“Did You Eat?” – A Lesson From the Reconstructed Life of Cynthia Beatrice Mapp

It’s been almost 10 years since my mother died.

I could say that we had a difficult relationship but that would not do justice to the complexity of our story. I loved her and never told her. I needed her and pushed her away. I heard her but couldn’t listen. She was my mother but she just couldn’t take care of me.

During my early childhood and pre-teen years my mother was a manic-depressive with some paranoid schizophrenia tossed in just to keep things interesting. And yet, through all of the hallucinations, medications, psychotic breaks and mania, she loved me with a fierceness that defied all conditions and circumstance.

(Remind me someday to tell you about the time my mother slapped the taste out of the mouth of some woman she thought had insulted little 5 year-old me in the elevator or the time she showed up at my elementary school to break out a can of whup-ass on a class bully that was harassing me).

By the time I was in my late teens, my mother had managed to reshape her illness and live a life relatively free of voices, visions and valium. But by then, so much damage had been done… And I was so, so angry at her for leaving me, for letting my father take me away… So angry at her for not being strong enough, whole enough, well enough to fight for me, take care of me and keep me with her.

When she died, I, as her only child was charged with writing her eulogy. What would I write about the woman who birthed me? I only knew her as sick, ill, depressed and medicated. I had never made peace with the woman my mother had become or the life she had so carefully reconstructed.

To write the classic early life, middle life, “this is your life” homage wasn’t going to work.  My mother’s wasn’t  a classic “this is your life” kind of story and to try stuff the substance of her into that kind of template seemed disingenuous and disrespectful. Despite my ambivalence, despite my regrets, despite my grief, despite all of the unanswered questions and things never said, I wanted to honor my mother.

So I wrote about the one prevailing lesson that she tried to show me time and time and time again and that I could not/would not hear/understand/accept until she was gone from me. Until it was too late.

Here it is…

The Eulogy



December 23, 1945 – December 29, 2003

Did you eat?

Each time my Mom began a conversation with anyone she loved, me, one of her granddaughters, my husband, anyone who held a place in her heart, she would begin her conversation with one all important question.

Did you eat?

I would get so irritated at what I thought was such a silly, little, question.

Of course we ate. Or would eat… Really Mom, everything doesn’t have to revolve around food. Don’t you know there are more important things going on in the world?

Once I became a mother myself and had to stand aside as my daughters stretched, grew and inched farther and farther beyond the reach of my hand, I would have many of what my daughters called “Grandma Moments”. Times when I would sound just like my mother, the words, tone of voice and inflection would be all Cynthia as I asked my beloveds, “Did you eat?”

Yes Mom I hear you, I understand.

Did you eat? Couched in that little question was her concern for our health wellbeing and welfare. Did you eat? Did you stop for a moment? Cook for yourself? Nourish yourself? Show yourself care? Did you make the decision to pursue what was necessary for the maintenance of your own life?

Mt 26:26 “…Take this and eat; this is my body.”

Did you eat? Did you give thanks? Did you commune with the sustainer of your life? Did you pursue your own peace? Did you stand? Did you refuse to compromise, explain or negotiate the personal peace that would be beyond anyone else’s understanding? Did you eat? Did you say no to anxiety, disturbance and depression? Did you eat? Did you take hold of your joy regardless? Wherever, whenever, alone or in a crowd, pockets full or pockets empty? Was your joy full and your peace precious? Did you eat? Did you refuse to be crushed, in despair, abandoned or destroyed? Did you reclaim your heart and choose to be renewed day by day? Did you eat? Did you refuse the bondage of what the voices said you should be and rest in the freedom that God’s grace says you are? Did you eat? Did you consider how the lilies grow? Did you love? Have joy? Did you eat?

My Mom was not a bible scholar. She would not have been one to quote you scripture. My mom just lived. And chose . And pursued. And loved.


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