Death is sometimes welcomed, especially if an individual is tired of the pain, the long-suffering, and looking for relief. Death is also sometimes welcomed by the family care-giver who has not gotten much rest, due to caring for a loved one.
When death came to my mother earlier last month, I was glad that she was out of pain. Last Thanksgiving (2014), she had confided to my wife and I that she was tired, and since the decision to live or die was in her hands, she was ready to go. As long as I have been in the world, and before I was in the world, my mother has been suffering from one affliction or another.
My mom overheard the doctor tell her father that she would not live long, due to the challenges to her health. Mom was about eight years old. When her father emerged from the meeting with the doctor, he tried to hide his teary eyes. However, mom smiled and told him, “I overheard what the doctor said.” Her father almost burst out in very audible sobs when mom stopped him. She said, “Since I am going to die young, I am going to outwork everyone I can every day. And, when I get to Heaven, I am going to tell God to help you in your ministry!” Her dad was a farmer, and a young developing minister. He had been a somewhat hard-drinking man due to family issues and challenging racism in Texas and Oklahoma; mom had told him about hearing the voice of God when she was five. She was told to tell His (God’s) people to get right. When her dad came in from a hard day of working, and a hard night of drinking, she told him what God had said. After crying and asking God for forgiveness, this man took his family to church, and was soon on his way to becoming a minister.
The family had moved to California during “The Grapes of Wrath” episodes in the late 1920’s, which saw many poor farmers, and those looking for a better way of life, working their way from the Southwest to the Golden State of California. It was here, the father heard the sad news from the doctor. Mom learned how to outwork everyone as a farm laborer in California. When her father became a labor contractor, she served as his bookkeeper. However, her father kept wondering when she would die. Other doctors said that she wouldn’t live past 18. When she passed that death sentence and married and had a son (me!), she was told that she would die by the time she was 30. Later, other doctors said she wouldn’t see 40. By this time, mom told the doctors to stop telling her when she was going to die as they were not God!
As long as I can remember, Death always seemed to be lurking around mom. Sometimes, one eye would not work; then, it was an ear that couldn’t hear. When it was very cold, arthritis stiffen her up, forcing her to sometimes work in the fields or do hair with only one hand working. Sometimes, she had to take to the bed, especially when she became paralyzed on one side. But, she still managed to outwork most people. She felt like if she was going to have an appointment with death, Death would find her working so hard that Death would just have to take a seat, and wait a little longer!
Thanks to mom’s spiritual growth, and connection with God and seriously godly people, mom’s vision came back into that eye. Later, her ear popped open. Then, she worked so hard, or prayed so hard, or believed so intently that arthritis even had to take a seat and admire her fast-moving, working self, sometimes holding down two jobs. When my step-father came on the scene, he worked hard so mom could be free to help people that she felt God wanted her to help. This included a lot of abused women and children, young people who didn’t have loving family relationships, and others who felt like they had been served the raw side of life. Even in loving and reaching out to others, mom would put her disabilities on hold, feeling like since she had been blessed to outlive some of her doctors, there was a joy as she gave her life helping others. Once, she gave a beautiful home with a huge yard to a family of 13 who could not afford a house. Books could be written by people she fed, housed, clothed, prayed for, loved on, and turned their lives around. I am one of those people, but that story will wait for another day.
I had planned to go and visit my mom this past Thanksgiving. With me in Texas, recovering from some of my own health challenges, and her in Northern California, I wasn’t able to visit mom often, but we talked a lot by phone. When so many people she loved came to her 90th birthday two years ago, she was overjoyed at what each had accomplished, whether they had become backup singers in Hollywood, opened a business, raised their children alone, become famous in their own right, or just had managed to survive without giving up hope. Congratulatory letters came from local, state, and national politicians from both sides of the aisle. Even a mayor of her city came to honor her.
Last year, mom had my wife and I help her plan her transition to Heaven, and not keep Death waiting any longer. Since we thought we had a few more years, we didn’t complete everything. I would see her the following Thanksgiving, and we would be able to put everything in place. Alas, while I was making plans, my son, her most recent, and longest, care-giver, sent word to others (since my phone was on vibrate) that my mom had just passed away.
I should have known something was up when my wife solemnly walked down the hallway and told me to turn off the television. I was paying more attention to my work on the computer than on the television, so I protested that I wasn’t really watching television. Then, she raised her voice a little and told me to please turn off the television. After I had complied, she looked me in the eye and said, “Your mom just died!”
I can’t explain the feeling I had when I heard those words on a Sunday evening. There was so much to do. As the oldest child, much of the burden would fall on me. However, one of my sisters, an attorney, was very resourceful. Plus, my son, mom’s care-giver, was very helpful. And, then there were my grown children, and others, who jumped in and made sure the planning, and homegoing arrangements were carried out with professional excellence. I think I was pretty numb during the preparations before I arrived where mom stayed, while carrying out my duties with the funeral home and the insurance companies, and so many other details that must be done when someone in a family dies. In fact, as I write this, I am still pretty numb.
Death. Death became a pleasant friend at last for my mom. For the first time in her life, she would not have any more pain. At such a thought, I somewhat thanked Death, but I still wanted to visit my alive mother just one more time. There were so many things I wanted to discuss with her about her family, more about her history, and just hug her just one more time. I had no idea last Thanksgiving as she asked me to feed her from my plate with the one fork that this would be the last thing I would do for mom. Death. Death is often not welcomed when one is robust and things are going great. Death is really not welcomed when family members and friends hadn’t finished their planned time with their loved one.
Death will come to us all. Regardless of race, religion, no religion, gender, or whatever one may believe about life ending here, or life extended into a different dimension, Death will visit all of us. The only questions that remains is: Will you be ready to meet Death? Will you have all of your affairs in order? Will you go with Death quietly, or will you go with Death screaming and clutching on to what you have? If you are reading this, you have a chance to prepare to meet Death, so stay ready, as Death is always checking the appointment book!