“Sisters in Mourning: Daughters Reflecting on Care, Loss, and Meaning”
with Su Yon Park and Mychal B. Spring, Editors
Wednesday, January 11, 2023, 1 pm EDT
Video is located at: https://youtu.be/L30lokwIyLI
Mary E. Hunt, Presiding:
Welcome to WATER! Our topic is the new book edited by Sisters in Mourning: Daughters Reflecting on Care, Loss, and Meaning, edited by
Su Yon Park and Mychal B. Spring.
We begin with a land acknowledgement: We at WATER are on indigenous land in Silver Spring, Maryland. This is on the traditional and contemporary land of the Piscataway and Anacostan peoples. We acknowledge the trauma and injustice toward indigenous people and other people of color that is deep in U.S. culture and history. We join in efforts to eradicate it and make reparations for the genocide involved. WATER’s work is aimed to bring about social justice. Consider the native people on whose land you sit.
WATER’s work brings feminist/womanist spiritual values and intellectual work to efforts at social change. The book, Sisters in Mourning: Daughters Reflecting on Care, Loss, and Meaning (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021), is an important read about a common human experience for which feminist/womanist insights are needed.
I was delighted that the Foreword for the book was written by longtime WATER friend and supporter, the wonderful Mary Gordon. I invited her to be with us today. Alas, she is flying as we speak to visit her beloved family in Wisconsin so I hope we will have a chance to chat with her on another occasion.
Co-editor, Su Yon Pak describes herself as a “Korean American queer feminist practical theologian.” We have known one another for many years in the common work of theological education within and beyond the academy. She is the newly appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean at Union Theological Seminary where she has been since the mid-1990s when she began in her doctoral work. Su Pak has played many roles there from Associate Dean for Student Life & Director of Recruitment, to Vice President for Institutional Advancement, then Dean and Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-Based Education, before taking on her new responsibilities. She is also active with Pacific Asian North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM).
Co-editor Rabbi Mychal B. Springer, the first Conservative rabbi to become certified as a Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor, founded the Center for Pastoral Education at Jewish Theological Seminary in 2009 where she did her own rabbinic studies. She supervised students in a range of settings including health care and prisons where they gain pastoral skills and provide care for persons who are on the margins of society, and now directs a hospital pastoral care program.
They are joined by contributors:
Linda Jaramillo is a retired executive minister of United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries where she worked tirelessly for a decade.
Kathleen Talvacchia is a contextual theologian with interest in practical theology, Christian practices of marginalized communities, and Queer theology in New York City.
We at WATER are honored to host this distinguished group of women, who like all of us, have had mothers! Insofar as we are our mother’s daughters, our mothers, especially yours dear guests, are with us in spirit.
When I blurbed this book for WATER’s “What We’re Reading” section of our website, I wrote: “From the Foreword by Mary Gordon to the final story of a mother’s death, the often fraught and usually loving relationships between mothers and daughters come into poignant focus. Seven writers from different backgrounds and life circumstances flesh out the complexities and offer queries for others to ponder.”
On rereading the book for today’s event, I can only add a huge ‘Thank you’ to the writers for kicking off a conversation many of us need to have. Welcome, colleagues. We are grateful for your work.
- Su Yon Pak described the writing of the book by reading from p. xii. Her mother and Mychal’s mother died in proximity both in time and locations. Their gathering of other women eventually resulted in the team that wrote this book, a group that otherwise would not have met.Shaping questions emerged from the common experience of being in a helping profession that has an impact on caring and grieving:
a. What do your culture and spiritual tradition expect of you as a caregiver?
b. How does gender impact this expectation? What do you ask of yourself? How do the demands shape each other?
c. What is your relationship to your community, the caring you provide, and the experience of grieving?
The group met on-line except for one short retreat in person. They told stories of their mothers, some having their mothers until later in life, others having lost their mothers early in their lives. Themes were named and chosen for writing. The group met every two months to hear one another’s writing and to share rituals. At first, it was a process and later a book project. Each person wrote a chapter and responses were provided by others and included in text boxes in the finished volume. Questions for reflection follow each chapter. They envisioned “Sisters in Mourning Circles” using the book and its questions as starting points for other women to attend to their caring and grieving.
- Mychal B. Springer talked about taking something private like care and grief and making it public. She felt the accompaniment of her friends, especially Su. Something that is so isolating could be so uniting. She explored the ways in which the wisdom of mothers is applicable in her teaching despite the fact that her mother was not a learned person in the usual sense.She reflected on the richness of authors coming from various religious traditions. She also brought up the matter of dementia—their mothers’ experiences and the road those pave for the authors themselves. These are complicated issues especially as they are go on to affect daughters in the next generation.
She invited two contributors to reflect on:
What did this process of writing teach you about grief and grieving?
What has this book had to say to the grief we are in now during the pandemic which keeps morphing?
- Linda Jaramillo spoke of her mother who was a “secret keeper” who died at an advanced age quite soon after a fall. Her family had not discussed what to do upon her mother’s demise so various family members had different ideas on what to do. Linda reported that they, like their mother, found the rituals of the Catholic Church a strong source of support. Acknowledging the reality of “regret” and “numbness” in the family was another important source or strength.Linda misses talking with her mother, hearing her mother’s voice despite the fact that her mother always said “No digas nada” which means “Don’t say anything.” So writing for this book was a welcome experience. But the loneliness of grief persists. The challenge is to turn grief into courage, in her case, the courage to tell stories, to be a storyteller.
- Kathleen Talvacchia lost her mother when Kathy was 19 and her mother was in her late 50s, an early death. Kathy was reluctant to join this project because the death of her mother was still so painful. But she agreed to participate and learned many new things.During the pandemic, Kathy saw many losses that are parallel to the loss of a parent. But she discovered that we have resources to deal with losses of jobs, health, travel, and more, especially if we enter into communities like the one from which this book arose.
Participants raised a number of issues:
- Reinforcing the possibility of similar circles to have conversations on caring and grieving after a loss; also a short article might condense this book into something that would bring this insightful model to a broad audience; perhaps a conference on this topic
- The daughter of one writer said she got to know things about her mother and grandmother that she did not know before the book.
- An archive of this process would be a welcome addition to the book since sections of the book had to be cut before publication.
- Boxes in which reactions to stories are included in the manuscript worked very well.
- Having a group in which to mourn is very helpful.
- One writer spoke about losing her mother at 91 which reminded her that her mother lost her own mother at age 17. The impacts of those experiences of loss are diverse but important.
- A participant named this book as part of a larger feminist project of naming and claiming women. Women’s lives are largely invisible, e.g. newspaper obituaries are mostly about men. This book’s fresh, new approach is another stone laid as part of the foundation of a feminist-inspired world.
- A similar but quite distinct project is the book BEFORE THEY WERE OUR MOTHERS: VOICES OF WOMEN BORN BEFORE ROSIE STARTED RIVETING. Patricia Nugget, Ed. These are stories by fifteen women who write about their mothers’ early lives. See for example, “Anything Is Possible” by Joyce Hunt Bouyea about her and Mary E. Hunt’s mother, Elizabeth Grey Campbell.
- In order to hear the stories of women, we need the stories so archive, archive, archive. A participant told her own difficult experience with her mother and the need to know about her mother’s life to understand why her mother was a she was.
- Young persons need pastoral care on the death of their mothers.
WATER extends thanks to the four speakers who shared so generously both in the volume and in this program.