Today, 1 September, is my mother's birthday. She was born on this day in 1935. She fell asleep in the opening minutes of the 29th of July, in 1993. I was with her that night in her hospital room in Milwaukee. We checked her in that last time several days earlier. I can remember that day (I guess it would be the day of the 28th) because I had a good long day of work with my friend Jim. In those days I was working for and with my arborist friend, Jim Uhrinak. I hope I spelled that right. One of my memories of Jim, in fact, is all the times I heard him spell his name for clients who would write a check for our services, after we were finished with a landscaping or tree trimming job, or a fire wood delivery. So the spelling of his name should be etched in my brain forever. If I got it wrong, it just goes to show how far out of touch I've fallen from some of the truly important things in life.
Anyway, one of the things I recall about that day is that I was working a wood chipper, and I banged one of my fingers on a branch. That pain abided with me through the night, and accompanied me in my night watch with my mother. For some reason I was the only one there that night at the hospital. I don't say that out of any sort of criticism, mind you. I just recall that circumstances had it that I was the one that was with my mother that night. She had a peaceful look as she slept. I'm not so sure how true a picture it was, though, considering her condition. The cancer that was removed a year earlier, from her stomach and esophagus, had returned, with a vengance. It reminds me of our Lord's words in Luke 11:
"When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first."
The doctors knew she did not have very long. They kept her on morphine night and day throughout that last stay in the hospital. My late pastor, Father Stephen Wiest, would suffer and die in a remarkably similar way several years later, in October of 2003.
My mother always wanted the best for us. I know that's something that is virtually impossible to see from certain perspectives. Indeed, in the final analysis, perhaps the most pertinent facet of her life is that she did give us everything, since in and through her poor life she gave us Christ. The devil, the world, and my mother's own flesh attacked her in manifold ways. Through the rear view of several years, after so many miles down the road, I can begin to appreciate the fact that her physical suffering, and death, was ultimately a small and hollow victory for the devil. Painful though it was for all of us, with the eyes of faith we can look through that suffering, and see that though she was indeed very poor in spirit, in and through that poverty, she was truly blessed, for she possessed the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5), which is to say that she belongs to Christ. Christ, the Man of Sorrows, the poor man par excellence, the one who is acquainted with grief, He was with her the whole time. He, and His victory over sin and the devil, was in her, and she in Him. Christ, her Shepherd, is nigh at hand, and has given her everlasting rest (II Esdras 2).