Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saying Goodbye When It Hurts

By Mark Young
My mother went home to be with the Lord last week. For her, the journey is over and she is in a better place. No more pain. No more sorrow. And she is going to finally meet her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, face to face. I can almost see the joy in her beautiful eyes as she meets the One who she has loved above all else. The One she has served since she was a teenager. But for me—and like all those who must say goodbye to those they love—there is this big hole in my heart that time will never erase.

In a way, I feel guilty for being sad. If she were still here, it would not be good for her. Mom is in a better place. So, my internal conflict—between her gain and my loss—seems selfish on my part. But I can’t help the way I feel. Mom and I have been through so much in this world together, shared the joys and hurts, the ups and downs, that her passing cuts me up inside like a shard of glass.

I am not generally one to cry, but as I write this I’m fighting back tears. It is hard to keep a stiff upper lip. My 11-year-old daughter burst out crying when she learned of Mom’s passing and gave me a big hug. “I am so sorry, Dad. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my Mom.” I almost lost it, but I fought back and became the strength and stability she needed at that moment. But in the stillness of the night, in those moments when no one else is around, or as I try to pen these words, tears are hard to keep at bay.

I was never a perfect son. But Mom, like her Lord, always saw the better side of me. Always the mother, she understood—or tried too. When I went off to war, I can remember the tears in her eyes as she said goodbye just before I boarded the plane. Later, huddling down in muddy fox hole, I remember those letters and chocolate-chip cookies that she and Dad sent in the mail. Those letters, if not wet from the rain, were probably dampened by her tears. And those cookies—smashed into small bits—tasted like heaven and reminded me of home. It would be years later, when I became a father to three beautiful girls, that I would start to realize what she must have endured.

Upon my return from war, after the hugs of gratefulness she gave me midst more tears, she patiently watched me act out my rage and bitterness that the war bore down upon my shoulders. Through those difficult times, she remained a constant. Patient. Kind. Jutting out her chin when I said something that offended her, trying to hold her tongue because she knew I must work out life on my own terms. She bore all this as only a mother can, not knowing how to lessen my pain.

Mom’s faith kept her strong when all else seemed to fail. Her unquestioning faith never wavered, never faltered, at least as far as I knew. She always let me know that this was not our home, that we—like Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s classic—were aliens in a foreign land, passing through on our way home to be with Jesus. In those times when my faith wavered, when I lost my way, Mom stood like a rock, like a beacon amidst life’s vicious storms. She led me to Jesus while I was still young, before life, war and college filled me with doubts. Years later, when I finally found my way back to God, when I finally discovered God was always there, I found Mom was still there—like God—watching over my soul.

Life physically separated us many times, the last when I moved out of state with my own family and left her with my siblings in California. Living so far away, it seemed hard to stay in touch, to be there for her like she was there for me, but she was always in my heart, in my prayers. She will remain in that special place until I go home to see her someday.

We made a trip to visit her a few weeks ago, fearing the end might be near. It was hard to see her in pain, in the frailty of age that we all must go through if we live that long. I remember giving her one last hug and feeling how frail she had become, wrapping my arms around a body that once was strong and vibrant. She brought three sons and one daughter into this world, nurtured them, raised them, and lovingly disciplined them. That strength was gone when I last hugged her, but her love was as strong as ever. I saw it in her eyes, felt it in those frail arms that returned my embrace.

She fought the good fight; brave to the last breath here on earth. She is heading toward that mansion in the sky, but for Mom, it is much, much more than Heaven's glories. It is anticipation of coming face to face with Jesus, to hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Mom is finally home.

And this I write to you, Mom:

I must say goodbye for now. I could never adequately tell you how much I loved you here on earth. Words—just like these I scribble now—seem so frustratingly inadequate to express all that you mean to me.  To us! To everyone you left behind. I will sorely miss you. I love you. Until we see each other once again, all my love, your prodigal son, Mark.