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My mother, Jennifer Lynch

My mother passed away on March 29 2006. She was 55 years old.

In this gallery there are some photos of my mother, our family, and some of the people who have been in her life.

Update: I have written a blog entry entitled "Two phone calls with my mother".

The text below is from the speech I gave at her funeral. If you are interested, there is also an MP3 of the speech (4.7MB).

Among others, two qualities stand out about my mother: her sharp, inquiring mind, and her tenacious determination. These two qualities enabled her to bring about great changes and renewal in her life.

One great change was professional. When she left school at age 15 she had passed only school certificate English. After having had children, she read in a woman's magazine about New Zealanders completing their schooling as adults. Inspired, she attended Heretaunga College in Upper Hutt, one of the very first adults to do so. She later did some papers at Massey University by correspondence, before commencing her law degree full-time at Victoria University. As a boy I had no idea how challenging this was. She couldn't take courses that were held too late in the day, because she had to be home to care for my brother and I. Her access to reading material was limited by the fact that law books could not be removed from the library, and she was unable to spend as much time there as others. Yet she did well—very well—receiving a law degree with honours. Later while at Treasury she did a Master of Public Policy, also from Victoria University. I know she found it marvellously rewarding to overcome challenges like statistics, challenges that she never would have attempted when she was younger. In my transition from youth to adulthood, it was a tremendously touching realisation for me to understand that my mother's self-belief could and would continue to blossom.

One of the biggest changes in her life was religious. I remember when I was a boy—perhaps 11 or 12 years old—she sent me to a camp during the school holidays. It was the kind of camp where you get to hang out with people your own age doing interesting activities, one of which was hearing a talk on Christianity by one of the camp leaders. I was inspired. After a simple ritual I became a Christian.... a conversion which lasted merely days. In a vigorous conversation during the drive back from the camp, with penetrating arguments Mum disabused me of my bubbly confidence in the truth of the Bible. I was a Christian no longer. There was another time some years later where she told me how she had visited a church—why I cannot remember—only to meet some colleagues she had known from Treasury. I seem to recall that she was surprised that intelligent, analytical people would want to go to church, although there was something about the cup of tea after the service that resonated with her. Perhaps this latter reflection was a sign that spiritually, Mum was beginning to change

At that time I would not have guessed that Mum would later find life-changing inspiration in Buddhism, first in Kadampa Buddhism and then in the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Mum was transformed from a person whose most regular daily ritual was having a drink when she got home from work, to instead performing prostrations both at home and while on retreat. I had wondered if it was the social aspect of religious life that had appealed most powerfully to her. After all, she had met wonderful friends, and her relationship with Lama Samten was particularly vibrant. But she assured me that the religious teachings had indeed exerted considerable influence on her, playing an important role in the last stages of her life.

Throughout all of this, of course, she was my mother—a caring, loving and constant presence in my life, doing all the wonderful things that a mother does for her children. She was always there for me when I met with some of life's inevitable difficulties, offering support, insights, and advice. Her advice was very often the best kind—impartial, and in as much as possible, fair to all concerned. This is not to suggest we always agreed during these sessions. In particular, she took some years to reconcile my love of peace studies with what she saw as a responsible professional career. However even when we disagreed for a time, there was never any doubt in my mind that her total concern was for my welfare. It was during this time that our relationship took on an additional dimension to that of mother and son—we became great friends.

In retrospect, her eventual support of my direction in life is all the more poignant for me because when she attended university, her great academic passion was not law but politics. She pursued legal studies instead of political studies only because she believed law offered better career prospects. It is precisely because my mother worked so hard to build a stable and loving family that I was able to safely take a punt and follow my dreams, however unconventional they were at the time.

Sometimes our self-perception is not always correct, especially when it comes to what other people think of us. This was certainly the case for my mother, for a time at least. Mum was deeply moved after participating in a particular teambuilding exercise at Treasury that involved hearing personal feedback from other colleagues. She had for much of her life thought of herself as a bit of a dragon. She was therefore shocked when she was made aware of the warm feelings her colleagues had for her, and the high regard they had not only for her intellectual and professional capacities, but also the qualities which made her a genuinely likable person. Until that teambuilding exercise, she simply had been unaware of her happy effect on other people.

It is tempting to view Mum's life is a series of steady yet simultaneously dramatic transitions. But I wonder if this is accurate. Allow me to illustrate by way of a metaphor. One day when Mum was staying in Mary Potter hospice, I watched the sun set above the hills that were seen from her room. As darkness settled, a patchwork of clouds brilliantly reflected the bright sunlight, in stark contrast to the trees on the hill. Soft pink hues provided relief to the intense white of the clouds as they glowed in the sun's final rays of the day. I remembered that the sun does not really set. We think it does. But it does not. The sun does not move in the sky. Instead, the Earth turns. The planet we all share continually and reliably turns on its axis as its circles the sun year after year. Yet here we are, thinking the sun rises and sets high above us. Instead, the sun is at the center, and we revolve around it. Likewise, what we see on the surface of life as renewal and change may at a deeper level be one continuous flow, inexorable in its direction, an inner impulse shaping and guiding our lives. Who can really say exactly what pulled her toward Buddhism, or from a non-academic life to one where its primacy was paramount? Perhaps this is something that will remain mysterious to all but the most enlightened of us.

In this spirit, had she lived longer who knows what unexpected new things may have come into her future? It seems certain that something would have changed. Of course, her death means it is now impossible for us to know. Yet for me, her life example asks a compelling question: what can I do with the level of determination she demonstrated? Could I apply her determination in something new and worthwhile? Perhaps you are asking yourselves a similar question with respect to one of her many qualities.

May I conclude by saying thank-you to my mother—for everything big and small, for all the love, wisdom and compassion—and thank you to all of those who were a part of her life.

In the hospital in 2004
In the hospital in 2004
Vajra and Mum
Vajra and Mum
Ashley
Ashley
Mum
Mum
Family
Family
Family
Family
Wellington Karma Kagyu Buddhist group
Wellington Karma Kagyu Buddhist group
Jen
Jen
Margaret
Margaret
Mum and Jane
Mum and Jane
Mum and Jen
Mum and Jen
Family
Family
Mum, Jen, and Margaret
Mum, Jen, and Margaret
Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum and Ashley
Mum and Ashley
Mum and Ashley
Mum and Ashley
Mum and Ashley
Mum and Ashley
Mum and Carrie
Mum and Carrie
Mum and Bill
Mum and Bill
Mollie
Mollie
Mollie
Mollie
Mum and Ivan
Mum and Ivan
Margaret, Mum and Nana
Margaret, Mum and Nana
Ashely and Mum
Ashely and Mum
Ashely and Mum
Ashely and Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum with friends
Mum with friends
Mum with friends - Wellington
Mum with friends - Wellington
Buddha
Buddha
Mum and Ashley
Mum and Ashley
Family
Family
Mum and Naomi
Mum and Naomi
Mum and Naomi
Mum and Naomi
Mum and Margaret
Mum and Margaret
With Lamas
With Lamas
With Lamas
With Lamas
Mum and Jamie
Mum and Jamie
Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum
Mum
Lamas
Lamas
Nana, Mum and Juliana
Nana, Mum and Juliana
Ejection of consciousness
Ejection of consciousness
Workmates with cup
Workmates with cup