One hand guiding the soft wooden casket, the other hanging awkwardly by my side, I shuffled next to my cousins and siblings, guiding my grandmother to a place of honor for her last mass.
Torrey Medina Bartlett.
We knew Mémé was dying. It had been coming for years. Still, my siblings and I marveled at the weight the news carried. This beloved figure of our youth had been gone for years, fading into the haze of her own second childhood, unable to recognize anyone but her son and daughters. Still, the permanence of death offered a sudden, visceral grief.
A wave of this grief hit me as I rolled Mémé’s casket down the aisle and registered the words of the song being sung by the cantor up front, it’s melody hauntingly beautiful.
“Going home, going home. I am going Home”
Once the casket had reached its place of honor at the front of the chapel, my siblings and I took our seats a few pews back from our parents. In the midst of Covid, I couldn’t sit with my mother, Torrey-Yvonne. With an ache in my chest, I watched her straight back and thin, stooped shoulders, under her graying black hair. As she gazed at the remains of the woman for whom she was named only a few paces away, I couldn’t help but see my future self. My own turn which would inevitably come to sit in Mom’s spot, this time mourning her.
Then came the next words of the hymn;
“Mother’s there, expecting me.”
My eyes welled with tears, some bittersweet emotion I couldn’t name rising up within my throat. My gaze shifted from my own mother to the coffin carrying her mother, to the heights of the chapel. A view complete with an ornate crucifix and stained glass and a vaulted ceiling covered with beautiful green-tiled mosaics. A view intended to invite the viewer to contemplate God. I did. But in this moment, honoring my maternal grandmother, worrying over my own mother, it wasn’t God the Father I instinctively thought of. Instead, I imagined God the Mother. The eternal Mother who was ‘there, expecting’ Mémé. Yes, the hymn was referencing her earthly mother, Margaret. A joyous reunion to be sure. But in that moment of spiritual clarity, I looked further to our Mother in Heaven. An eternal, loving being, greeting my aged grandmother as the child she is to Her. Welcoming her back to her heavenly home with the embrace only a mother can give.
In death, I was beginning to see Mémé as not merely my grandmother, but as Torrey. A daughter of God the Mother and God the Father. A complex, full person who had existed before my earliest memories of her bouncing me on her knee and would continue to exist after this morning’s last glimpse of her aged, carefully posed earthly body.
Mother’s there expecting me.
I learned vaguely about the doctrine of Heavenly Mother as a child. Her existence was presented almost as an obscure, irrelevant fact. A quirk in Mormon doctrine. As I’ve grown, I’ve found myself searching for Her more and more. An academic interest transformed into a spiritual yearning. In a religion led by men, guided by sacred texts written by men telling the stories of men, praying to a male God in the name of a male God, I woke up slowly to the permanent grief of a mother erased. A mother I didn’t know how to appropriately search for or recognize. A mother whose name I didn’t know.
There in that Catholic chapel, at a service honoring the matron of my family, I finally felt my Mother in Heaven. More than feeling her I recognized her. I recognized her in all the nurturing memories of my mother, Torrey-Yvonne, and my grandmother, Torrey. In the stories of Torrey’s bravery and faith in the midst of adversity. In the intrinsic need, I had to feel my own mother’s embrace in this moment of grief. In the intense memories of childhood surfacing, reminding me of the primal equivalence of the words ‘mother’ and ‘home.’ In the spirit of comfort and belonging that poured over me as I looked around at the extended family scattered throughout the huge chapel to honor this powerful woman.
Try as we might, we could understand Mémé only through the narrow lens of our relationship to her: our mother, our grandmother. I imagined that reunited with both her Mother and Father in Heaven, Torrey was greeted and honored as her true, most authentic, and whole self.
Stories were told in the eulogies, silly and poignant anecdotes that highlighted Torrey’s unique personality and impact on this earth. Pictures were displayed of her as a young woman with a wide smile and intelligent eyes. It made me ponder my inheritance. A love of writing, travel, and literature. A knack for helping people feel included. A desire to know God. A heart-shaped face, fair skin, and thick hair. A shared name.
In a million indirect ways, I am who I am because of her.
In this moment of stillness and reflection, I considered my spiritual heritage. Who am I because of Her? What shared name can I know Her by? I only knew that whatever is good in me must be a direct inheritance from Her.
Staring at Mémé’s coffin, I was overwhelmed by the comfort of this ancestry, and the recognition of the divine feminine. Passed down not just from mother to daughter but from all good women to their sons, their friends, their communities, their homes. The influence any woman has on the generations that follow her. Mémé is not valuable simply because of her relationship to me as my grandmother. She is valuable because she is Torrey. A beloved daughter of a Father and a Mother in Heaven. A divine individual apart from anything she ever did or created– just as our Mother in Heaven is.
Unlike Torrey, though, I don’t know what to call my Heavenly Mother. I don’t know how to honor her as both my Creator and Her own divine being. Is she one-half of the plural Elohim? Does she have her own name equivalent to Jehovah? I don’t know her personality or have stories focused specifically on Her and Her divine nature.
All I can do is keep searching. As I live my life and recognize the goodness in others I can attribute it to the goodness in Her. And, if one day I’m blessed to have my own daughter, I hope to be as good a guide for her towards Heavenly Mother on this earth as my foremothers have been to me.
I already know that I will name her Torrey.