The other morning, a friend and neighbor died. Barbara was a lovely human being, a much-depended-upon wife, mother, sister, and friend. She was tall and statuesque, dignified and gracious and intelligent, kind and thoughtful, resourceful, usually contained.

When she first got sick, I was terribly upset. I commented to a mutual acquaintance that people saw her strength but not her vulnerability. He thought I was perceiving myself. Perhaps, but it still applies to Barbara. There was something about her that seemed formidable, sometimes even daunting.

However, over almost twenty years, she revealed many softer facets of a warm and tender character. My little blonde daughter used to have tea parties with her. It was a thrilling treat for my little one, to get to go downstairs to have tea with Barbara! Barbara would put out a special china tea set and sugar cookies, and the two would sit and converse quite seriously over the goodies.

After a half hour, I would go down to retrieve my rascally Munchkin. In other circumstances, she is often a handful. With Barbara, she behaved herself, acting older than her years, and she enjoyed herself doing it. I was always amazed to see how Barbara effortlessly brought out such excellent behavior.

Once downstairs, I often sat for ten or twenty minutes with Barbara, sharing war stories about raising children. We had both been through brutal bouts with our respective kids; we each saw the good in the other’s horrendous teen-agers and difficult young adult children. We understood each other’s frustration, how hard it is to be a mother, when sometimes even your best is a miserable failure, how even the best mother in the world can’t save a child from him or her self.

Despite all the sappy, self-indulgent cliches that pass for enlightened child-rearing, love is not always enough. Bad behavior–spoiled, destructive, entitled behavior–has an impact on a mother’s heart. Mothers are people, too, with needs and feelings and authentic human responses, something many children do not want to face. Other mothers, experienced ones, get it. They get it how unreasonably we continue to love our kids, no matter what, all the way to the bittersweet end. I received a lot of guidance and support in those times with Barbara, at the tail end of picking up my Munchkin from a tea party. I was grateful for it. I was grateful for Barbara’s wisdom.

By happenstance I was in the lobby when the mortuary people came for her, and that’s how I learned of her passing. I waited for them to bring her down so I could say a prayer over her body. I had the sense of her spirit lingering nearby, at peace, but still close to the body. During the day, I repeated my prayer, praising All-that-is for letting me know this wise and lovely lady for a few decades. I asked for blessings for her soul as it ascends. I am very grateful for the times I shared with Barbara. I am sorry she is gone. May her family be comforted to know how much she loved them.

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