|Mom & John at her 80th in 2011|
Last week, I stood near my mother as the body of her third husband was lowered into the ground.
The first time I witnessed this, in 1986, cancer had claimed the life of my father; the second, in 1991 when my first stepfather succumbed to heart disease after only 20 months of marriage. Mom had been married to John (who affectionately introduced himself as “Mister Norma the Third”) for 15 years when a rare disease called Progressive Supernuclear Palsy ended his life here on earth. None of these departures were swift or straightforward, and Mom found herself playing caregiver each time, though her formal education never trained her for the role. I hated seeing her at yet another graveside. At 82, standing between her tall sons, step-sons, and grandsons, Mom looked small and frail to me, maybe for the first time.
My mother’s strength is becoming legendary. She has outlasted enough of life’s hurricanes to rank among the most cherished of retired ships. She deserves to be honoured in a safe and sunny harbor, with no more battles to fight. Instead, she must remain here to keep sailing, whatever storms are yet to come. Knowing Mom, she will do so with grace, wisdom, and ridiculous portions of spunk. An old hymn says, “… it holds, my anchor holds: Blow your wildest, then, O gale, on my bark so small and frail; By His grace I shall not fail; For my anchor holds, my anchor holds.”
Understanding the temporal nature of these separations is one of the things sustaining Mom while she awaits her turn to join the party. It’s inaccurate to say she “lost” three husbands because she knows exactly where they are. Or, more precisely, whom they are with. Nothing can surprise the author and finisher of her faith, and he tells us that to be absent from the body is to be at home with him. He tells us we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. He tells us he is the resurrection and the life, and that everyone who believes in him will live, even after dying. And in her favourite Bible verse, he tells Mom to be still and know that he is God.
I recently learned that years ago, when farmers cleared a field of trees for planting, they traditionally left one tree standing. The surviving tree was spared for a purpose—to provide shade for the farmer and his animals on a hot summer day, or shelter from a sudden storm. These days, I imagine my mother must sometimes feel a bit like that last standing tree. I hope she knows how much shade and comfort she continues to provide to those she loves.
Oh, my mother hasn’t done everything perfectly and she’d be the first to tell you so. But by her determination to carry on, Mom models for her children how it’s done. How you don’t abandon the one you promised to love when they become weak and sick. How, although you become angry, frustrated, discouraged, and confused, you don’t stay stuck there. How you don’t allow loss to paralyze you. And how, when calamity falls, you turn to the one who calmed the raging Sea of Galilee with his words.
Mothers, as we celebrate your special day this weekend, I encourage you to reflect on this. What are you modelling for those who come behind you? How will your children do life better because they watched you? Have you shown them where to turn for rescue during the storms of life? And will you continue to offer shade and shelter, even if you one day find yourself the last tree standing?