Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 12, 2013


Some mothers know how to express love without using words


          I have not kept count but I am sure I have presided over a thousand funerals. Many of the deceased have been mothers. So hundreds of times I have met with adult children to plan their mother’s funeral service.

          Usually these conversations with family members occur the day after a person’s death. By then the family has made arrangements for the burial with a funeral home. The day and time having been set, I meet to discuss the funeral service itself and to learn what scriptures, songs and remarks are to be included.

The wishes of the family seldom vary. “Mama would not want a long funeral.” “We want it to be a celebration of her life.” “We don’t want the service to be a tear-jerker.” “The pall bearers will be her grandsons.”

Once we agree on the nature of the service I invite the children to share ideas that I can use in writing an appropriate eulogy. My goal is to prepare a succinct eulogy no more than 15 minutes long. I ask questions designed to evoke tender observations that will be worth repeating.  “Mama learned how to knit after she turned 70 and everybody in the family has an afghan she made for them.”

The great majority of children I have interviewed had gracious things to say about their mother. Only once was this not the case. Two brothers wanted to bury their mother without a funeral service. When the funeral director refused their request and called me in, since I was the woman’s pastor, the two men defiantly said: “Say as few words as you have to, preacher; we just want to get her in the ground and go home.”  I was stunned. My only regret is that I did not give the two men a tongue-lashing about their attitude toward the woman who had given them birth.

Usually a mother’s children will praise her for many virtues. “I remember many times when Mama knelt beside my bed and prayed for me.”  “She was always there for us when we needed help.” “Mama denied herself many things so she could do things for her children.” “Mama was quick to forgive; she never held a grudge against anyone.”  “Mama was a gifted seamstress; she made all my clothes until I was grown.” “Mama was a great cook and everybody in the family has several of her recipes.” “She was a praying mother and God answered her prayers for all her children to get to know Jesus.”

One man said recently about his wife’s mother: “She was a great Mama. There was nothing she could not do and nothing she could not fix.” A daughter said about her Mama, “She was the most unselfish person I have ever known.”

As I reflect on all the accolades lavished upon mothers by their children one stands out above all the rest. It has to do with sacrifice. Mothers at their best are willing to sacrifice their own needs in order to meet the needs of their children. In a nutshell, they know how to express genuine love without using words. And they find hundreds of little ways to do this.

I think, for example, about my wife’s mother. When she had cooked fried chicken for supper she always insisted on eating the neck, never the choicest pieces. It finally dawned on me that she could not possibly prefer to eat a chicken neck; it was just one more way she was willing to make a small sacrifice for the family she loved. She was never wealthy but I have seen her spend her last dollar to buy a small gift for one of her grandchildren.

Some things are seldom learned when we are young. I was a grown man with a family of my own before I began to realize the sacrifices my mother had made for her children. The realization of Mama’s sacrifices came to me as I began observing my own wife practice self-denial on behalf of our children. Gradually there was born in me an enormous sense of gratitude for the sacrifices my mother had made for me and for the same sacrificial spirit I saw in the mother of my own children.

I still have time to thank my wife for the sacrificial ways she has practiced love for our children. And on this Mother’s Day I plan to tell her how much I admire her for the many ways I have seen her express genuine love without using words.

I regret not having thanked my mother for the many ways she put aside her own needs in order to provide opportunities for me and my siblings. But then perhaps she knew it without my having said it. After all, though the spoken words are precious, it is possible to express true love without using words. The best mothers do it every day. + + +