My mother loved to give gifts. She loved hunting for and concocting just the right present, and she loved nothing more than watching me and my sisters open something great on Christmas morning. As we got older, she would pick up on some small thing we might say during the year, and make it into a present of great fanfare and surprise. As we picked up “that” package on Christmas Day, she would call for silence in the crowded living room. Mom wanted to soak in our delight. Sometimes our reactions lived up to her hopes, but not always. They couldn’t all be winners, after all, but her effort was extraordinary and that’s something I only appreciated much too late. Since her death four years ago, I haven’t received a gift that included poems-as-clues toward a great family outing, or printed-out pictures in a photo album that described a night away for us she had planned out in detail. I haven’t seen my kids’ faces light up like they did when they opened the AT-AT walker Lego set, the Drew Brees jersey, tickets to ‘The Nutcracker’, or the North Face jacket AND UGG boots when I told the kid to ask for only one. And strangely, I miss the quirky, well-thought-but-less-loved gifts just as much. Tickets to a bizarre, life-size puppet show loosely based on The Hobbit because one of my kids said she liked the book (we still laugh at the shared memory of that night). A bright red, satin purse with a round bamboo handle (I use it far more often than I ever thought I would). Every year, a piece of Belleek pottery from Ireland that was much too ornate for my taste (it’s all on shelves in my bedroom and I love to look at it every single day). Ah, I’m sure she laughs at how I treasure it all now.
My Dad’s job on Christmas morning was to collect and bag the wrapping paper, balled up and thrown to him across the room from his children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. And, let’s be honest, pay for everything. And wrap most of it. And while my Dad took care of everything and enjoyed the day to be sure, my mother delighted in it. In us, receiving something good, from her.
After the trappings of our earthly lives are gone, I have to imagine that the holiest, purest essence of us is what remains, and for my Mom that is her generosity. I picture her in Heaven busily searching for and finding perfect gifts for all of us, but now with a new perspective. She now knows how little the material things matter, so she focuses on things that will last. And since she never worries about us anymore but only loves, she thinks much more about the longer view and the big picture, at how our lives are woven out of experiences and time and people. Now she knows how pain can draw us to where we need to be, and though she’d never wrap that up to hand to us, she likely worries much less about its impact from her vantage point. As we walk the twisting road of life, I picture her rooting for us with joy and unlimited energy. She is SO EXCITED to see our steps and growth, and to see the pieces of the puzzle come together for me, my sisters, my Dad, and her grandchildren. And like a great Mom, she does whatever she can to help. She wraps up wisdom, insight, and encounters. She sends people and ideas into our paths. She keeps her hands on us, steering us as we go. She opens doors. And I know it sounds strange, but when it’s a gift from her, you just know it. You can almost feel her smiling. How she does all of this is a mystery to me, but I know it’s her intervention that has brought light out of darkness and untold blessings and opportunities for me and mine in these last years. There’s not a member of the Trinity, angel, or holy saint that hasn’t heard earful after earful about Anne Havlin’s family on earth and what we most need, and it makes me want to apologize to all the Heavenly host, though I bet Mary doesn’t mind a bit. Mothers work together to get stuff done.
As for my Dad, he’s still the one who gets to deal with the mess, the wrappings we discard as we all move forward on our paths. He gives relentlessly, and I hope he doesn’t worry about us as much as she did but maybe he does, a little. And he still bags up everything we throw at him and ties it up tight so we can have a nice clean and clear life to live in, a life that comes from being lavishly, unconditionally loved. And yet I see my Mom preparing and sending gifts for him, too. Joy, service, memories, new experiences, peace. Laughter, even in the midst of pain.
I think of her now, giddy with joy at the gifts she continues to arrange for her family. She can’t wait for them all to be opened, and for everything to finally make sense, and when it’s all done, for us to come Home. You just know she’s working on our rooms, filled with light and Belleek and hand-painted murals on the walls, and all of the things we didn’t know we desperately needed until they were right in front of us. As I think of her face filled with joy at giving, I open my heart and hands as wide as I can.