Today is an anniversary that I celebrate with both thanksgiving and sadness. My sister and I refer to June 22, simply as “Mom’s Day,” and while this date does not reflect her birthday, it does commemorate a birthday of sorts. It was four years ago today that the Lord released our sweet mom from a broken body and welcomed her into his presence.
I am thankful that he didn’t allow her to suffer as long as she could have. She received a cancer diagnosis in November 2006 and lost her battle with that hideous disease just seven months later. I am also grateful for the time we spent with her during those months, being given the opportunity to communicate our love to her, in both words and in deeds. But mostly I am grateful that our prayers were answered and Mom is finally safe and whole. Granted, we begged God to heal her while she still remained with us, but he chose to give her complete healing instead by taking her home, and ultimately that outcome was far better for her. When I think about the absence of my mom, I am happy because I know that the life she has now is far richer than the best days she ever experienced here. And yet there is also a profound sadness that fills the physical space she once occupied in my life. I am not sad for her. I am sad for me.
To say that my life was forever altered seems like a bit of a cliché, but it is very true. Pastor Greg Laurie described it as a “new normal.” After the initial grief we experience with the loss of a loved one, life goes on and we ease back into a routine. We try to get “back to normal,” but our previous version of life is gone, so we work hard to adjust to a “new normal.” Everyone has their own way of handling this transition. Some people deal with the change by purging their environment of objects which would remind them of their loved one, while others build shrines to the one they’ve lost, and in doing so, live in a perpetual state of mourning. Most people confront grief somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
In my own grief journey, the hardest part for me has been the times when I momentarily forget that Mom is gone, and I have the desire to pick up the phone and call her. I was very close to my mom and was used to sharing details of my life with her. There have been moments when something cool has happened and my first reaction has been, “I have to call Mom!” And then in a moment, reality hits and I remember that Mom is no longer there to call. A fresh wave of grief sweeps over me bringing new tears. After four years, I don’t cry every day, but I still cry. I miss her so much.
The companionship I have with my twin and that of a few close friends has been helpful during this transition. It gives me a safe environment to remember my mom and commiserate with people who won’t berate me for grieving. I have found that not everyone is open to hearing about your pain, either because they don’t care about your feelings or because they are dealing with their own grief in a different way.
Ultimately, I take my grief to God, for he has given me the assurance that the pain of separation I suffer now is temporary. In the New Testament, Paul reminds us of God’s promise that Jesus himself will reunite all believers.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thes 4:13-18 NIV).
I find comfort in these verses. I might grieve, but my situation is not hopeless. I have God’s promise that I will be reunited with my mom and the rest of my family who have “gone on ahead.” At Mom’s memorial service four years ago, I shared an analogy which depicted the way I saw her death-not as an ending but as a beginning.
For believers, our journey to Heaven is like traveling to a beautiful tropical paradise where we are all scheduled to go, but have flights on different days. While some have already gone ahead, others are just about ready to leave. We take our loved ones to the airport and say our farewells, sad that we will be separated for a time, but so excited for them, knowing that they will soon be laughing and eating and enjoying paradise with those already there. We are happy for them and anticipate the day when it is our turn to go.
We watch them get on the plane and we wave through the terminal window as their plane taxis down the runway and finally takes off. The plane becomes smaller and smaller against the sky, until we cannot see it anymore. She’s at last on her way and we say “There she goes.” Just then, those in paradise see her plane approaching. With joyous excitement, they rush out to meet her. “There she is, there she is!” “Here she comes!” She is finally Home.
As believers we do not have to grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Christ, and that gives us his assurance of a glorious reunion with those we love.
In tribute to my sweet mom: “We love you Mom and we miss you. See you at the House!”
On the journey toward Home,