My Mother's Death, Summer and Forgiveness
Summer is filled with anniversaries of life-changing events for me. As I wrote about last week, I met my husband one glorious day in July.
But it was also in the summer, now 15 years ago, that I lost my amazing mother to metastasized breast cancer.
While the rising summer sun chased away night’s darkest hours, my somber privilege was to be holding my mother’s soft, swollen hand as she left the painful confines of a body wracked with cancer for a glorious, luminous eternity.
Our quiet final hours together were a unique blessing for me. Although I knew the Lord would be with her as she walked through the shadow of death, I had desperately wanted to be there for her, too. I was called to this purpose during what turned out to be her last few weeks of life on this earth. I felt it deeply in my spirit and in the depths of my soul that I must be with her.
It was the undeniable guidance of the Holy Spirit that led me to make the drive from Virginia to Florida for a visit that ended up being our last.
In God’s mercy, He allowed me to be with my mom during her last three days and nights as she drifted in and out of consciousness. I had the privilege of holding her, loving her, and praying with her as her body struggled to hang on and her spirit fought to depart.
Always a fighter, it was clear that mom’s brain was resisting the inevitable.
“Mommy,” I whispered, “It’s OK. Let go of your broken body and go to Jesus where you will be free and whole again. You don’t have to live like this anymore. A perfect body awaits. Daddy is waiting for you. It’s time to go to Jesus. I love you so much, and very soon we will all join you there.”
After a last night-long vigil, when the sun began to rise, my mom saw the face of the Living God. Her spirit was finally set free from the feeble body that ultimately failed its attempt to hold her captive.
God called Mom in His perfect timing. I was not privy to His voice, or their conversation. It was Mom and the Deity, and perhaps a legion or two of angels that must have danced and twirled as she joined them in flight to that place of perfect peace and abiding love.
For each one of us, the interaction with death will be private, and will remain a mystery to the rest of the world — even to those who love us the most. They can be in our presence, but we will face God alone.
As her breath became more labored, I caressed my mother’s arms and placed my hand over her heart and felt the weakening beat. I sponged her forehead, kissed her cheek, and leaned over the bed to cuddle on her shoulder one last time. I sang and prayed and read to her from my father’s Bible. All the while, I knew there was another unseen realm of activity around her that provided her more hope, more joy, more warmth and more fulfillment than I could possibly imagine.
My mother’s life was marked by both immense joy and unspeakable tragedy. Her final years were marred by the ravages of mental illness and the consequences of awful choices she made as she became increasingly lost in her world of fantasy. But when I was young, and throughout my own years of young motherhood, my mom was the best. So that is how I will choose to remember her.
Mom was able to make peace with her Creator before she left us, and equally as important, she asked forgiveness from those whom she had hurt. Some found their own healing when they released their bitterness as they blessed her and themselves by accepting her apology. Some never did.
Our own forgiveness and the strength to give it to others both flow from one place: grace. God’s grace. God’s spectacular, undeserved favor and forgiveness, which save us from the despair of guilt and regret, are also powerful enough to surge through our pain with the force of a tidal wave, washing away the grudges and anger we have toward others who have wronged us.
In fact, the ability to be blessed by God’s decision to forget our wrongs is completely dependent on our willingness to extend that same grace to those who have wronged us. All of this is possible only through Jesus Christ, who loves us enough to have paid for our sins with his life.
These are truths I learned from my Mom, both in her words, and in her deeds. They are powerful and liberating and forever true. I am eternally grateful for her life and for what I finally fully realized through her death.
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Mom.
Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at [email protected]