And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
~ Revelation 21:4
The text came just a little before 7 am yesterday, "Mom passed this morning at 5:20. Tom and Andie are going to tell my grandparents in person this morning."
It was news that I was expecting, but it came at a time that I was rushing around, trying to get ready for the day, and was already feeling the pressure of a Monday morning that just seemed to be anything but ordinary. My heart quickly turned to Herman and Helen. A sweet couple I have known for some time, who both are in their nineties, and the reality that this morning they would hear the news that their daughter has died. As I lifted a prayer for them while tying my shoes, I remembered the experience that I had, watching my own great-grandmother, stare at an old man in a coffin, and her saying, "I know that I have lived too long when I watch my children die of old age."
"Parents are not supposed to outlive their children."
I have heard these words more times than I can seem to remember. Interesting how these words seem to resonate some great "order," in a world that is filled with imperfect realities. I remember being at the bedside of an eight year old girl who unexpectedly hemorrhaged a few days following surgery. Her mother, who refused to leave the room as hospital staff reopened a surgical incision in an attempt to reach the area, stood and watched. I held her, while a doctor asked me to take her out of the room, only to hear the mother tell me, "No, I'm not going anywhere, I told her I would always be here for her. This is that moment."
The attempts were futile, and the girl died. The scene still plays out in my mind, as I remember the images from the room, the words of the girl's mother, and how powerful her presence was.
I had just visited Dee a few days ago. It had taken all of her energy to convey to me the words she shared during our time together. As I think back now, I watched her form words, and thought how her lips and mouth reminded me of her mother's. Her mother, Helen, has one of the most beautiful smiles, with a laugh, that is undeniably her own. Dee's eyes were reflective of both Helen and Herman, but they were now tired, and slightly dimmed by what was going on within a body. We all knew that this would be our last visit with one another. I remember our tears when I first entered the room. They were both reflective of the love that we had for one another, with the salty reality that sometimes life is simply not following the perceived reality of how children should die once their parents have breathed their last breath, and that golden years should not include watching your children die before you.
I am drawn this morning to think of another child, who had a mother that gave birth to him when she was still a young woman. Who nursed him, and watched him take his first steps. Who smiled the first time she heard him call her, "mom," and would laugh with him, when she found that place on his body that would result in giggles. A mother who would tell him stories, and would scrape the dirt from his knee, providing the healing kiss that only a parent can provide, when that is the only true cure.
I think of how this mother must have scolded him when he did wrong, because we know that all children are shaped by what they are taught, with both good and bad experiences, that are shaped by behaviors, both good and bad.
I know that this mother also watched, helplessly, as this child was taken from her and the friends that he loved when he was a man, sharing about what the world would be like if only people would listen and respond. She saw him beaten, and hung on a cross, while hearing him tell a man near her that she was now his mother because he would no longer be present in her life to care for her as sons are taught to care for their mothers as they grow old. Another reminder, that even in the life that Jesus lived with his mother, Mary, the order of how life "should have been," failed to be realized.
I am reminded each day of the imperfect world in which we live. We live with the results of not just our own decisions, but the decisions of millions around us, and generations that have lived before us. Within our faith, uncommon realities teach us that we must not forget to have hope, and to pray for miracles that cannot ever be imagined.
So many times, I hear mothers and fathers tell me how they feel so "hopeless," while their children suffer, encounter life-limiting challenges, and succumb to their uncommon reality that their child will die before them.
My heart is filled with with sadness for Herman and Helen who have just lost their daughter, and for Dana and John who have just lost their mother. I am also realizing the grief that I am encountering, as I have lost a sweet friend.
I long for the day when there will be, "no more death," and a time when mothers and fathers will no longer encounter the reality that their child has died.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams is the author of the book, "Remember Me When..." and is a former hospice chaplain and pastor.