Canadian Mennonite
Volume 6, number 4
February 25, 2002

On letting go

A theme central to the season of Lent-that of "letting go"-took on personal and poignant meaning for me
and my family this year.

On Ash Wednesday, we boarded a plane in Toronto to join my siblings and their families for the funeral of our mother, Mary (Harms) Rempel, who had died two days earlier in Kelowna, British Columbia, at age 80. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer last summer.

Over the past seven months, as Mom prepared herself and us for her imminent death, she recalled the various stages of her life and the process of moving from one stage to another. To describe this process, she referred frequently to something I apparently told her when I left home to attend university in the early 1960s: "You have to let go."

Mom had learned the meaning of those words long before her 18-year-old son made his bid for independence. Her litany of departures was part of the story line of her personal journey: from Russia at age four; from Boissevain to McCreary, Manitoba, at age 13; from McCreary to Winkler, Manitoba, at age 14 for a much-treasured final year of formal education (grade 8); from Manitoba to Oliver, B.C., at age 16; from Oliver to Kelowna at age 75; from her seniors apartment to a palliative care facility at age 80.

Amidst the departures were stories of farewells and health crises: a still-born first child; three major hospitalizations during child-bearing years; the experience, along with her family, of being asked to leave a congregation by those who did not experience a charismatic renewal movement as renewal; several years of caring for Dad as he slipped into the early stages of dementia before he died several years ago.

"A potential recipe for bitterness," commented the officiating minister at Mom's funeral, when we shared parts of her story. Yet the theme of the memorial service was "thanksgiving for God's care and grace, in the midst of struggles and difficulties." Memorial tributes noted her infectious spirit of gratitude over the years. A pastor who had numerous people to visit in the hospital said he often stopped by to see Mom when he himself needed a boost to keep going.

In the memorial service, one of my sisters who had been with Mom when she died noted a consistent thread through Mom's life: "She learned how to let go." She leaves a legacy of hospitality and thankfulness, and a sense of inner peace that sustained her to her last breath.

Even though my Mom gave me the credit line for the reminder to "let go," I'm learning from her what those words really mean. They don't mean giving up on life and becoming resigned to "whatever happens, happens." They don't mean a joyless austerity, a frequent caricature of the renunciation called for by Lent. They don't mean refusing to hang on to anything or anyone.

I'm learning to understand that the "letting go" which energized Mom did so against the backdrop of an appreciative embrace of life, her family and her friends. It also became clear to me over the years that she was able to "let go" because she grew increasingly confident that God was in turn welcoming and embracing her.

Last summer, when she first struggled with her cancer diagnosis, and came close to death after surgery and treatment, she asked us children not to hang on to her, but to let her go. We started the process, as she lived for another five or six months. This Lenten season is one we won't soon forget, as we continue the process of letting go, in the spirit of a parent who has gone on before us.

-Ron Rempel, editor



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