It was three years ago today. I was immersed in the kind of work I really don’t enjoy, a turnkey renovation. Jobs like that seem to drag on forever, and this was no exception. The phone call came. My dad was being comforted by a friend in the ministry who had the love and compassion of an old minister who had seen the scars of death in this life many times. He said, “Your mother is with Jesus.”
After that started the complex series of emotions that death brings. Mom had been close to death about six months earlier. I stood over her hospital bed, and watched her against all odds wake up. The doctors did a most amazing procedure which bypassed her blocked liver. It was something I thought would have prolonged her life for several years, but it really didn’t fix her ultimate problem.
Mom’s problem is that, we live in a body that is dying. Modern medicine pushes new boundaries in combating diseases that destroyed young lives, but it is like a big game of “Whack-a-mole.” Every time you knock one down another pops up. The total of the failure of all the systems that keep us alive is the ultimate dying of natural causes. Nothing is natural about death. It was never supposed to be this way. My pastor has said it well, “We stand over a body in a casket, and we say ‘He looks so natural’ and the truth is he is in the worst shape we have ever seen.” As a preacher’s kid who grew up with the wall of our house contiguous with the graveyard fence, and the participant in many a funeral, I can tell you that the body looks dead.
Mom’s death was a Public Relations problem for our family. Mom died of Cirrhosis of the liver. The more common cause of Cirrhosis is chronic alcoholism. My mom hated alcohol with a passion. We believe that one time she got some spiked punch at a wedding. We used to delight in poking fun at her about the event. It was a bad move! Her eyes would flash at the prospect that she had ever touched alcohol. The truth is I don’t know why she got that disease. Somehow even today I feel a stupid compulsion to reassure people what they already know. Mrs. Jean was NOT a closet alcoholic.
My dad weaves together this elaborate theory about how she got parasites in a dust storm in Arizona in the 60’s, and none of the doctors caught it, and it destroyed her liver fifty years later. My doctor who has the funniest sense of dry humor about medical problems is that you get them by bad luck. Disease and death are promised realities of this fallen world. As surely as I will get up on Monday, and go back to work on never-ending mechanical failures, I will also go to my grave with a failed body.
I didn’t react at all the day I heard the news. I picked up the wires I was pulling and kept pulling them, but it was the start of persistent grief, that has not faded since then. Three years later it is deeper. As a season I love Spring. Now it brings complex emotions. I see the flowers blooming as I make my treks in and out of Home Depot, and invariably I start to remember the plants we got for mom. It is not a good memory.
My faith in the eternal reality is not shaken. I don’t have to concoct my silly visions of Heaven to be at peace with mom’s eternal destiny. Rather than saying something stupid like she is riding a horse and buggy on a gold road with Jesus, I know that she went to a perfect reality, totally forgiven, in a relationship with the Savior she knew and served for most of her life. Death for her was leaving the bondage of a sin cursed world.
We have a concept of heaven like the eternal saints sit around peering on the earth watching us like ants in an arena. Since then I wonder if they even see the earth. Perhaps the mercies of God he doesn’t allow them to worry about whether their children make the mortgage next month. The truth is that I don’t pray to mom. I hope that she only has her eyes on Jesus.
A week after we were down celebrating our last Mother’s Day with mom, we were at her funeral. We were surrounded with compassion by a community that dearly loved my mother. One of the preachers at mom’s funeral came up with an accidental ironic statement about my mom. He said, “Mrs. Jean is dancing before Jesus.” My mom was such a Baptist she didn’t have a clue how to dance. I guess Jesus taught her.
And then we are left alone. We all hurt; my dad’s loss is immeasurable. For my dad I often wish that he could wake up dead one morning, and the separation be over. He is trying, and he hasn’t lost his faith, but the weight of it all, along with the progression of death in his own life has changed him. Our end game is never pretty.
And once again it is Mother’s Day. Her loving fingerprints are on the life of me, my family, and generations of people living and in the future who will be touched by a life lived well.
Today Mother’s Day falls on the third anniversary of Mom’s death. I truly miss you Mom.