Hours after our moving van pulled away from the Virginia home where Mom had lived with us for her last 7 years, she was released from the hospital to continue out-patient chemotherapy. Often during the next few days we had chatty, long distance conversations. She was feeling better and was gushing with joy over the surprise changes my sister made to beautify her little apartment. The tumor was shrinking, and she was hopeful and happy. We talked about her coming to Florida to spend some extended time with us in the winter…
But within days things suddenly worsened and she was re-hospitalized. When my sister called I was able to speak with the doctor, who explained that a bacterial blood infection was ravaging her body and was growing faster than antibiotics could stop it. I asked her to be honest with me: if this was her mother, would she come? Her emphatic “yes” resulted in Jaime and I getting on the first plane out of Orlando to DC.
Soon after we joined my brother and sister, along with a few of Mom’s grandchildren and other family members, her breathing became increasingly labored. She was offered the option of going onto a ventilator. Just minutes before the medical staff came in, I had a moment with her alone. I took her hand, leaned close and told her I loved her. She was too weak to respond. We both knew her allotted time was about to come to an end. If Mom was able to muster the strength and breath to speak again, I knew they would be her last words.
“So before they come, Mom, is there anything you want me to tell everyone? Anything on your heart to say?” Her countenance displayed a striking contrast of peace and weariness. During the past hour all of us became ready to let her go. The suffering just needed to stop.
Her eyes were closed. Each breath was quick and labored. I fought to maintain control over my emotions because these moments weren’t about me. Her life had been about me and my siblings; dad and her own siblings; her nieces and nephews. It was time for everything to be about only her.
“I want you to tell everybody,” she said in slow and hushed tones, “that God is in control…and everything He does is good.”
She squeezed my hand lightly as the medical team told me I needed to leave.
Once the ventilator was in place and morphine had been administered, we all surrounded her bed as my Josh led us in worship. I noticed medical personnel standing at a distance wiping tears. Even they knew this was a holy moment. Within minutes she was gone. No more suffering. No more cancer. She had been welcomed by the Savior that had carried her through a lifetime of hardship and suffering. And I’m sure Daddy and Randy were among the cloud of witnesses that were eagerly awaiting her.
Since that day nearly 12 years ago, I have often thought of her last words. My mother lived a life peppered with suffering. Her son became a quadriplegic at age 21 and then died 6 years later. Just months later, she lost my dad to a heart attack.
Yet when it came time to summarize what she wanted her family to know, she spoke of God’s loving and sovereign control over everything. How could a woman who had suffered so much have such a honorable perspective in her moments of greatest suffering?
In control? Always good? Even when year after painful year of grief gripped her heart? Marital strife tempted her to give up? Sisters lost grandchildren to tragic accidents? An adult son needed his mom to rotate his paralyzed body night after night to avoid bed sores? A younger brother died after a horrific house fire? Recurring financial strain tempted her to wonder how this month’s bills would be paid? Back and neck issues, including multiple surgeries, didn’t bring relief to decades of daily, chronic pain?
Since her death I have gone through some really tough times. There have been moments when I’ve actually found it hard to breathe due to the weighty issues we were walking through. But each time God has reminded me of Mom — lying on her deathbed working hard for every breath — testifying of His goodness.
I’m learning that God is in control and everything He does is good.
P.S. This picture was taken during Mom’s trip to Texas for Josh and Rachel’s wedding — just 4 months before she died. A copy of it sat on her casket at her memorial service. We all agreed she was saying goodbye. See you soon, Mom.