quite simply: asking for prayers.
it dawned on me that after all these years and all the threads woven here at this old table, we’ve something of a prayer shawl, even though there might be more than a few who gather here unbeknownst to me. so i realized i can quietly ask for prayers, even just one or two up the old prayer chimney, for my beautiful mama.
my fiercely independent 90-year-old mama, the Original Mother Nature, Barbara the Wiser, was in a terrible accident driving home from morning Mass on Easter Monday. the day before she’d been hiking in the woods with a friend, looking for bluebirds, scanning the marshland for dogtooth violets and trillium, the wild and tender things of the woodlands.
but on Easter Monday morning, driving from church to home, her car was totaled, and she was taken by ambulance to the hospital where so many important things in our life have unfolded (my beloved little brother was born there, my father died there). in the passenger seat of my mama’s car had been the canvas bag of church altar-cloth laundry that my mama has washed and ironed for years. that canvas bag of church laundry was the only thing my mama carried with her in the ambulance. when i got to the emergency room, there were the LL Bean jeans she’s worn for a couple decades (and i mean the single pair she’s worn, not merely the brand she’s always worn), there was her father’s pale blue golf sweater (the one she wears for an extra layer of comfort, the hug with sleeves), the pink polo shirt, and, laying quietly atop the neat little stack of her “uniform,” the canvas bag of white linen rectangles, each stitched with a simple red cross.
(that still-life, folded and stacked, is now one of the freeze frames of my mother’s life i will forever carry with me….the ambulance, and the instinct to reach first and only for the bag of church laundry. those Sacred Heart nuns certainly drummed in the lessons on devotion, there in the convent on the hill in Cincinnati where my mama grew up.)
my mama is hurting terribly, and i am asking for a prayer. it will help her, and it will help me and my four beautiful, beautiful brothers, all of whom are once again tightly and lovingly woven together, each carrying one corner of the let’s-get-mom-through-this banner.
i wrote of my mama on her 90th birthday last november, and i am going to paste a few of those paragraphs here, just so you know a little bit more of the woman for whom you are praying. during all these months of COVID, the one thing my mama — who until COVID volunteered somewhere (soup kitchen, nature preserve, botanic garden classrooms) six days a week — the one activity she’s kept at (even a little this week with her achy achy body) was knitting prayer shawls for whomever needs to be wrapped in prayer, and blankets for babies in faraway desperate places. someone so good shouldn’t be in such pain — but of course even as i type those words i know that’s not how it works; it’s simply the truths of what i hear myself wishing…..
here are a few bits about Barbara the Wiser, for whom i ask you to offer a prayer….
she has long been our matriarch, our mother, our chief instructor in living a good and simple life. hers is the code attributed to st. francis: “preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”
in our house, she’s grammy. there’s even a day of the week named in her honor, grammy tuesday, a title she earned by motoring to our house every blessed tuesday since our firstborn was born in june of 1993. she played the role of “nanny” one day a week, when he was a newborn, a toddler, straight through till the day we sent him off to college. when he was eight, and we found out he was getting a brother, grammy doubled her workload. without hesitation or pause, she announced she was coming on thursdays as well. over the years, her nanny equipment expanded to include the blue plastic cooler she filled with the fixings of whatever she’d decided we were having for dinner, one of a rotating cycle of circa 1970s dinners. if you trace back the roots of her cooking you might discern that she was the wife of an ad man, an ad man who counted campbell’s soup among his quiver of clients, and thus my mother might only be bested by mr. warhol when it comes to making the most of a soup can.
because my mother is all action, few words, the scenes that flash in the carousel that plays in my head — just like the home movies that clackety-clacked through the reel of the kodak projector she’d set up in front of the living room fireplace, every once in a sunday — are utterly silent.
watching them now, on the eve of the dawn of her tenth decade, they still take my breath away.
there’s the time at the kitchen door, when the long black limousine from the funeral home idled in our circular drive, and my mother (a widow at 50) in her camel hair church coat gathered the five of us (one girl, four boys in her brood), and intoned: “make your father proud.” she’d meant in the church where we were headed for his funeral, and the cemetery afterward, but i’d always taken it as instruction for life. and i’ve tried, oh i’ve tried.
there’s another time, in a misty winter’s drizzle, when we were motoring into the cemetery where my father was buried, and we were carrying a tiny wooden box, inlaid with brass. inside was the tiny, tiny baby girl i’d just miscarried. we’d decided to bury her beside my father, and as we drove into st. mary’s cemetery, there was my mother, standing above her husband’s grave, her foot to the lip of the shovel, already digging the hole where we would lay our baby to rest, forever atop her grandfather’s chest.
there are even — more rarely — silly times: squirting a can of whipped cream into the mouths of my boys. squirting it into her own. when i was little once we stayed up late, my mother and i, making fudge from a box. and then, leaning against the fridge in the dark, we cut out piece after piece in the moonlight. we giggled.
my mother has taught me to fix things myself, to sew on a button, to darn the holes in a sock. my mother gave me ironing lessons there at the board she unfolded in the kitchen, sprinkled with water doused from a recycled 7Up bottle she’d fitted with a hole-pocked cap, the better to moisten your wrinkles. she taught me how to get a sharp enough crease on an oxford cloth shirt, or a pillow case, should you be so inspired. (i’m usually not.) and right there at that ironing board, on a day without school, she taught me all about “the birds and the bees,” (her words) and the womanly cycle certain to come.
my mother taught me to love birds and walks in the woods. my mother woke me up most every school morning trilling lines from robert browning, robert louis stevenson, or emily D, her beloved belle of amherst. my mother taught us, over and over, not to ever let the church get in the way of God. i took it as gospel. when i came home with my jewish boyfriend, my mother who’s gone to morning mass every day of her life, pulled me aside to tell me he was a keeper. she even pinned on him her highest medal of honor, “he’s an old shoe,” she exclaimed, citing the holes in soles of his penny loafers, and the falling-down hem of his seersucker shorts. when our firstborn — the old shoe’s and mine — turned 13, and became a bar mitzvah, my mother spent months carving from wood the yad, or pointer he would use to trace the lines of the hebrew scroll as he read from the Torah.
my mother, by many measures, has not had it so easy. she’s borne heartache enough to crush a flimsier soul. but my mother — whose daily uniform of baggy, faded denim jeans, sweatshirt, and lace-up thick-soled shoes bespeaks her character — is nothing if not sturdy.
but even the sturdy, sometimes, feel broken. and this morning, that is my mama.
with all my heart, thank you for whispering a prayer for comfort and healing for my sturdy, sturdy mama. she’s the one who needs to be wrapped in the prayer shawl today.
xoxox and bless you for doing so……
we need to get her sturdy again. and for now, my old nursing degree is coming in mighty mighty handy.
Your sweet, intelligent mother passed on all of her traits to her lovely daughter. In knowing you, we know her. Prayers coming from afar….
bless you, thank you. you are making me cry. but i am doing plenty of that anyway. xoxoxo couldn’t say anything about it last week, but figured i could at least ask for a prayer this week. cuz we need. xoxox
Oh…oh…oh. The candle is lit, prayers for your mom are going full tilt. She is the heart of so much in your life so the aches reverberate profoundly. May her suffering be softened, may she find safety in the comfort of your presence, may she find peace in her faith. May you all find your suffering for her softened, May you all find safety in her love for you, may you find peace in your faiths. ♥️ 🙏
Oh dear God, honey, you write spot-on beautiful prayers….bless you. Sending giant love….
we love your momma just as we love you and your boys. I am have so many pictures of her in my mind’s eye. twinkling eyes, that wink, that knowing side glance, that smile, sometimes wry, sometimes kind and thankful, sometimes part of a head back, full throated, happy, satisfied laugh. here’s to more smiles xoxoxox
Thank you, honey. You paint her well….❤️❤️
Prayers are coming her way and for the whole family ❤️
Bless you, I know you know the ways of those dear Sacred Heart devotees❤️❤️ It melts me tofu d you here. Thank you. Hug.
Thinking of you, your family, and your mama. 🌝
Oh, jenny, thank you!!!❤️❤️
Hugs and prayers for your mom and whole family this day.
Thank you, beloved SLJ❤️❤️
You are all in my prayers.
What an amazing woman your mother is and hoping God is not ready to call her home just yet.
I can see the 7up bottle with that metal/rubber stopper. – my mother used the same one.
thank you, sweetheart. thank you. i think, indeed, there was a run on 7up bottles + stoppers once upon a time……it’s how i learned to iron…..
Saying a prayer for your Mom today. And for your whole family.
bless you, thank you. xoxox
Oh Barbara. My heart is breaking!
You told me your mom when we spoke a few days ago, but I got so sidetracked about my book launch that I never circled back.
Oh dear woman! Both of you!
Is she still in the hospital? At home now?
No matter. Wherever she is, she’s on my prayer list now.
Ellen Blum Barish
Writer and Coach
Author of soon-to-be-released memoir, Seven Springs (Shanti Arts)
Author, Views from the Home Office Window: On Motherhood, Family & Life (Adams Street Press)
thanks, sweetheart. she is home and with me, and as i type she is wandering with her watering can because today, she tells me, is friday watering day. the house plants love her. xoxox
My whole heart and all of my prayers are with your dear mama and with each one of you…
thank you, sweet heart. you’ve been squeezing my hand all along the way. and for every squeeze and the love in between, i am eternally eternally grateful. xoxoxo
Holding your dear Mama up to the Lord in prayer, for healing, for comfort, for rest. May she feel Him near- His presence hovering in her very room. That she would feel His soothing balm ministering to her broken body.
And for you as well, Barbara, for the strength to walk through these hard days with your Mama.
oh, dear gracious, bless you, bless you. such perfect words. xoxox
Dear , dear Barbara, Mother and Daughter, Prayers are pouring out for you. As one of the many sacristan/laundry ladies at Holy Cross, I know the parish is praying, too. In cleaning out books the other day I came across Gene’s holy card, so he is praying with us, as always. Love and prayers, Maureen Anderson
oh, dear gracious, this is making me cry……in the sweetest way. it means the world to know that Holy Cross is praying for my mom. Holy Cross is her lifeline…..bless you all, and thank you all. with love, from me, my mom and all her brood….
And as a Cincinnati native, I well know the hill you refer to…they were our dreaded sports rivals…many prayers for that hilly Cincinnati memory, her healing and wellbeing…and yours as well!
ha! i am going to guess you were maybe an Ursuline girl? hmmmm. anyway, i know she would EXTRA welcome prayers from the “rivals”! bless you. bless you. xox
Loving to hear she’s up and about! Sending my prayers also those of my praying friends across the country. You mama is a treasure.
she is a treasure and a pistol. in equal measure. xoxoxo
and thank you, sweetheart. xox
BAM, I am sending prayers to your mom, you and your family, asking God to alleviate mom’s pain and to strengthen you and your brothers as you help her body to mend. I am so happy to read that she’s watering plants today, moving around some. Hopefully today is the beginning of her recovery!
yes, yes, the watering was slow, but it was watering. and thank you, thank you for your prayers. xox
For your wandering (I am happy to hear she is up and about) and watering mother: May you feel surrounded by the positive energy of the prayer support and good wishes of your family and friends. They, in turn, will experience a quieting of their anxiety, and a growth in their trust that Jesus the healer cares for you and desires your healing even more than they do.
He will walk alongside you through this experience, present every second, holding your hand – and you will feel the growing radiance of restored health throughout your body, mind and soul.
thank you, thank you, dear paula. xoxo
Prayers for your dear mother.🙏🏼🙏🏼
Oh Barbie, what a joy it must be to have your dear mom at home with you right now. I join the multitude of others who offer prayers for her, and for you. May you be blessed with the assurance that our loving God is as concerned as you and your brothers are. May you be comforted by the abundance of kind words from friends and family. And may your mother be blessed by the healing touch of the One Great Healer, calming any fears, softening any pain, and endowing her with much more cherished time with you.
Love you, Joannie
Oh heavens, thank you dear dear Joanie. What a blessing to have you and your heart hovering over….❤️
Dear Barbara, I am with my altar cloth ironing dear Mom right now. We are shocked by your news. There are many prayers being said for your dear Mother and your family from here. Mom’s multidenomonational centering prayer is also praying. God bless her.
Bless you, your mom and all things multidenominational!
Please tell Mom that there is great power in being underestimated. It took me 2 years and 3 months to take my first unaided steps after my fall. I was told it would never happen. HA! The road is long and winding but the first ‘steps’ are just ahead. I embrace you all to share the strength.
Oh, dear INA!!!! Words of wisdom spoken from one who knows!!! Your wisdom + a matzo ball or two and what else would anyone need? Bless you times a million. xoxoxoxoxoxoxo
Good thing your beautiful mama has a sturdy daughter!
May peace and comfort bless you both.
xoxo thank you, beautiful friend….
There is a song by a Chicago Bluegrass Band no less (Special Consensus) called, “I want my friends to pray for me”, I always think of that in times of deep uncertainty and know what a blessing it is to be brave enough to ask for those very prayers and good words as you have done here. Prayers for your extraordinary Mama, for you and yours. Our hearts go out to you from Maine
There’s a giant lump in my throat, feeling your mighty arms wrapped round my shoulders. How are you sweetheart? How is your shoulder???? Sending love and love. Your wisdom is mighty….thank you for sending a dollop my way….❤️
My Dear Barbie –
So sorry to hear about your mother!! She is indeed a very special lady. How awful that she must endure so much pain!
Sending love and lots of prayers for a speedy recovery……Prayers for you too in the caregiving role.
Oh, dear Diane! Thank you! For entertainment yesterday we watching a giant garden go in at your old house. Looking lovely, dear next door Neighbor till the end of time. thank you much for prayers. xoxoxox love, b
Whispering prayers for your mama and all you who love her. xoxoxo
thank you, sweetheart. xox
Oh my! Just seeing this. Storming the heavens for your mom, you and all the family.
thank you, sweetheart. you’ve had your own crazy brushes with wackiness this year, the only someone i know to survive a rattlesnake bite. talking of sturdy women, that’s YOU! xoxox giant hug.
Oh Barbara – I’m holding your Mama, you, and your family in my prayers. May you all find sources of comfort and strength.
xoxox, thank you with all my heart. xoxo
Asking for prayers – and prayers you shall get … a tsunami of them – for her, for you, and for your family! – with love.
bless you, beautiful beautiful joanne. love to you and all your beautiful people who i love so much. xoxoxo
Oh, bam, oh, 90-years-sturdy Original Mother Nature! “Her car was totaled” stopped me cold. It was a huge relief to learn that she is not only alive, but out of the hospital and in your loving, knowledgeable care–and ambulatory enough to water the plants, no matter how slow and painful a task it is. Has anyone added “indomitable” to her traits? I wish that her pain is alleviated quickly, that she has a full recovery and that she soon resumes her independent, indomitable life of caring for her corner of creation. The world needs her. Much love to Barbara the Wiser, you and your entire family. If you can find any silver lining in this, perhaps it is the time you have together under one roof and the opportunity (if she’ll allow it!) to bless her by being the caregiver, after all the years she blessed you, your brothers and your sons.
beautifully, beautifully put, dear dear karen. as always. your love is felt full throttle, and for that i profoundly thank you. she is indomitable, b the wiser is. bless you and thank you for your litany of well wishes and kindnesses. i am going to figure out how to keep her volunteering in some form, for life without that would be so hollow to her. i am sure we can figure out creative ways…..
xoxoxoxoxo big giant hug.
I am getting up right now to light a candle. I am gladdened to know she is puttering around your house, and I would expect no less, that she would hang onto that sacred laundry. That’s how I knew she would make it out of the hospital 🙂
oh,,,,,honey. you make me laugh. and melt at the same time. bless you for that candle. i think they must all be working. forces propelled her forward today. xoxox i know what those forces were….
I’ve said a prayer for your mother. She sounds like an amazing woman.
bless you, thank you SO much! truly……
There is no prayer in me
That sings as true as yours
To measure the sanctuary
Your mother’s steps define
oh, wow. that takes my breath away…….so so beautiful…..oh my God….thank you. xoxo giant giant hug.
Lord, my dear friend’s mother is in a great deal of pain and requires your loving hand to lie upon her in order to give her some much needed comfort and relief. We thank you for sparing her life, as those who know and love her consider her to be a holy representative of your grace. As her family rallies around her while her body heals, please help her to accept and appreciate their love and devotion-the same type of love that she has given so freely to so many throughout her life. It is in your name we pray. Amen
bless you, bless you, dear KI. xoxoxo what beautiful prayer. thank you. xoxox
Sending prayers and love to all of you at this worrisome time.
bless you, and thank you so so much……
So happy to read that your mother is doing better. It must be comforting for her to be in your home and in your care, and very special for you to spend this time with her! My prayer is that she will be able to go back to serving our Lord soon…she sounds like she is a force of goodness!
a force of goodness she is indeed. bless you. thank you…..
I am so sorry to read about your mom’s accident and subsequent injuries and trauma. How frightening that must have been for you all!
The fullness of her service to others now meets her need and there is no better place for her than with you as you administer to her healing with your love, attention, faith, patience and expertise. How often haven’t those nursing skills been used with those loved the most!!
I pray for her and I pray for you as together you lock arms and hearts for the journey towards regained health and strength. I am so grateful she is doing better. Blessings to you all.
dear cynthia, bless you and thank you. i think alll these beautiful prayers and kindnesses are indeed making a difference. i heard that trademark perk in her voice this morning. and it is a blessing indeed. hope you are well, up milwaukee way!
I’m so so sorry for your dear mama & you. How horribly scary. Sending so much love & prayers for healing & comfort. Of course your mom is incredible; how else would she have created you?? Xo
xoxox you are sooo sweet, beautiful liz. blessedly, i am beginning to hear my indomitable mama once again……all the hundreds of prayers and kindnesses really truly heal at the deepest level. thank you soo soo much. xoxox