As I cradled my one-week-old niece in my arms and marveled at how tiny her 10 little fingers and toes were, I felt a tear roll down my cheek – a tear of joy for this new little life but also a tear of sorrow for the life that wasn’t there.
It was Christmas Eve, normally a joyous time at my house. But this year was different. The house wasn’t filled with the aroma of freshly baked cookies. There were no Christmas lights hung. There was no snow on the ground. I couldn’t get in the spirit.
It was my first Christmas without mom in 26 years. She had recently passed away after a long, valiant battle with a rare bone marrow disease. She was only 57.
As I held my niece I couldn’t help but imagine holding my own little one someday. Becoming a mommy was a dream I’d had since I was a little girl.
But then something inside began to hurt.
Mom would never be there to hear me say, “I’m pregnant,” or meet the man of my dreams. She’d never again be there on the other end of the phone. I missed her so much.
* * *
It’s been one year since Mom passed away. I’m sad, and I miss her terribly. I feel a bit defeated – we had waited 10 years for a miracle. But I also feel relieved. I’m reminded of the hymn “Amazing Grace” which says, “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.” I rejoice that she’s in heaven.
I can remember the day in July 2001 when our world turned upside down. I was 17. Mom was getting test results back. We trusted God. We didn’t think twice. Everything would be fine.
Mom took me shopping afterward. But something wasn’t right. She seemed preoccupied.
“You really want to buy that?” she asked me with raised eyebrows as I held up a T-shirt. I didn’t understand. It had a picture of a daisy on the front. She loved flowers. She acted like it was a skull and cross bones. I can now understand why she may not have wanted to buy a shirt with a symbol of happiness and peace on it at that particular moment.
The news of the diagnosis didn’t sink in right away. But more tests confirmed our worst nightmare. Fear found its way into my thoughts. Was my mom going to die? I was just a kid. None of my friends had lost a parent. None of their parents had even gotten sick.
Why is this happening to such a good, godly woman? I wondered. She’s hardworking and takes care of herself and family.
A high school teacher reminded me to trust God; He was in control. My teacher believed something good would come from the situation. I couldn’t see how anything good could come from my mom being sick.
How could I trust God? Where was He? Why had He let this happen?
As I left my parents’ guiding arms to go to a secular university, my teenage self began trusting in other things: the world, material goods, people, food, shopping. Sure those things would bring me pleasure for a little while, but they’d never completely satisfy me.
Jeremiah 17:5 reads, “This is what the Lord says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Only God can be my true sense of comfort.
Counting Our Blessings
Mom received treatments at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., one of the few medical centers in the country studying this disease’s diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, we lived a couple of hours from the clinic. So while my parents moved into a transplant house, temporarily, for Mom’s treatments, I stayed home with my friends and continued to go to school.
Her bone marrow transplant was a success. The disease was put in remission. We can get our lives back, I thought. But then we got some bad news: The disease had relapsed.
Our fight was long from over. In 2005, I came home from college to care for Mom. She had gotten worse. We weren’t sure she was going to make it through the summer. Fear crept up again.
Yet she never gave up. She continued to trust God for a miracle. She never stopped fighting even when the pain was unbearable. Her unfailing faith was inspiring to me – I want a faith like that, I thought.
Over the next several years, we prayed and we waited … prayed and waited (not always patiently.) Why was nothing happening? Where was this miracle?
Mom’s health continued to decline. I couldn’t bear to watch her suffer. I felt so helpless. I did the only thing I knew to do. I prayed and trusted God. I told Him if His purpose for her on earth was done, I would be OK with that. She died one month later.
I could see God at work that night. My maternal grandmother prayed that Mom would be healed or taken up into heaven quickly. Mom slipped away quietly at home. About that same time, something inside me told me to sing praise. It was almost as if I was singing her through the gates of heaven.
Like anyone grieving a loss, I felt like a train wreck at times. Why hadn’t we gotten our miracle? Everyone kept saying we would. What went wrong? I needed my mom. Didn’t God understand that?
I’ve learned that grieving does not have a time frame; it’s more of a day-by-day process and can be done as long as needed.
Some told me not to grieve – “She’s in heaven; you should rejoice.” But a deep connection had been severed. I couldn’t help but cry. Some days I couldn’t stop crying.
Sometimes when I would try to confide in others about how I was feeling, they would change the subject, almost as if they were afraid of the subject of grief or didn’t want to bring me any more pain. I felt alone at times. But again God never left my side. He blessed me with a dear friend who had lost her husband eight years earlier.
There are a lot of great resources out there about grief. I’ve found a couple of books through Focus on the Family and Christianbook.com. Journaling also helps me release all of the emotion I’m feeling. I then take those worries and concerns to God. Confiding in my pastor has also helped. He has counseled all ages and has directed me to Bible verses that are helpful during this time.
I don’t think I will ever stop missing Mom. If she could talk to me now, she’d probably say, “You have so many exciting things to experience. I’m so proud of you.” Taking this journey without her won’t be without its challenges, but she’ll be forever in my heart and memories.
Copyright 2011 Jennifer Nelson. All rights reserved.