Mother’s Day without Mother

By Carlton Elliott Smith

This Sunday will be my first Mother’s Day without my mom, Luberta Elliott Smith. She died peacefully a week ago at the age of 84 after many years of declining health and multiple medical issues. I was there at her bedside in those final moments, as was my older brother Edwin. Our younger brother, Lee Eric, came shortly after, and then our Aunt Sandra -- our mom’s last sibling. We had some moments with Mom in the stillness of her room in assisted living before the County Coroner came and took her body away.

I remember back when I started work almost six years ago as part of the UUA Southern Region team. Part of what made the position so attractive was that it allowed me to move back to Holly Springs, Mississippi, to be close to my mother in her time of need while also building upon my work as a Unitarian Universalist religious professional. I’m very grateful for the providence that aligned the stars so that I could be here for those precious five years and nine months as her beautiful life drew to a close.

As writers, each of of my brothers and I contributed something to the printed program for her May 4th homegoing service. This was my piece, entitled “Transformation”:

In her last days, Mother slept a lot. She would roll over onto her right side and into a ball to rest from her lifelong journey. She could barely stand -- much less walk -- without becoming exhausted. I wanted to do everything to make sure she was comfortable, but I was limited because she had begun to enter a world where I couldn’t reach her. And then the thought came to me: She’s turning into a butterfly.

At the time a caterpillar stops crawling, it goes into itself. Surrounded by a chrysalis, it starts to transform into a being capable of flight. And so it was with Mother. In my professional work, I often speak of the metaphor of the butterfly and the importance of struggle.

There is no way to help a butterfly out of its chrysalis, for the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is only complete when the butterfly pushes against that shell. The pushing forces the fluid out into the wings so the butterfly can take to the wind. In short, “No struggle, no butterfly!”

We saw Mother struggle mightily in her final days -- to stand, to eat, to drink, to rest … but all that was part of her transformation. And on the morning of Monday, April 29 around 5:30am, she broke free from her earthly shell and flew home to eternal peace.

We love you, Mama. Thank you for all the priceless treasures you left us. We are so happy for you and your wings.

Thank you to everyone who has extended a thoughtful word or deed to me, and by extension to my family. I love and appreciate you. The legacy of both my parents -- Eddie and Luberta Smith -- will live on as long as those of us touched by their lives keep paying it forward.

When I was a child and my father’s parents lived across the yard, we had a custom of clipping roses from Grandmother’s flowers to wear to church on Mother’s Day. The first time this happened, my mother pinned a red rose to my lapel. When we got to Asbury United Methodist Church, some people were wearing red roses and others white ones. I asked my mother why the different colors, and she said it was because some people’s mothers weren’t alive anymore. I felt sad for the people whose mothers were gone, and sadly wondered what my life would be like without mine.

For the first time on Mother’s Day this weekend, I will wear a white rose, in celebration of my wonderful mother and the love she shared all of her days. Life will be different without her, but I will be eternally grateful for the unfathomable gift of being her son.

I know Mother’s Day is a complicated observance for many reasons. In any case on May 12th, I hope everyone takes good care of themselves and their loved ones. I will, for sure.

In faith,


About the Author

Carlton Elliott Smith

Rev. Carlton E. Smith is the Regional Lead for the Pacific Western Region. From 2013 to 2020, he was a member of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group serving in the Southern Region....

For more information contact .