God had preserved her through 86 turbulent years of life and my 11-hour trip to Baltimore that day. She spent the last hour of her life alone with me, her middle son.
My brother Bill and his wonderful wife Judy had been with her all afternoon into the evening. They left shortly before I arrived and took my turn at her bedside. I called my wife, Darlene, who sang Mom’s favorite song to her (“Until Then”) over the speaker of my cell phone. Although Mom was non-responsive and apparently unconscious, I thought I might have seen her right eye open a little bit during the chorus of her beloved song.
Mom’s breathing was fierce and fast, with her forehead hot and sweaty. I stroked her fevered brow and told her, “It’s OK, Mom. God is here and I’m here too. You can let go and rest in Jesus. Don’t fight for breath anymore; just be at peace.” I noticed her breathing slowing down, and her forehead soon became cool with the dew of imminent death.
Mom breathed her last as I knelt beside her with my hand on her forehead and my other hand upraised to God. It was a precious, sacred time. I committed her spirit to the Lord Jesus and then lifted her lifeless hands with mine, praying that the spirit of selfless service constantly evident in her life would from this time forward characterize mine.
I cried a bit, not only from grief but from the emotion of that Spirit-charged experience. My tears were not so much from a sense of real loss. Mom had been afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, sinking into that awful final phase where she would be choking, and suffering in other awful ways. My family and I prayed that God would take her before she reached the depths of that disease.
He did. Kidney failure and congestive heart disease mercifully ended her life.
Mom had, months before, ceased to recognize us when we visited. This also diminished our sense of loss. Besides, we all know that for believers, death is not such much a loss as a temporary absence until Jesus comes. All this tempered my grief the night my mother passed away.
We all grieve in different ways and in different situations. There is no “right or wrong way” to experience grief. It would have been a much more traumatic situation if my wife, Darlene, had died. The emotions associated with the grief cycle (shock and denial that give way to a long stretch of intermingling sadness, anger, loneliness, guilt, fear and even panic, etc.) would be much more intense and protracted.
Even so, it was profoundly sad to see my mother’s breathing become slower and finally cease. Kneeling by her bed with her well-marked hand resting on her lifeless arm, I read 1 Corinthians 15:55 for its comfort. I noticed that the apostle Paul in that text actually taunts death: “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” So beside the dead body of my mother, in the name and authority of Jesus, I also taunted death and its author: “Her life is safe in the arms of Jesus. ‘Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.’ ‘They rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.’” I declared to satan [whose name here is intentionally not capitalized]: “You can’t do anything to my mother any more. Soon Jesus will come and we’ll have her back for eternity.”
Then I folded Mom’s lifeless hands, got up from my knees, and walked out into the hallway down to the nurses’ station and told them she was dead.
Friends who knew Mom expressed condolences, including Dr. Benjamin and Candy Carson, who knew Mom well and had her over at their home for visits when I pastored in that area of Maryland. Five of Mom’s caregivers at the nursing home, all native Caribbeans, took the time to attend her funeral. Mom too had worked many years for minimum wages at nursing homes, so their presence seemed particularly appropriate.
After staying a couple of days in Maryland to be with my brothers and their families, I’m back in Lincoln, Nebraska. But not for long, I hope. Soon the trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will be raised—and we shall all ascend with them to live with our Savior eternally. May God hasten that great reunion day.© 2017 - 2019 Church Support Services. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.