she told this story I could feel her desperation--her father was gone and now her mother was leaving her too.
Ma had made it quite a ways into the woods trying to get to the other side of the island--feeling alone in the world—when suddenly she was swooped up from behind by a loving older cousin who had headed out to find her when the family realized she was missing.
When my mom would tell me this story, she would always say, “I can still feel that feeling in my stomach, that feeling of surprise, that feeling of being swooped up out of nowhere.”
Ma stayed with her aunt and uncle and cousins that summer. She was loved and cared for. Her mom came back and the family started their new life together without a father.
When I think of my mom, I think of someone who is fearless. Perhaps this is because she had already done one of the scariest things a person could do—lose a parent—and she’d been OK. People had taken care of her. Life went on and it as a GOOD life.
It seemed that Ma lived her life with open-heartedness. She was kind and generous and not afraid to take risks. She could make friends with anyone, and was always starting conversations with people in grocery store check-out lines, much to my embarrassment as a teenager.
She was opinionated, as anyone who knew her could attest. But she typically gave those she disagreed with the benefit of the doubt, even when their actions or beliefs didn’t make sense to her.
She wanted the best for everyone and hated to see suffering of any kind. One of our struggles in dealing with her estate has been closing off relationships with the many dozens of charities she regularly gave to—and all the piles of solicitations that came in our household’s daily mail!
Photo: A typical day's mail at my mom's house
She fed the birds and racoons on our back porch and she took care of stray cats. At one point we ended up with 23 cats! Realizing that the numbers were only going to increase if she didn’t do something, she began the process of trapping the cats and taking them into the vet in Montesano to get them “fixed.” She chose that particular vet because he would give her a bulk discount if she brought in 3 or more cats at a time! Those cats all came back home and Ma took care of them the rest of their lives.
Ma was a person who loved to be alive. Her plan had always been to live to 105, the age she claims one of her grandmother’s lived to. Alas, she only made it to 90, which was a disappointment—but she definitely appreciated every single day of those 90 years!
My mother was a great example of a person who lived life to the fullest. Our Buddhist teachings tell us that our lives are each unique and unrepeatable. I hope my reminiscence of my mother inspires you to appreciate every day, even the hard ones
|Rev. Anne Spencer|