Edith Schaeffer 1914 - 2013 RIP
My mother Edith Schaeffer died today. She was the author of many books on family life and spirituality and co-founder with my father Francis Schaeffer of the evangelical ministry of L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. She has just gone to be with the Lord, as she would put it. She died at home which was her wish.
I last talked to Mom yesterday. Rather she slept as I talked. A few days before my granddaughter Lucy was on my lap and we were talking to Mom via Skype. That day she was awake.
Mom's face filled the screen and she was looking at us on the laptop placed on the covers of her bed. I last had been with her in person two years ago when I'd spent ten days with her. Before she was bedridden (about four months ago) we'd talk on the phone and after that we'd Skype.
I've been talking to her every day for the last several weeks knowing she was slipping away. Since I care for my two youngest grandchildren, Lucy (4) and Jack (2) five days a week they have often been there when "Noni," as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called Mom was on the screen with us.
During one of the last calls when Lucy and I talked to her last week, Mom was beautiful with her silver hair in a ponytail and her red hair band and matching shawl. Trapped in a body she'd lost control of, it took all of her formidable willpower to acknowledge our love. She had a feeding tube in her nose and was slipping in and out of consciousness. Five minutes after we hung up she would not remember the conversation. But in the moment when I said "I love you," she nodded back and was fully aware.
Mom was staring earnestly into the laptop screen her nurse had set up so we could talk via Skype. My four year old granddaughter Lucy whispered "Does she have her perfume on?"
"Your great grandmother always wears perfume. So I bet she does," I answered.
I kept reminding Mom of who we were, speaking rather slowly and loudly, "This is your son, Frank, and I have my four year old granddaughter, Lucy, on my lap. Can you see her Mom? This is John's daughter. John was our Marine. Remember praying for his safe return from Afghanistan? God answered your prayers, Mom. Say hi to your great-granddaughter Mom."
When I asked if she knew we loved her, Mom acknowledged us with a slight nod and whispered "Yes." Those turned out to be her last spoken words to me.
Mother was three thousand miles away in Switzerland. We were in Massachusetts. She was ninety-eight and dying. Lucy is four years old and thriving. We were in my home in the studio/office I'd built out of the old woodshed. We were surrounded by piles of manuscripts including, a stack four feet high of the twenty-three drafts of a new novel I'm working on. Lucy had your feet up on the top of the pile. My paintings were leaning in deep clusters against the walls and were hanging on every surface. The ubiquitous smell of turpentine and linseed oil was in the air. Mom had always loved that smell. When I was a kid she'd walk into my room, breathe deeply and say "I just LOVE the smell of paintings!"
Before that day's Skype chat with Mom, Lucy and I had been conducting imaginary orchestras while listening to Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto in G, full volume. Lucy launched an impromptu recitation of the Twenty Third Psalm, saying it all the way through. We'd also been looking at the weird and wonderful art of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Lucy and Jack loved his pictures of sixteenth century peasants, beggars, and his apocalyptic fantasies. So even though Lucy and had never met my mother and were like ships passing in the night we were actually having a very Edith Schaeffer day.
Mom's great-grandchildren were growing up loving what she'd loved: words, art, music, gardening, cooking and playacting. Mom was unable to speak any longer but she was nevertheless communicating with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren every time they were read to, listened to music or when we painted together.
Since she couldn't talk I read to Mom and Lucy out loud from one of her own books: Mei Fuh - Memories from China. My grandchildren love the book. Lucy knows it almost by heart.
As usual we had to skip the "sad part" Lucy never let me read, about how Adjipah the gardener ate Mom's goldfish. Mei Fuh was the last of many books Mom authored and her one and only children's book. Mom had been born to missionary parents in 1914 and the book was about her growing up in a missionary compound until she moved back to America at age six.