We were in the middle of packing to move from Virginia to Orlando when we found out it wasn’t pneumonia. Just days before we would be making the long drive down I 95 to Florida, we were told Mom had lung cancer. I was fretful. Anxious. Disoriented. How could I leave her? I just couldn’t…and I told her that.
“Honey,” she began with her lingering southern drawl, left over from spending her childhood in the mountains of southwest Virginia. “Of course you will go. Benny and the kids are your priority and I will be just fine. God will take care of me. So yes, you will go. And I don’t want you to feel guilty.” Even in my mid-40’s Mom was still discipling me.
My remaining days in Virginia were bittersweet. The agony of leaving my family, friends and the church Benny and I had loved for two decades pulled fiercely at my heart. Now Mom had cancer. How could this be? I needed to be there. The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was comforted by knowing she would be in good hands: my amazing sister and devoted brother — along with our large and loving extended family — would pamper and care for her. I can’t describe how torn I felt, but I knew she was right. I had to entrust her to God.
The sweet conversations I had alone in the hospital room with my mother the days before we left were a precious gift. While reading portions of Randy Alcorn’s Heaven to her, I asked if she was afraid to die.
“Baby, I’m not afraid to die,” she said with quiet confidence. Her soft blue eyes, though surrounded by deep wrinkles, were still beautiful at 73. “I’m gonna meet Jesus and see your daddy and Randy [my older brother who died at 27]. Why would I be afraid to die?”
I finally mustered the courage to say what I had been feeling. “Mom, I don’t want you to die; especially of cancer. I don’t want you to suffer…” I couldn’t hold back the tears. For a moment I was a little girl again and Mommy’s embrace was comforting me. But her kiss wasn’t going to make this all better.
Mom then told me two really important things. First, that suffering is a part of life and none of us can avoid it. Then came the words that stunned and instructed me. For the first time in days her voice was strong and firm.
“Don’t you believe for a minute that cancer will kill me. My days were numbered by the Lord before I was born and I won’t die one minute before my time is over. Yes, I’ve been irresponsible and shouldn’t have put so much nicotine into my body. I hate that this is causing my family such pain and heartache and I need everyone of you to forgive me. But God is bigger than nicotine and cancer. I will go because He decides it’s time and for no other reason.”
I learned so many things from Mom during our 45 years together. During those days she taught me a final lesson: how to die.
More on that tomorrow.