Happy Birthday, Mom

If my mom were still alive, today we would celebrate her 71st birthday. Solomon has something to say about that.

A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death (is better) than the day of one’s birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

I wrote the Musing that follows shortly after her death. I share it again today in honor of her and in thanks to her Lord.

Tomorrow I will bury my mom. Those are painful, somewhat surreal words to write.

For most of the last decade, I’ve known this day would come. When my dad died nearly nine months ago, I was not surprised. At 74, his life was longer than virtually everyone else in his family. His health during the last 10 years of his life was, at best, poor. Surgery for prostate cancer exposed him to the killer bacteria MRSA. The infection weakened his body making otherwise minor issues major problems.

As I watched him decline, I prepared myself for his eventual death. Each time I said goodbye to him, I did so knowing this might be my last time with him. He was ready to meet the Lord, and to the extent possible, I was ready for him to be with the Lord. Still, I miss him every day.

My mom was never old to me. As a teenage mother, she raised my sister and me with the vibrancy of a kid. Though small of frame, her energy level was that of a race horse. Little kept her down and few stopped her. When she set her mind to do something, chances were she’d get it done. Whether earning a bachelor’s degree by attending school in the evening or continuing to teach after two LVAD surgeries, she resolved to continue to do what she determined was the right and best thing to do. Her aggressive nature and my dad’s mellow disposition were a beautiful match.

My mom developed congestive heart failure more than ten years ago following a minor heart attack triggered by a virus. She suffered the heart attack the first week of July, and, as expected, was back in the classroom in late August. I asked her to retire, but that was a futile suggestion. The leopard can’t change its spots.

Despite her heart problems, I was not ready for her death. At 69 she lived twenty years less than her mother and much less than all the other women in her family tree. My always young mom was not old enough to die. During the last weeks and days of her life, she remained quick-minded, articulate and witty, like you might expect from her in the classroom or in conversations with her grandchildren.

Her heart diagnosis and her various open-heart surgeries should have prompted me to adopt a similar approach to her that I did with my dad. Her lifestyle, however, wouldn’t let me. Over the last 18 months, she put more than 47,000 miles on her car. Though retired from teaching, she wasn’t retired from life. In two years she built a small but profitable business that supplemented her meager income. In her home church she ministered to disadvantaged women, played her clarinet in the orchestra, sang in the choir, and attempted whatever ministries were suggested or apparent to her.

In the northern Wisconsin church where she gathered for worship during the summer months, she met a young family with a son diagnosed with childhood leukemia. She loved the young mother and father, cared for their other child during chemo treatments, provided meals to the family, and opened her heart and home to them. All this after having met them when she was a newbie to the church family.

My timeline for life did not include my mom’s death in January of 2016. When Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you (Philippians 1:21-24),” I want to apply this to my mom. From my low-level perch, my mom’s remaining with us is more needful than her going to be with Christ at this point in time. Like Paul, I am hard-pressed, albeit for myself.

Where to go from here? This is the question. I miss my mom beyond my capacity to express. I contemplate the future without her, and I become sad. I’ve picked up my phone to call her, and then suddenly remembered. I should just remove her name from my phone, but I don’t want to remove her name from my phone.

Still, my life is not over. Like me, my mom buried her father first and then her mother. She felt many of the emotions I feel, and she fought on. She continued to serve the Lord. She continued to love people. She continued to give her best. She fought a good fight. She finished her course. She kept the faith. The best way for me to honor my mom is to do the same.

By God’s grace.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.