Carry the universe in your heart

I believe in strong women. . . You face the world with a head held high and you carry the universe in your heart. ~C. JoyBell C.

This morning, the full-throated pre-dawn bird chorus mingled with the sound of rainfall as Pixie and I walked through the dark wet woods and back to the house. (you can adjust the volume in the player).

home viewed from woodsThe rain has transformed the garden into a lush paradise ready to burst into a new round of blooms and the woods are beginning to take on hints of their green cloaks of summer.

The leaf buds of the hickory trees unfolded in a matter of days, revealing the remarkable geometry of nature. (Click on any photo in the mosaic to see a full-size image)

The birdsong and the lushness of early May mark a year today since my mother’s passing. Ruth Bach Emberg lived a long life, 97 years (though she was hoping for 100) and accomplished so many things. She was a doer, a fast walker, and a no nonsense woman with a kind heart and a smart creative mind.

To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. ~Maya Angelou

Born in the 1920’s, she grew up in the Great Depression with four older brothers who taught her to drive a car, walk proudly, and stand up for herself.

She was recruited in the early 40’s as a Curtiss-Wright Cadette, one of 900 young American college women who learned 2.5 years of aeronautical engineering in 10 months at universities in order to do technical work on fighter planes for the war effort. College student in 1941I remember visiting the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. with my mother to see the Curtiss-Wright fighter plane that she contributed to in her work. The wartime efforts of the women Cadettes have finally gained recognition in the past few years (see linked article above) as an important precursor to the STEM movement.

Ruth went on to work in technical industries, teach high school math, serve as Dean at a community college, and work as the chief assessor in a rural Pennsylvania county – she was a strong woman in a man’s world.

She raised a family, gardened like a goddess, cooked so well that she wrote a cookbook, and served on many governing boards while running a basket shop and teaching others the art of basket making. Yes, she was a doer.

Living independently in a senior community in her mid-nineties, she was still lively as ever and we frequently went out to eat breakfast at the diner around the corner.

In the gorgeous green days of last May she suddenly fell ill and passed a few days later. When I accompanied her to the hospice, a beautiful place tucked deep in the woods, a large tom turkey was pacing outside her window as if welcoming her. The next evening, Bill and I took our pup Angel to visit her – while Angel ran into her room and kissed her hand, Bill brought his acoustic guitar and sat beside Mom’s bed, quietly improvising beautiful music. Although she couldn’t open her eyes or move much, she smiled when she heard the guitar and I could feel her relax. As we sat in the dark together, the room overflowed with light and love and we sensed her letting go. She passed peacefully the next day and when I left the hospice for the last time, the bird song outside was so beautiful that I stood to listen to the evensong of the day and of her life.

Mom lived a remarkable life, held her head high, and truly carried the universe in her heart.

The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children. ~Elaine Heffner

May each of you have a blessed Mother’s Day and hold your family dear.

All text and photos ©2022 and 1984 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved except for historical documents or where noted/attributed. 

40 thoughts on “Carry the universe in your heart

  1. I don’t have anything more succint to add to above comments. Suffice it to note that I appreciated learning about her (and really like her photos), and appreciate your love and admiration for her life and being–and for the birdsong…carrying “the universe in her heart” is a magnificent thing…

  2. What a woman! And what a tribute. My mother was born around the same time and expected to live a long life but was prevented those extra years by pancreatic cancer, diagnosed when she was 75. As it worked out, I thrived better after her passing so no need to feel sad. The aeronautical engineering project your mother participated in is fascinating – I hadn’t heard about that. Good for her! And again, good for you for putting this together. The Song sparrow singing at the end is just perfect.

    • Thank you, Lynn. I had heard her talk all of her life about the Curtiss-Wright program but I didn’t understand the details until I researched them for her obituary last year – I wish I would have known more while she was alive so that I could have asked more questions about it. It was helpful to write this, process everything 🙂

      • Writing is such good work, good therapy, etc. It’s good to recognize that one-year anniversary. (So many things get lost when people die…sometimes I think it’s nice that we bloggers have this record to hand down, assuming it lasts a while).

  3. Dear Lynn: As with the others, I simply have to say that this is such a wonderful tribute to your Mother. She had to have been one very vibrant and fascinatingly talented woman. It is obvious that her spirit lives on in you! Again, thank you so very much for sharing. The photography is breathtaking!

  4. You’ve put together a great tribute to your mother. She may have wanted to live to 100, but there’s solace in the fact that 97 is a prime number. And how could someone named Bach not have disposed you toward music?

    • Oh Steve, she would have loved the thought of the prime number – thanks for pointing that out! She was a bit competitive, one of her brothers lived to 99 so I think she wanted to surpass that :-). Yes, the Bach name always figured in our family story, though there was no actual relation. Thanks for stopping by, you always add so much to the conversation.

  5. What a wonderful tribute to your mother, and what an incredible life she had. Your description of sitting with your mother in the hospice was very similar to mine, with my mother. She loved all birds and knew the name of every bird. During her last four days, a family of fairy wrens came to the window every day. As you say, creatures are so tuned into the passages of life and death.
    Thank you for a lovely post. Best wishes (Gerrie )

  6. Dear Lynn, Thank you for this heartfelt post and lovely photos.  Anniversaries of deaths are difficult, and I’m sorry for your loss. Your mother sounds like a strong, good woman who accomplished much in her 97 years.  I’m sure that Mother’s Day will bedifficult for you. My mother passed away more than forty years ago, and I still miss her.  She was also a good, kind, strong woman. May you have a relaxed, blessed Mother’s Day with those important to you. Kind regards,Arlene

  7. What a heartfelt, beautiful tribute to your mother, her life and her legacy. You are blessed to be her daughter and to have shared in her life. God Bless you!!
    “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints”
    Psalm 116: 15

  8. A wonderful tribute to a–clearly–remarkable woman.

    I’m curious….do you ever have a sense of (for lack of a better term) dissonance when you consider the amazing arc of your mother’s life and the fact that she was…well, your mother?

    I’m not sure that I’m making much sense, but I sometimes wonder how someone with such an extraordinary personal resume is viewed by those closest to said person.

    • What a wonderful question, Kerry. Hmmm, she and I were so close that I accepted her for all she was without thinking about it as unusual and she never tried to “mold” me into a copy of herself either. I had great admiration for her all my life. My father was an exceptional musician too so our family life was relaxed and somewhat unconventional in many ways. It wasn’t until I went to college and traveled that I realized how differently I had been raised. So, not really any dissonance although I get a sense of what you mean.

  9. A beautiful tribute to your mom, Lynn. What a remarkable life she had, and I imagine such daunting shoes to fill!
    The birdsong recordings are wonderful. I just heard my first wood thrush of the season tonight – magical!

    • Thank you, Eliza. Yes, hearing the magical song of the wood thrush as I left the hospice was a gift. So glad to hear that you have them in your garden too.
      The shoes are not so daunting, she never insisted that I follow her lead but rather be myself. Though she didn’t hesitate to offer advice 🙂

  10. It will be 8 years this month losing Mom. I treasure the recipes written in her hand, the flowers shared from her lush gardens and so many wonderful memories. Loved your writing.

  11. What a beautiful tribute to a fascinating woman, Lynn. My goodness, her talents and artistry flowed out into the world in remarkable ways. Thank you for sharing some of the tantalizing details of her story. I imagine some of your own multi-talents were fortified, modeled, and encouraged in their blossoming by Ruth; I’m among those who are very grateful for that, too!

    Gentle Peace XO

    • Thank you, Kitty – even knowing her all my life, I’m still surprised sometimes when I look at her history. BTW, your stories about volunteering in hospice were invaluable to guide me in doing my best to ease her passage.

      • I actually worked as a hospice chaplain for several years after working as a hospital chaplain. I was so moved by your description of your time together there. The turkey made me smile. Each of our in-patient rooms had its own private screened patio and a sliding double-door with a ground-level threshold, so we could easily roll the patients’ beds out to their patio. The hospice was just outside downtown Madison, but in a country setting. I cannot tell you how many times deer appeared on the hill when patients were outside, and then the deer often returned at the time of death…very moving, along with a million other things that happened at hospice.

      • So sorry I forgot about the chaplaincy! I would love to talk to you about it sometime, so much more happened that evening that I chose not to share publicly but things I know you would understand. Yes, the creatures are so tuned into the passages of life and death, I knew that the birds were escorting her.

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