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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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With just one word

An adult daughter finds 'Mommy' the only word to utter at her mother's death

Words and names have power. We learn early on that words can both hurt and heal, and we know that names create and reflect bonds of great depth. The word “death” has such power that it can banish all other words away.

Brenda Peconge (right) with her mother,
Brenda Peconge (right) with her mother, Harolyn.
As a child I was off and running early with language. I could memorize quickly and accurately, and construct sentences that communicated well. From school essays to the sermons I now craft, words came easily. Remembering chunks of liturgy, Scripture and hymns is easy. With the help of the Spirit, I’ve had the privilege of ministering to others with comfort, grace and proclamation.

Yet on Oct. 3, 2005—the day my mother died—my capacity for language deserted me. As the medical team worked on her, my husband and I stood outside the hospital room, his arms holding me tightly.

The staff allowed us in the room as they continued their work, and I knelt by the bed with my head on my mother’s arm, repeating, “Oh, God ….” It was an invocation. It was a prayer. It was an entreaty. It was all I could manage to pull from a lifetime storehouse of words about and to God. What I was really saying, of course, was, “Oh, Abba. I am so afraid and helpless. I don’t know much else right now, but I know you are here. Whatever your will might be, give me strength to face it.” But all I could say was, “Oh, God ….”


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