The Call of Profound Integrity

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My sons, Kyle and Mark, with my mom, Rae, at her last Christmas

She flies
with her own wings.
-Oregon state motto

Personal Integrity: my principles, values, and actions are aligned. I keep my word with myself and others, telling the whole truth accountably without blame or judgment.

Profound Integrity: I hold my well-being as my responsibility, and I take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and I am in service first to my family, myself, and my committed relationships (Wings definitions).

These words, “the call of profound integrity,” have been running through my mind for weeks now—when looking out the window at spring unfolding, driving my car feeling the fresh air on my face, and moments when I am alone and aware of my connection to the divine. When I hear these words, I feel a sense of longing so intense that at times it takes my breath away, clutches my heart, and leaves me breathless. Integrity means wholeness, and part of me feels shattered.

My mother is dying. My longest loving relationship is coming to an end. This will happen only once in my lifetime, and I want to be there for my mom the best way I can while taking care of myself and my family too.

Not a balancing act; rather, an authentic balancing of love, respect, and service that is nurturing and healing for all of us.

Sitting with my mom while she lies in bed, my brother, sister, and I tell stories of growing up together. We laugh, we cry, and mom listens and adds in. Then she is talking about her own growing up on the E Quarter Circle Ranch in eastern Oregon, remembering a laundry day when a chipmunk fell in a pot of apple butter and then ran through all the clean, folded sheets. We laugh, thinking of all those little footprints. She sighs, remembering how hard it was to do laundry then, how hard they all worked. Good memories, sad ones too. Ones you can’t help having in a life ninety-three years long.

As we talk and I listen, I feel such a deep sense of gratitude for our time together…all of it. And in that moment, I realize how much my learning at Wings over the years is helping me be the person I want to be in this time of accepting a heartbreaking reality. I am eager to communicate what’s in my heart instead of fearful, open to the changes I see in her instead of denying, standing up for what I think she wants instead of hoping some one else will, letting my tears be seen rather than hiding them, and so much more.

If someone told me I could teach only four things for the rest of my life, I know what I would choose: accountability, integrity, love, and service (vision). These are the things I most want to practice and that my mother demonstrated to me and everyone who knew her every day of her life. They are the foundations of a meaningful life.

My mom died peacefully on May 11 at about 5:00 a.m., a gentle smile on her face. The days leading up to her death are some of the most poignant of my life. I am so thankful I could be there with her and my sister and her family to hold her hand and touch her face. Together we created a sacred space of unconditional love and honor to embrace her and ease her spirit. She will long be remembered as a woman of beauty, wit, warmth, grace, and intelligence. Integrity was her highest value, and that’s how she lived.

This is a call to me and an invitation to you
to know our deepest values and live them fully;
to express our love now instead of waiting for the right time;
to tell the truth respectfully and listening with an open mind to the response;
to accept and celebrate that our own well-being is our responsibility;
to remember that the quality of our most important relationships is in our hands;
to live in both personal and profound integrity.

Having written this, I notice the part of me that felt shattered is gently mending with tender threads
of gratitude and acceptance. The following is what I said at Mom’s memorial service, June 30, 2007.


Rae Case Anderson

Born April 10, 1914, died May 11, 2007

Ah…to say good-bye to my mother. To never hear her sweet voice again; to never see her beautiful and animated face as she told me about her day, questioned me about mine; to never call her when I want guidance, support, or the best way to reach for something important to me; to never have her listen patiently to my stumbling words as I made me way toward clarity, compassionately listening, listening, and then she would say just the right thing to help me find my own way.

How very fortunate we are—my brother Roger, my sister Carolyn, our families, her grandchildren—to have Rae Case Anderson live ninety-three years and one month, years rich in love, laughter, and experiencing life to the fullest. My mom taught by example rather than lecture. What she believed was right, she did and encouraged in us. She demonstrated profound integrity.

Since her diagnosis of metastasized breast cancer in September, mom has talked more about her life story than any other time I can remember. In the last weeks at Carolyn’s home, so many people—family, friends, and caregivers—sat and shared stories, laughter, tears, and such deep love and respect. Mom gave and received unconditionally and so very gracefully. What an honor to sit with her and review our lives together and apart.

My mom was a bit paradoxical, totally trusting her intellect and ability to do just about anything, except sing. She rode horses, was a Phi Beta Kappa, taught school, raised gloxinias, three amazing children, and corgis, loved my dad completely, danced with abandon, sailed, traveled the world, caught salmon, loved a good joke, was a great friend and cook, and oh my, she could remember the names of people in her life back to the beginning of time!

And then, curiously, she was self-doubting and shy when it came to her impact on others and her beauty. She was genuinely surprised, as well as gratified, when people remembered her as a positive force in their lives. And even at ninety-three she could never figure out why people thought she was beautiful.

Her beauty at the end was incandescent; she radiated such calm presence. She watched us with such intensity, drinking us in, every detail, and we were doing the same thing, letting her know with every touch, look, and word that we loved her.

I would like to share a poem with you by Mary Oliver that reveals my mom’s passion for life.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower,
as common as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Dignity, honor, grace, humor, and a helping hand…we are saying good-bye to Rae in physical form. She lives on in us. We are her inspired legacy.

Thank you, Mom, for sharing yourself so completely with me…with us.

Reflections:

1. After reading my definitions of integrity, take a moment and write your own definition.

2. Where in your life is your integrity solid, where you wouldn’t even think about breaking your word or not keeping an agreement?

3. In what parts of your life do you have broken agreements and you haven’t kept your word? What is the impact?

4. Think of someone in your life whose integrity is profound. What do you think they would tell you to do to rebuild your integrity? Will you do it?

With love and gratitude,
Kris King

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