Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fear of My Mother's Dying

Last weekend my husband and I attended his mother's family reunion, a huge affair complete with a sign-in book, name tags, an amazing variety and quantity of food, and about 250 people we were supposed to know. There are so many members of this family and they are so prolific that, apart from this biennial reunion, they would completely lose track of one another. Even so, it was common to hear whispered queries of "Who is that?" The children were particularly hard to track. They moved too fast for us to focus upon their name tags, and they tended not to stay with their immediate families!

The M.C. for the program portion of this event was Max, the family's version of David Letterman; complete with sly humor, engaging grin, and witty repartee. This year, however, Max's comments were tinged with sorrow. His father passed away earlier this year, and Max was with him when he died.

As he stood before the crowd, Max shared, "My dad fought death. And even after he was gone, his body continued to fight. I tell you, it's not just an easy 'lights out' like they show you in the movies."

I shuddered. I thought of my own father's death. My husband was with Dad when he died, I was not. John won't answer my questions about the particulars of Dad's passing and I wonder if this is why? Perhaps there was a death struggle. Perhaps it was horrifying for John.

And then I thought of my dread of my own mother's passing. I will probably be by her side. I felt fear, and no small annoyance with Max. "What I did not need here today," I thought, "Was a description of a not-so-peaceful passing followed by rigormortis."

The morning after the reunion I was especially tired. I'd painted the ceiling in one of the little upstairs bedrooms the evening before, and my middle aged muscles were aching. As I lay in bed, I stretched my tired muscles; one of those full length, luxurious, to the tips of your fingers and toes type of stretches ending in one last shuddering, tightening of every single limb and muscle; and then I collapsed into a state of complete relaxation. It was pleasant, there was nothing awful about it; it was just my physical body's response to being overworked the day before.

As I lay there the Lord touched my heart and I saw the correlation you've probably already made. Rigormortis is simply a part of the physical body's release of the spirit. It is not awful. It is not horrifying. It is a tension and release similar to my stretching followed by relaxation.

The Lord has spoken to me about this before. Here is a quote from My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers:  

I saw my body as a fragile shell housing a precious treasure. Our physical bodies are like the alabaster vase that held the nard Mary poured upon the feet of Jesus. The vase was broken to release the perfume. Each of us is headed toward an appointment with physical brokenness because no one escapes physical death. Sometimes the process of death is painful and for just a little while, we are preoccupied with the breaking of the container, but then the fragrance of Christ flows forth as the spirit is released.

Death is not lovely, but though we must walk through the valley of its shadow, there is no need to fear. In just a little while we will see Jesus and no one will take away our joy. Until that day we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a deposit; a guarantee of what is to come. We have a promise that will not be broken; grief will turn to joy.

I have been so afraid of what I may have to see and experience as my mother goes through the process of dying. I am beginning to rest in trust in the Lord. If He allows my heart to break, He is able to mend it together again.  God is with me.  I will not be afraid.

Scripture: “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20b-22).


  1. I have been present at the passing of my father-in-law and my grandmother. Both were extremely peaceful. You may be surprised at the way your mother goes home when she does. I appreciate the comfort you have received and shared. It is can be the home going of many.
    I pray that when your mother's time comes it will be peaceful.


    Becky K.

  2. Wonderful post and always interesting how the Lord brings back to our hearts his comfort even from things he has given to us in the past! I read your post today and thought of the Dylan Thomas poem about death. The older my parents get and the older I get, the more I understand that poem!