I am watching my mother-in-law slowly leaving us. Yesterday as I sat by her bedside, she lay quietly, breathing, eyes closed yet occasionally flickering as if she might stir. Her body is very weak. Always a thin woman, her slight features seem more pronounced as weight loss takes its toll. Her fine grey hair forms a tousled crown against the pillow behind her head. It is quiet in her room, the only noise being the steady hum of the hospital bed fan blowing a continuous stream of air into the mattress for ease in adjusting her frail body. Comfort care is our only remaining option.
It’s funny how the mind jumps from the present, to the future, to the past -and back again- while sitting by the side of a dying loved one. My thoughts wandered to my past with her. The days when Mom was the loving grandma reading books to my young sons, the mother-in-law who had this new bride and groom over for Sunday dinners nearly every week, and the diligent keeper of family celebrations and memories. She made sure her family ate healthy, read the Bible, and had intelligent conversation at the dinner table. If Pepsi or too many French fries appeared at a meal, she would exclaim, “Horrors upon us!”, which really meant she wouldn’t try to prevent consumption of the offending product but she wanted to be sure we knew what she thought of it.
In the present, life has been a severe struggle for this gentle woman. The slow process of losing strength and ability to manage life is not for the faint of heart. She does not appear today as the person we have known and loved, yet we know somewhere inside is the same loving heart and keen mind that made her so special to us.
And the future? While it seems we are down to weeks- or maybe days- left with Mom, her future is bright. She has been saying for a long time now that she wants to be with Jesus. I was in the emergency room with Mom this past August when a bladder infection took a terrible toll on her. A nurse sat me down and explained that Mom had “failure to thrive”. I informed her that two days ago Mom had been eating soup and talking to people – she certainly did not have failure to thrive. When asked how she came to this conclusion, the nurse replied, “Mildred keeps saying she wants to be with Jesus.” I tried to keep from snickering as I explained to the nurse, “Oh no, that’s not failure to thrive. She knows exactly what she is saying- and she means it. She really would rather be with Jesus. But she is still here, and for now we are going to take care of this infection so she can get home and back to eating soup and talking to people.” And Mom did.
But this time, Mom is taking her last journey. This time Mom will get her wish granted. Her future is bright because she knows the One who is going to take her hand and lead her safely through the valley of the shadow of death into the glorious presence of Jesus. Once inside Heavens gates, she will hear the words of her Savior, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” The faint smile that is now a passing shadow will become a brilliant exclamation of joy as she finally makes it Home.
Why can we be at peace as Mom slips away from us? Because on this Good Friday we remember another Person who took His last journey two thousand years ago, a journey to a cross of crucifixion where He gave His life for the ransom of mankind from our sins. Because Jesus died, was buried, and rose again the third day, we can receive forgiveness of our sins by grace through faith in His redemptive act. Jesus’ last journey to the cross opened the way for our journey into eternity with Him. Mom believes this with all her heart. I do as well. And I hope, on this Good Friday, you do too.