She was quite a yeller, my mother. No so much in her volume (although that option was also utilized at times), but in her tone, and expression. Mom was not subtle about being angry. Nor who she was angry at. Further, she and I had similar personalities, causing more instances of confrontation.
Mom had the particular habit of chastising you for a bit, then angrily slam pots and pans (or putting away dishes, or sweeping, or whatever she was doing) while not saying anything except an occasionally infuriated glance at you. After a long silence, you presumed it must be over; you would start to slink away—
“WHERE do you think YOU are going? I am not finished with you yet!”
And another round laying out chapter, verse, sentence, word and letter as to what we had done wrong. The best tactic was to stay silent and on one of those long periods of quiet, slink far enough away to be out of eyesight. Hmm…”stay silent.” What is wrong with this picture? Not my strong suit!
“WHERE do you think YOU are going? I am not finished with you yet!”
“Gee, Mom. How am I supposed to know? Can you give some sort of signal, so’s I’d know?”
For the most part, day-to-day, we would get along. Chores would be completed. Homework finished. Supper eaten. Playtime exhausted. And we would not cross paths enough to cause friction. But when one of us lingered too long in the other one’s world—watch out!
We fought now and then in elementary school. Picked up speed in Junior High. By High School each of us had obtained a Black Belt in Fighting each other. And then I went to college…
Upon my return, I realized Mom was not so wrong after all. In fact, she had some valid points. We started to get along. We still fought, but it was like our hearts weren’t in it. Rather than a doomsday battle, in which someone may get killed—it was more of a dress rehearsal of the memory of previous years. We even started to agree more than disagree.
And just when she started to get interesting as a person (not a screaming parent), Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Mom expected the worse. She was right. Surgery was performed; chemotherapy was administered. And for a period of time, it seemed to be in remission. But, as cancer can, it came back with a vengeance, and was here to stay. We prepared for her to die.
I would come home from work, intent on spending as much time as I can with my mother. My fondest memory is sitting with her on the couch; together we would make fun or cheer out support for the people on Oprah. I know—it sounds stupid—but after years of being in opposition with each other, the unity we shared (alas, at the expense of others) was very bonding.
The couch gave way to a hospital bed. Oprah gave way to reading together.
I don’t know if you have lived in an environment of eventual assured death, but it takes on a surreal quality. You become used to having a holiday and thinking, “Yep, that’s Mom’s last Easter. Yep, that’s Mom’s last Mother’s day.” You saw friends and thought, “Yep, last time they will see Mom this side of heaven.” Everything is “last” before the inevitable death.
Because we were Christians, and Mom was certain of her place in heaven, it was treated as the long good-bye. We wouldn’t see her for years, but in some distant future, we would see her again. Forever. There is quite a bit of comfort in it. Again, almost a surreal comfort. It is difficult to explain in words, so perhaps an illustrative example of living with the reality of Christian death:
One evening I came home to a strange man in our living room, and cardboard pictures strewn throughout the room.
Mom: [brightening] Oh, good. You’re home. We are caught between the plain handles and the curved handles—which do you like better?
They were picking out her casket. The man was her funeral director. For the rest of the evening we (including my brothers and sisters-in-law) had a smashingly good time, along with my mother and father, designing her casket, and making the funeral arrangements. We were as meticulously concerned about each element as if we were picking out a new car and just as happy; with Mom being as active and joking as much as anyone.
At one point someone noticed the director kept turning his head and dabbing at his eyes. He was crying.
Family member: Uh…are you O.K.?
Funeral Director: Yeah. But I have never seen anything like this…
Member: Surely you have planned burials for Christians before?
Director: Yes…but nothing like…like…
Member: I would think it would be easier, since we are having a good time.
Director: Easier? No, I am used to bereavement and sadness. This…I am not used to. Quite honestly, if this was what every funeral was like, I don’t think I could stomach it.
To us, Mom’s dying was sad, but it became such a reality we could joke about casket colors. Eventually, she got out of the bed less and less. Then not at all. She became non-responsive. We started a 24-hour watch to know when. On my shift, at 4 in the morning, I watched my mother die.
Up ‘till now, you have read my impression of what my Christianity was. I thought I would let another family member step in on this one. This is a letter my mother wrote three weeks before she died:
As a small child raised in a Christian home and a wonderful church pastored by H.S. I accepted the Lord Jesus into my heart and life. I claimed His promise of forgiveness of sins that “someday” I would go to Heaven when I died and live eternally with Him. However, although we all know that physical death is the inevitable end to life on this earth, it is really difficult to believe in our own death while we have our youth and our health.
God has given to me a rich and full life with a husband who is more dear and sweeter than words could ever express. Then He gave us four wonderful children plus three more married into our family – and now six very loveable grandchildren. It also seems that wherever we have lived, we have been privileged to know the very best people on the face of the earth as friends.
Then one year ago as I was going merrily along life’s way with plans for many more years of “things to do and places to go”, very suddenly one of the most dreaded words in the experience of man came into my life – CANCER. On that afternoon in the doctor’s office, I felt that my world as I knew it stopped turning, then reversed and began turning in a different direction.
I knew that the days ahead would be like nothing I had ever come close to experiencing before. Would I really find the precious promises in the Word to be true? Would I find my own statements of faith in God to be a reality, or only an empty mouthing of words because all of my life has been free of problems on this scale? Would I be a fit vessel to have God accomplish though me whatever His plan or purpose might be in this situation? How should we pray?
In the days that followed with X-rays, tests, consultations with other doctors and plans for radical surgery, so many passages of scripture became fresh and alive in a brand new way. One of these was Isa. 43:2-3, “When thou passesth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy one of Israel, thy Savior…” As I sat in the X-ray departments and doctors’ offices waiting and felt my life tumbling down like a tower of children’s blocks, I would quote this verse over and over again and find comfort and reassurance in those beautiful words.
God began to reveal His love and care to us in countless ways both great and small, usually through people. The overwhelming goodness of people – family church family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and medical personnel – has been astounding. Surely for every need there has been someone to offer to fill the need, often before we ask or even realize the need exists. Not until a time like this can anyone know what is means to have people tell you, “ I am praying for you.” The calls, visits, cards, gifts of food and flowers, offers of physical help and ever-so-many other acts of kindness have been beyond anything we could ever have thought.
So how should we pray? Phil. 4:6-7 says “Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We have felt from the beginning constrained to pray as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself prayed in the garden in Luke 22:42, “…Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thing be done.” We began to ask for a miracle, knowing that God indeed has the power to perform just exactly that – but only if this was his choice for us.
The initial surgery revealed an advanced state of ovarian cancer, with the slim chance of a cure with chemotherapy. For 2 or 3 months even the doctor was optimistic, but then the disease revealed itself in my right lung. When I asked the doctor for an update on my prognosis at that time, he shook his head and said, “Now we are talking miracles.”
Then began what for me has been so far the most difficult period of time emotionally. I could find comfort in reading the promises of Scripture, but in the middle of the night would waken and then lie in the dark and think of all the potential horrors to come. My insides would feel all tied up in knots and the miserable night would stretch on. Being a nurse and having seen many sad and agonizing deaths from cancer over the years certainly was no help. To make matters even worse, my 79 year old mother was diagnosed with cancer 2 months after I was and I was deeply concerned about all the same horrors for her. Knowing that I wasn’t even able to help out in her situation.
After a few weeks of such turmoil, the Lord brought home to me a truth that has stayed with me ever since and once again brought joy back into my life. Here I was, although still relatively comfortable and able to enjoy many facets of living, suffering with tomorrow’s troubles just as if they already existed. At that time He suddenly and mercifully took my mother home – and she escaped all the things that I was concerned about for her. God truly gave me “Peace that passes understanding” and I was able to say that as long as TODAY is good, or even partly good, I will not spoil it by suffering with tomorrow’s troubles – which may or may not ever come. Since then life has become precious in a new way and I have savored and treasured each day as a wonderful gift from God.
Now we have entered a new phase in the progress of this disease. Further surgery has revealed far-advanced cancer with death looming in perhaps a few weeks or months. Medical science can offer only palliative measures and it appears to be clear to us that God in His sovereignty has not chosen to perform a miracle in this case. But life is still good and still precious and we thank God for each day that He gives.
How can we now pray? Besides asking that if it be His will that any difficult time be shortened, I pray that whatever His purpose might be in whatever time is left that these might be accomplished. And then I pray for family. Any difficulty that I have had or have yet to see will soon be over – forever!!!! But they have so much yet to face.
I’m so grateful to be going through this in 1988 rather than even 5 or 10 years earlier. The advancements and resources available for home care are remarkable. Although I am not able to eat or process enough food to sustain life, I am being fed and given continuous pain medication with a portable computerized pump connected to a tube in a vein in my chest. This allows me to walk around in the yard or go away in a car. As long as the pump works well I remain quite comfortable.
Managing all this equipment requires a great deal of loving care from the family, and I am so thankful to the Lord for each of them. God has given us precious times of sharing, making final plans, laughing, crying and caring for one another. Somehow our openness with each other has helped to ease the pain of impending separation.
Have I found His precious promises regarding His care, comfort, joy, peace and abiding presence to be true? OH, YES INDEED! True beyond all human imagination or comprehension. I now fully understand the depth of meaning behind the words of II Cor. 12:9, “…My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…”
The people in our lives continue to bless us in innumerable ways with their prayers and support and countless acts of love. As it is now physically impossible for us to sit down and write to you individually, I would like to use this opportunity to say “than you” to each one of you.
Although we are not given may details about heaven, I like to picture the possibility of being on the Welcoming Committee there, and as the years pass on this earth being able to greet each one who has been so dear to me here. Or better yet, perhaps He will return for His own even before I must leave. For now it is comfort enough for me to say with the old hymn writer, “We’ll say good night here, but good morning there.”