If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19
I love looking at pictures of my mother before she got sick. In those photographs she is how I remember her, happy and surrounded by family. If I had known how much I would miss that part of her life, perhaps I would have paid more attention, taken less for granted. Somehow, these images on paper console me. Bittersweet, yes, but a comfort nonetheless, and some days I need the comfort.
My siblings and I were privileged to be with Mom the last few hours of her life. In waiting, we experienced the most unlikely pairing of impatience and dread. It was hard to watch her suffer, hence the impatience. It was tough knowing she would soon leave this world, hence the dread. This would be the moment we most feared and the moment we’d been waiting for, the moment we would always remember and the moment we would long to forget. A perplexing contradiction of emotions where reality bit hard and we bled pure helplessness.
In a romanticized version of death, the dying patient appears at rest. In her final moments she is able to utter her last words and squeeze her loved one’s hand. In that account, people weep softly and say that dying is just a natural part of life, that one must accept it as such. But I found death to be painful and heart-rending and devastatingly unnatural. Death has claws and fangs and knows no finesse. The scars will not soon heal. Watching your mother die hurts.
I have questions. Mom could not articulate, but she was able to cry out. What was she trying to say? Was she thirsty? In pain? Did she know we were there? (I do think she did know, by the way.) Some questions, I don’t dare ask others because I know they don’t have the answers either. Why burden them with that? Some mysteries are best left for God to unravel, or not, as He sees fit.
There are also certain memories of those last hours that will remain unspoken. It’s as if to do so would somehow cheapen the recollection, devalue the treasure. I will keep them to myself, take them out now and then and examine the facets, scrutinize the details, and relive the most distressing and beautiful hours of my life.
To an outsider, there was nothing about Mom that would have been attractive that night. But we were not outsiders. We had years of history with her. We were her babies. She had labored with us and loved us and kept us safe. She was our mother, our teacher, our confidant and friend. She had agonized with us in our struggles and celebrated with us in our joys. Our being there was inextricably tethered to a specific context and saturated through and through with what our time on this earth together had allowed, a lifetime of memories bound up in the unbreakable bands of maternal love. No, we were not repulsed.
We leaned in.
We drew close to her because we loved her. We tried the best we could to give comfort. (Oh, how she had so often comforted us!) But, One leaned in closer than all the rest. One leaned in because He loved her more and better than all the rest. Jesus was with us that night, as real and as sure as the room we were standing in. Jesus leaned in with a blood-secured love for one of His own and first-hand experience in what it meant for Mom to suffer. His wounds spoke to her wounds, and He leaned in with the power and urgency of a Savior able to save. In dying, Mom let loose of my hand and was plucked away from death to life by sacred Hands that will never let her go.
Death is ugly and raw, but faith implores me to plant my feet and stand. I know that my Redeemer lives. Someday, all sickness and death will be banished forever. The misery and suffering we face on this side of Heaven are temporary, momentary and light compared to what awaits us in Glory. Part of that lightening is that Mom will be there waiting for us.
“And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan…
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with a shout,
And come running through the shallow waters reaching for your hand!” *
I miss you terribly, Mom. But, someday I will lean in to where you are and join you in singing praises to our King.
…He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4
By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel
* Far Side Banks of Jordan, by Terry Smith