Hidden legacy, Broken Bread – On the passing of my mother

momwithavaMy mother died on Christmas Eve. In two months she would have been 92.

She had a heart attack while at breakfast and was hurried to the (Yorkton) hospital.

My older brother spoke to her at length after she had been moved to ICU. “She was lucid,” he said. “And of course, she apologised for inconveniencing the family this way—over Christmas.” Sometime during the conversation she mentioned that she, “has had many good years.”

She passed away not long after my brother left. The ICU nurse reported how she had come in to ask if mom needed anything. Mom responded, “No, everything is okay.” At this, “she turned her head and went to sleep.”

My mother did not make a mark in the world. She did not leverage her talents and acquired skill set to ensure a legacy. She did not seize days. She was known in our small Saskatchewan village but she had no desire to carve a name. She was, more than anyone I know, self-effacing—probably to a fault.momgreendoor

I believe her of course—about her having many good years. However, I’m not sure that my mother’s definition of good paralleled my own.

One of the deeper images I carry of her, is her leaning over a square twenty gallon galvanized tub punching down bread dough. Some of her hair has come loose from the comb fastened at the back of her head and damp strands hang down past her face. Her body strains, her face tightens, as she punches down the dough with her fists.

I am watching—unnoticed. Until that day, not yet an adolescent, all I knew was that a number of steaming loaves would come out of the oven at more or less the same time each week. It came as a revelation to me that making bread was hard work.

I never knew the meaning of “give us our daily bread” the way my mother knew it. I take bread, and most everything it references, for granted. The thought of not being guaranteed daily provision seems an unreal thing.

momanddadFor my mother however, making bread, not buying it, was a necessity. She wasn’t looking for a deeper reality through the bite of hard times. She received what was. Worked through life’s contingencies by hand, hands—too early arthritic.

My mother had a picture in her kitchen. It was one of those western representations of Jesus, blue-eyed and blissed. The caption however was what mom held on to. It was one of the epithets Jesus attributed to himself—bread of heaven.

This title, for mom, had a wide meaning. She believed that Jesus satisfies all inner needs, and through our created earth, provides for the outer needs as well. This is a naïveté that gets dismissed readily—and deserves to be—if not forged in flesh and bone through open trust. My mother’s naïveté was a living articulation of something she would not herself attempt to preach.

In all of this I can’t help but think that my mother, through a kind of unconscious exchange, through her intimacy with the “bread of heaven,” became a form of Eucharist.momwithhorseanddog With her fists buried deep in a hundred essential tasks, her heart navigating the rocky and changing channel between concern and control, acceptance and censure, she became a scattering of broken bread for the long blessing of her children.

But now I see the face of my mother, and I hear her say: well, I’m hardly special. Mothers just do this you know. And she would have names.

This was my mother’s outer gaze. Most at home, unseen and unheralded, while pointing, by her very life, to the value and beauty of those around her.

The theological concept—poverty of spirit—has a catalogue of great minds and tomes of text devoted to its exposition, but all that is a bit of fluff beside an embodied humility that received with gratitude and took little in life for granted.

This was mom’s way. And of course, this is her fine legacy.

I miss you mom. I love you.


  1. Thank you Steve. So so beautiful a tribute. And the photographs of Mom – so sweet. I can barely read through watering eyes. Will miss Mom very much

  2. A beautiful tribute…many things I could attribute to my mother as well. Thanks for sharing your gift of writing to articulate things so well!

  3. Dear Stephen, I will hold you, sending prayers of comfort and concern. My mother is 95, and still in pretty good shape, mentally sharp, as it sounds your mom was, too. This is indeed a beautiful memorial, and would seem to capture the real woman, not glorified by too many adjectives – well, she wouldn’t have wanted that, right? Thank you for sharing her with us, through your lovely words and photos.

  4. Thank you for your reflection on mother by analogy to home baked bread. I recall the smell of freshly baked bread by my mother whose wisdom and intellect was constrained by biblical submission to her husband.

  5. “a scattering of broken bread for the long blessing”…. Stephen, what a wonderful image, and what a tender and loving tribute to your mother. I’m sorry for your loss. (My mother died on Christmas morning several years ago, and it’s a difficult time).

    (I didn’t know you- and your mother — were from Yorkton!)

    Sending warm thoughts as you navigate this year and next. Thank you for this glimpse into your mom’s well-lived life.

  6. Growing up, I knew many older women (a generation older than me) who submitted to their husbands in the way that Raymond describes. Some claimed it was what was expected of wives, by God. I always thought that these marriages were flawed, and knew, even at a young age, that I would never be “trapped” in such a role.

    Interestingly, my father never treated my mother in this manner, yet my mother felt that the bible dictated all sorts of things about how she (and probably I) should “behave” and serve their husband. Their marriage did not survive, yet even after over 30 years, she feels beholden to my father. Despite all sorts of odd (and sometimes ugly) behaviors over the decades, she claims that she is the good Christian in all of this because she didn’t remarry. I remain perplexed at how religion can be twisted in so many ways. Despite knowing this, I sometimes question if I am wrong in my interpretations – that we are all created equal and have important, but different contributions to make – in a family, in our community, to the larger global society.

  7. Lorri, Thank you for your thoughtfulness and your lovely words. And thank you for sharing your own memory of losing a mother. My thoughts go out to you.

    Yes, I’m originally from Springside, a small town just outside of Yorkton.

    I have so appreciated reading “Threading Light” your “explorations in loss.”

  8. Steve – I know that no words can help ease the pain and loss that you are feeling right now. You and your family are in my every prayer and thought.

    I lost my mother at aged 12, it was at her funeral that an old friend of my mother said one thing to me that I have always remembered, I believe it may have been someone else’s words, but the thought stays the same.

    “The death of a mother is the first sorrow wept without her.”

    At my young age I didn’t have the word to express how I felt and now almost 50 years later I still don’t have your eloquence to say what is in my heart. I wish I did, however when I speak of my Mom I am expressing the same feeling as you with the simple word you chose to end with.

    “I miss you mom. I love you.”

    I hope the joy and laughter you shared with your Mom through the years brings you some level comfort.

    I truly am sad for you and your family.

    David Chalmers

  9. Thank you Diane, Our inherent equality enhances and welcomes diverse contributions. Inequality, racism, paternalism, patriarchy, always narrows and chokes diversity. In this context, controls and prescriptions, religious or cultural, dehumanize. When we grasp our underlying oneness, all roles, biological and social, become paths towards flourishing communities.

    And thank you for your warm thoughts.

  10. David, you have expressed yourself eloquently. Thank you for these words.

    The quote you’ve shared is profoundly touching. Thank you.

    And thank you for sharing your own moving experience.

    Your thoughts mean a lot.

  11. My mother in law was so very much like this, self-effacing and all. She died a year ago November, and I read this out loud to my husband’s siblings while we celebrated our second Christmas without her, and you blessed us, Stephen, in your grief.
    Thank you for that, and you will be in my prayers.

    Susan Plett

  12. Steve, thanks again for this and for sharing it yesterday at our memorial service for Mom. “Bread of heaven” – what a rich description of what her life stood for.

  13. Beautiful, honest words. Thanks for sharing, Stephen. I’m so sorry for your loss. In our current times of plentiful limelight hunters and hoarders, I can’t help but wish for more like your mother, those who let their light shine for the sole purpose of having those around them step into it.

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