Witnessing pure grace is magical and deeply touching. My husband’s dear friend and surrogate mother is approaching the end of her life. I experienced the most beautiful example of consciously taking leave of this world during a good-bye visit with her this weekend. As I write this passage I realize I missed my opportunities to say goodbye to many that I have loved and lost to death. This blessed experience was a true testament to the gift of saying a final I love you and farewell. My history with this remarkable woman is brief. But the impact of our friendship resonates powerfully in me. Imaginably not unlike the connections she had with others, I have come to see that this special lady touched many lives. Maude owned a used book store called The Book Exchange. My husband met her many years ago as he began frequenting her store regularly, being the avid and voracious reader that he is. Over time their bond grew to become an affectionate one, my husband considering her to be like a mom to him, having lost his sweet mother at the young age of twenty-one. I met Maude four or five years ago when I became seriously involved with my husband. During the past year and a half of living in town and getting to know her, we visited her store nearly monthly, most times staying for a visit, at times sharing a meal.
Simply put, I was fascinated with Maude. She had the unique ability to tell a story, just jump right into something going on in the present or in the past and I would get pulled right into her world. She was a rare soul who could talk and talk, and yet I never felt that she was talking about herself or dominating the conversation. Even when she was telling a story from her life, it never sounded self-centered or self-involved. It was more that she was pleasantly entertained by her past and her history; the events of her fully lived life. Through her wondering eyes she could impart these vignettes without any sense of judgment or critique, but rather with feeling and honesty, a frankness that expressed the event simply, at times enthrallingly. She was an independent woman, working most of her life and eventually becoming an entrepreneur. She was well-educated, well-read and well-spoken, a lovely role model for the many that knew her and relied on her to be that caring person who was always there, always fully present when you encountered her. In my mind’s eye, I can see her now, standing in front of those racks and racks of books, her arms open and welcoming as we entered the shop, a smile on her face, a twinkle in her eye and a hug ready and waiting; always wanting an update on our lives, then ready to share a new life story. I, among many, will miss her loving presence when future visits to the bookstore take place. It will be hard to cross the threshold and not look for her, once having had that experience.
At her bedside yesterday, the same warm, welcoming smile and twinkling eyes greeted us. With immense ease and grace, she held my stepdaughter’s hand; asked bountiful questions about her life plans, and reminisced about the summer she employed her. I witnessed a lovely side of my stepdaughter, who saw Maude as her grandmother, answering those questions with equal humility and grace, sharing her memories with tear filled eyes. The love she was feeling for this remarkable lady was evident as I sat across from them, and I well knew that Maude could feel it deeply too. And then she did the same with my husband, appreciating their friendship, exclaiming many times about how lucky she was, how fortunate to have had work that she loved. I think I will always hear her saying to him, “Oh how lucky I am, how lucky we are!” And with tear-filled eyes she asked me to take care of him, which I so easily and readily could assure her I would do. And I gave my final thank you to her for being such a beautiful example of a life well –lived, a loving mother presence to my husband and the heroine that she is to many of us.
People who bring out the best in us, how do they do it? These individuals that speak their minds without stepping on others toes, what is their secret formula? Don’t get me wrong, Maude was human, she had her days, she had her moods like the rest of us. Those in her more intimate circle, her family both at home and at the store, would know these parts of Maude and might have a story or two to tell. But for the rest of us bookshop dwellers whom she mothered in surrogate and supported whole-heartedly, she was a beacon of light and a powerful example of presence. When in her presence, I always felt that she called on the biggest, best part of herself to come forward; a gift that she offered to us with consistency and grace.
I call within me to that biggest and best part of myself and offer the same to those I encounter, in Maude’s loving memory.