|"Grandma had a bad coughing fit this morning, so we decided it's probably about that time."|
My mother, fifty-three years old, stricken with cancer, bald and haggard, and three months into chemotherapy, sat at the table as I prepared food at the kitchen counter a few feet away. It was Advent of 1997.
Mom said, tears welling in her eyes, "Sometimes I just wish the Lord would take me home now. I am so tired." There was a hint of apology in her weary voice, as if she was ashamed to say such a thing, perhaps afraid I would be disappointed that my mom, ever the fighter, was ready to throw in the towel.
All I could say was, "I know, Mom. I am so sorry."
I wasn't in the least bit disappointed in her. She was (and remains) one of my heroes.
She died the following August with her family gathered around her bedside at her cabin nestled in the woods in the great mountains of northern Arizona. The day she left this world, ending a grueling eleven month long battle, she was incoherent and flailed on her bed. It was an agonizing day, but a strangely beautiful one. On her final day Mom was unable to communicate verbally, but I prayed over her, read to her from the Bible, and sang her the twenty-third Psalm, which seemed to quiet her.
My family had come to her home after an early morning call from my stepfather and the visiting nurse. We arrived in time to spend the final hours of her life with her.
As Mom took her last few breaths, we snuggled with her on the bed, touching her hands and arms and caressing her newly returned thick, black hair. We had come to let her go.
A couple of days before, as we prepared to leave for home following an extended visit, my wife and children on the front deck bidding good-bye to my stepfather, I said good-bye to Mom in the den where she spent all of her time curled up on the sofa. At each weekly visit's departure, I wondered if I would ever see her again.
She had gotten so weak she could no longer walk. It was late in the evening. I leaned over her frail form in the mellow lamplight of the room and hugged her. She pulled me close and began to stroke my hair. She told me she loved me. I dropped to my knees and settled in, and we just held one another as she continued to run her fingers through my hair. I was a little boy again, tucked into Mom's secure embrace for what seemed like hours. It was our good-bye, though I didn't know it yet.
On the afternoon that Mom died, when Mom became still--- so eerily still--- I held on to the memory of that tender good-bye from two days before as a man fallen overboard in a storm would cling to a life preserver. I cling to the memory, still, nearly sixteen years later.
I am grateful my mother never never talked about ending her life. I think of all the moments we would have lost. She never once hinted that she would like to hasten her own death in order to avoid the suffering that came with her cancer, and even from the chemotherapy and radiation (which sometimes seemed to bring more suffering than the disease). She endured the pain and the fear and the eventual loss of control of her bodily functions to the bitter end. In the midst of all the suffering, there was strangely so much grace.
There was laughter and such deep tenderness. There were late night conversations, when Mom couldn't sleep, that we had about life and God, right up to the very last day. I will treasure each word until my own final breath. My children had the privilege of tending to their Grandmommy, and I believe their gift for compassion has blossomed from that experience. There was such undeniable goodness and beauty to be found in the midst of the darkness.
Mom joined herself to the Cross of Jesus and walked the way of suffering with Him, trusting Him to take her all the way. The gifts experienced in that--- the grace, the healing, and the joy--- are immeasurable.
So when I saw the story that certain Anglican bishops (retired and active) in England support legalized euthanasia in Great Britain, I was deeply troubled.
Now, to be honest, it's getting to where little surprises me coming from the Anglican church. They have been playing it fast and loose with Christian doctrines for some time. According to recent reports, for instance, the Anglican body is moving toward inclusion of an optional baptismal rite that omits any reference to Satan so as not to trouble nonbelievers.
But what really troubles me about this story is the duplicity in the Anglican church leaders' collaboration with the Culture of Death. Of course, they are not the first. Christian denominations, one after another, are acquiescing to the culture's demands, all the while saying, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?" Of course, we can be reasonably certain how that turns out in the end.
But more than being an occasion for discouragement, this story reminds me to be grateful for the Catholic Church, which stands firmly in the Truth. Certainly the people who make up the Body of Christ are sinners. We are a motley bunch, it is true. We are no better or worse than the Anglicans (or the Lutherans, or the Baptists). But our Church is founded on Truth Himself, on Jesus Christ. It was not founded by just any person. This is an undeniable fact.
You will not see the Catholic Church leaders gathering together to vote on whether or not to change doctrines and moral truths in order to accommodate the culture. Disciplines may change as necessary, but the essentials will remain. The Catholic Church will never acquiesce to the Culture of Death. The Church's teachings will always stay faithful to Jesus Christ. He assured us this would be so.
I, like so many others, have come to depend on the stability and integrity of the Catholic Church.
I know this is a very tender topic. It is terrible to lose someone you love to the ravages of cancer or any other disease. I could not judge someone for succumbing to the temptation to seek escape from their suffering. But I know Jesus Christ calls us to fullness of life, to heaven itself, and he taught us we may only get there by picking up our Cross and joining Him on the Via Dolorosa. I am so grateful that Mom had the faith, hope, and love to finish the race.
It concerns me that more and more we seek to cheat the Cross. All of these issues of life seem to be tied to that reality. I wonder what price we are willing to pay to avoid the Cross of Christ. I know what my mother and the rest of our family would have lost if we had run from the Cross.
We should say a prayer of thanksgiving for the Church that Jesus Christ founded. And I will add to that a prayer of thanksgiving for my mother's moral courage, that she never sought to cheat herself--- or me--- of the beauty of the long good-bye.
(For the story on the Anglican bishops, go HERE.)