With Mother's Day just around the corner, I've been thinking about the matriarchal blessing - the moment when an old woman, staring death in the eye, communicates to a younger female relative or friend that life is good and love is eternal.

As far as I know, the only mention in the Bible of an older woman blessing a younger woman is when Elizabeth says to her young, unwed, pregnant relative Mary: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth probably wasn't the matriarch of her family, and she wasn't about to die, but her Spirit-inspired words were still similar to a matriarchal blessing. She welcomed the new life growing in Mary, and her loving hospitality surely must have given courage to the baffled young mother-to-be.

The more typical matriarchal blessing, however, is a deathbed event: think of Isaac blessing Esau and, inadvertently, Jacob; or Jacob blessing his own sons and grandsons.

"The last time I saw my mother alive was very, very special," my friend Kathleen told me. Her mother, who was 90 years old, had been declining from Alzheimer's disease for several years. "She was trying to talk about something but couldn't make words that were comprehensible, so she just decided to go to sleep. She must have napped for about a half hour. I stayed with her and held her hand. Her skin was so transparent that I wondered if she would die right then. But no. She woke up and squeezed my hand, and we had a chance to tell each other how much we loved each other. It was one of the best times I ever had with my mother."

Kathleen and her mother exchanged very few words that day, but the message of love and continuity was clear. And sometimes the blessing is given with no words at all.

A week ...

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