Friday, May 1, 2009

This was not my mother, but it made me think

I received an email from a friend today that touched me deeply. As Mother's Day approaches, it made me reflect on my own close relationship with my mother. More than that, it helped clarify what is important in life. Please read this, but don't email me to say your sorry my mother died! It wasn't my mom, but it did touch my heart. Read this from my friend Dave....

This morning my mom died.
She was diagnosed with cancer 7 ½ years ago, and was given about two years to live, five on the outside. She wept when she heard because of the sadness about not being able to watch her beloved grandchildren grow up.But from the day she first heard the news she wasn’t afraid of death. She was always very grateful for her life, and maybe more importantly, she felt like God had given her a mission that she had completed faithfully. So was time for her to pass the baton for the next generation, and go home to be with God.

All that suddenly changed when my sister-in-law was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. My mom’s own mother had died of cancer when she was young, which had always been the primary heartbreak of my mother’s life. She received that has a call to “come out of retirement” so that she could shepherd my brother and sister-in-law’s three very young children through that tragic experience.That may not seem like a particularly heroic decision, but it’s one of the most heroic and sacrificial things I’ve ever seen anyone do. Determining to stay alive as long as she could and order to care for her grandchildren meant subjecting herself to years of countless indignities and cruel medical treatments.

Daily soldiers and missionaries give up their lives to serve others, which is an awesome sacrifice. My mother made an even more awesome sacrifice, in my estimation: she made the sacrifice of choosing to remain alive, and endure excruciating pain for five more years in order to serve her grandchildren who needed her. And she bore it without complaint.
I realize that for many of you, it will come as a shock to my mother was sick, because she insisted that we never share with anyone – not even her own sister or my grandmother living next door knew. I admit that at first I didn’t agree with her desire for secrecy, but over time I came to understand. She knew that if others knew that she was so sick, that they would concentrate constantly when serving her – but she had stayed alive in order to serve others, she didn’t want to be the focus of attention. She poured enthusiasm and energy into people who had no idea that she would return home to sleep for hours in the middle of the day because it was so exhausting for her.

Since they finally learned last week about how sick my mother was, many people have commented about how difficult it must have been for my father, brothers and I to live for so long with that knowledge. And in some sense it’s true, but in another sense, nothing could be further from the truth – this time has been a tremendous gift.
As I counsel people whose loved ones have died, I frequently hear about their regret at having missed the opportunity to say so many things they wish they had been able to say. So many of the most precious things we would ever want to communicate to someone we love can seem out of place or excessively serious in the rush of daily life. So while we chatter about the minutia, we leave so many of the most important, intimate things left unsaid – assumed.
But after someone has received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, any awkwardness around saying something too serious or too personal disappears immediately – suddenly it seems like the most natural thing in the world to say exactly how you feel, express your appreciation freely. What an incomparable gift has been to live like this with my mother for the past seven years. I’m sure I’ll have many days of sadness ahead, but I don’t think I’ll have too many regrets.
David asked God in Psalm 35 “"Show me, LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is”, and in the same vein, Psalm 90 records Moses’ prayer that God would “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Living with death in mind changes the way we live, and in my relationship with my mother and had the privilege of doing that.
Many people have also commented on how proud my mother must have been to have raised three sons who all attended elite universities and graduate schools, and are successful in their respective fields. She was more proud that we all are very hard workers, regardless of our level of achievement, and exercise integrity even when it hurts. But in truth my mother was much prouder still that she’d raised three boys who are faithful husbands, and devoted fathers, and that in a world of broken families, our family remained devoted to one another. Aside from the ephemeral scuffles of little boys about whose turn it is to go next, or “who started it”, I have no memory of any significant conflict among my brothers. For the past two months, my father and brothers have all spoken together at least weekly, and for the past week we’ve spoken everyday. That is what my mother would have been most proud of – and with good reason, because she is most responsible for nurturing that family environment.
My mother was vital and active until just a week before Easter. But still, when I visited with her that week, she dismissed too much talk about her condition, and wanted to share her excitement about what was going on in my life and those of my wife and children. She must have told me 50 times that day how much she loves me. She didn’t have to tell me so many times – her words and actions over decades have made that impossible to miss.
Over the past couple days her condition declined very rapidly, but I am so thankful that she never experienced any obvious pain. And she never expressed a moment of fear at any time in the past seven years – her faith is absolute, and she looks forward to being with Jesus.
This morning she took in one last quick breath, and then died quietly, and made her way to heaven. There is an ancient prayer for a “Good death” – and it is not a quick death the way some of us imagine – it is a death that one can see coming from a long way off, so that one can enter into it deliberately and participate in it fully. It is a death in which one has time to be reconciled to God and others, and make her death a gift of life to others. In every way, my mother had a very good death.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you for your interest and for allowing me to process my feelings this way. Please know that there’s no need to respond by saying that you’re sorry or that you care – I’m so thankful to live among a community of friends and a very nurturing church in which people routinely and clearly express how much they care and how supportive they are. I am thankful that we truly do share each other’s joys and sorrows, and I feel very loved.
I thank God for the gift of my mother, and pray that the way that I live reflect her values and honor her memory.

Lord- please receive my mother with joy and welcome her with your eternal embrace. Speak to her the words all Christians long to hear when we meet You face to face: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master's happiness!” (Matthew 25)

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