My mother died at age 63, cruelly stricken with a malignant brain tumor just when she had her life going exactly the way she wanted it, after decades of hard work and sacrifice.
Two houses paid for, nearly a hundred acres of land roamed by livestock, investments, money in the bank, a secure retirement apparently in hand … then came the shocking diagnosis. She told us kids that everything was going to be OK. It was a tumor, she said, the size of a pea that they were going to remove, and she would be fine. Not to worry.
It turned out that she was trying to protect her children, as always, and the actual prognosis was grim. She underwent some horrendous surgery and follow-up treatments, and died a year later, a shell of her once vibrant, joyful self.
Although we were never what anyone would consider a religious family, my mother – I think and have been told – was a believer in God and the Bible. She and I never talked much about such things, and we never talked much about her dying.
I was mostly in denial about the whole thing, and only once did we really broach the subject. It was while we were sitting at a picnic table one sunny July afternoon at Galveston Island State Park, surrounded by the sound of the surf and seagulls circling overhead, and I took her hand and said, “I don’t want you to die.”
Not facing the truth and the reality is something I will always regret, because I missed out on so many opportunities to share things with my mother and so much time I could have spent saying goodbye, telling her how much I loved her and appreciated what she did for me.
Death is not my favorite subject. It just seems like such a sad and inevitable ending to a story that always turns out the same way.
I once asked a woman I know named Ann, who is a devout Christian and shining light that brightens every room she enters, about dying. Aren’t you afraid of it, I asked.
“Of course, I am,” she said.
“Because I’ve never done it before,” she told me.
In the Bible, Psalm 23:4 says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Ecclesiastes 3:19-20: “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”
And John 11:25: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
Honestly, those verses do not give me a whole lot of comfort at this point. Maybe someday, but not yet.
I ascribe more to the notion of doing my best to live a life with as few regrets as possible at the end. Being a good man. A good husband. Good father. Good son. Good friend.
And there is a verse in the Bible that speaks to that, in my interpretation, anyway. The verse is 2 Timothy 4:7, and it says:
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
I may not fully understand the complexities in that verse, but I like it.
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