One year ago today, Dec. 10, my husband and I were at our adult Sunday School class Christmas party when we received a phone call from my oldest son saying that my sister in Texas had been trying to reach us. We each checked our cells phones and saw several missed calls; somehow we just hadn’t heard them over the conversations. My first thought was that my mom, who also lived in Texas, must be in the hospital again. She had been in the hospital several times over the years with congestive heart failure and complications from diabetes. We went out onto the front porch where it was quiet and we could get a signal on our cell phone and called my sister. We were stunned to learn that my mom had passed away suddenly. She was out shopping with my youngest sister and nephew; while they were in the car, my sister noticed my mom had not finished her sentence, looked over, and saw her slumped over. She apparently had a massive heart attack. They called an ambulance and they worked on her for a long time, but it was no use; she was gone.
I suppose on some level we always knew it was a possibility. Years earlier she had been told she needed triple bypass surgery, but she was terrified of it and refused. They treated her with medication and diet, and finally she got to the point that she was no longer a candidate for the surgery. Through each hospitalization she somehow bounced back, so we thought we would have several more years and weren’t really prepared.
We were able to go back into the house and get our coats and my purse without alerting attention: I wanted people to know, but I just didn’t want to face them right then. I did run into a good friend who had also lost her mother not long before, and we cried on each other’s shoulders for a bit. Our Sunday School leader and pastor came out onto the front porch and prayed with us before we left and told us to let them know if there was anything they could do.
We went home, explained what had happened to the boys, and began trying to figure out when we could go to Texas, how, and with whom. My two oldest sons faced college exams that week and felt it was just really a bad time for them to miss, so it was decided my husband, youngest son, and I would fly from South Carolina to Texas; two of my sisters, a niece, and the boyfriend of one sister who live about 40 minutes from us would drive.
It was something of a family reunion: my step-father, brother, four sisters and I and most of our families were there as well as my mother’s sister, niece, two brothers, one sister-in-law, and a cousin and his wife. I had not seen my aunt and uncles for a long time. It was a joy to see everyone, to catch up and reminisce through laughter and tears.
One of my concerns was who was going to preach at the funeral. My mom and step-dad weren’t church-going people (though I found out later they had just started attending my youngest sister’s church) and I didn’t know if someone, a stranger who might be from who knows what kind of church, might be recommended by the funeral home. At some point in the discussion of details, my sister asked about my former pastor from the church I had attended when I lived there. He had retired and wasn’t in the best of health, but I called him, and he graciously agreed to take the funeral. That was a blessing on many counts: my mom had attended church there only a few times, but at least he was familiar with her and our family, and I knew he would preach the gospel. I prayed for God to give him wisdom, the right words, the right tone, the right approach. Some of my family is unsaved; some believe in a general way, but I am just not sure if they believed in a saving way. There is a difference. James 2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Someone can believe that there is a God and yet not be saved, and I so wanted to truth of the gospel to go out, yet not in a harsh, brow-beating way, but in a tender, caring way.
I knew that my mom also definitely believed in a general way. I never heard her say in so many words that she had “accepted Christ” or was saved or any of the terms that seem most to pinpoint salvation. I had so wanted her to come to that point. I am ashamed to say I am a very cowardly witness in person, though I could and did write about the gospel many times, and she was very reluctant to talk about this particular area, so though we talked around it and I wrote a great deal about it, I never had a very clear reassurance that she was saved. Yet I believe there was a change in her life. At one point — I can’t remember if it was during a heart episode or if it was when she was facing amputation of some toes and perhaps more due to diabetes — I sent out a mass email prayer request, and many people wrote back to say they were praying. Some even wrote out what they were praying. I printed all those and sent them to her (that was before she had e-mail). She was so touched that people she didn’t know were praying for her, and from time to time she would ask me to have people pray for various things. I think that was one of the major things that softened her heart toward the Lord. Twenty years ago she didn’t want to hear anything about it. Through the years of sending her Christian books and such to read, and sending-emails back and forth, she has grown more open to the Lord. In the last few years, there were things she had e-mailed that made me wonder if, on her own and in the quietness of her heart, she did ask the Lord to save her. She was always resistant to talk about it face to face or on the phone, but her demeanor, the things she said, her attitude, all have changed dramatically over the years. That is my hope, anyway. I know that salvation is a matter of faith, not necessarily of using just the “right” words.
My former pastor preached a very clear, very tender salvation message. You know, I’m not one who likes a lot of “Amen-ing” in services — when it’s loud or happens a lot, it is distracting to me — but throughout the service I heard various quiet statements of “Amen,” “That’s right,” “Yes!” — and I can’t tell you the good it did my heart to know there were others of like precious faith there. The pastor said many people told him afterward that they were so glad the gospel was presented. That, to me, was an indication of the answer to another long-standing prayer request, that God would send other Christians my mom’s way, perhaps in her job or other relationships.
We had such good visits with the family, but it was so eerie to be home without mom there. I kept expecting her to come around a corner. At one point before everyone began to leave to return home, some wanted to take pictures of various family groups. When my mother’s siblings grouped together for their shot, my heart caught to see them grouped together without her.
The Lord answered so much prayer not only for those days but also for travel, health concerns, and the boys. It was the first time we had left Jeremy totally alone for several days. That was helpful for his finals. 🙂 But as a mom I was concerned for his safety, for everything in the house working in proper order, etc. I think we had leftovers or things for him to eat, and one family invited him over for dinner one evening. On the day we traveled home, there was a big ice storm. Our connecting flight in Atlanta was delayed, and during a phone call to Jeremy we found out all the power was off at home. Jeremy was supposed to pick us up, and I was concerned about him driving in the ice. We were supposed to drive to Jason’s school, about half an hour from the airport, to get him and his “stuff” from college for Christmas break. Though our flight was delayed, eventually everything came together and we all got home safely. I found out later it took one of my uncles 24 hours to get home due to delayed flights because of the ice storm: at some point we would have all been in the Atlanta airport at the same time, but we didn’t know it.
God blessed us through so many people: my former pastor, friends at church here: one dear friend brought home-made muffins over before we left and had a meal for us our first night back home; others were “on call” for Jeremy while he was here alone; many here and across the country prayed, sent cards that ministered to us, and just cared. We were so blessed.
In the musical, Les Miserables, there is a line Collette sings to her father when she finds out he is dying: “It’s too soon, too soon to say good-bye.” That is exactly how I felt. I am sure a quick, sudden death is probably easier on the dying, but it does mean the living don’t get a chance to say, “Good-bye,” to give one last hug. That’s one thing I most regret. I found out later that one of my mother’s “horrors” was that she would die alone or die in the hospital. It was a comfort, then, that it didn’t happen that way. Though I am sure it was traumatic to my sister and nephew to witness her death and the paramedics working on her, I hope it was a comfort to them that she wasn’t alone, she was with people she loved doing what she wanted to do.
It hasn’t been the easiest year. I never knew sorrow could be such a constant ache. I remember thinking of other friends who had lost loved ones, and though I expressed sympathy, I thought, “Oh, if I had only known it hurt this much, I would have done more.” I couldn’t go anywhere near Hallmark around Mother’s Day. I went there in the spring to look for some things for our annual ladies’ luncheon at church, and saw some spring salt and pepper shakers she would have loved and a few “mother” things, and had a good cry. There have been several moments like that through the year. I thought that that particular ladies’ luncheon, the day before Mother’s Day, would be really hard, but the Lord got me through. One of the things I miss the most is our phone calls. We talked frequently, but particularly on holidays I would call in the evenings after the festivities were over and everyone else would have left. That’s been an aching point in the holidays this year.
My mom was one of my closest friends. There’s no one else who loves you like your mom does, no one else with whom I had a 48 year history. I can’t tell you how much I miss her. There is comfort in the hope of seeing her again: the thought of what she is experiencing now in heaven is the only thing that keeps me from wishing her back.
If you are still reading, you deserve a pat on the back or something. 🙂 I probably should have condensed this for the blog, but it is the first time I have ever written this out at once, so it’s been therapeutic.
Let me encourage you, if you are not sure where you would be if death came suddenly – please make sure of that today, for your sake, for your loved ones’ sakes. It is not a scare tactic: it is a truth that you just never know when your time will come. To read more, please visit here.