We just received word this past weekend that my mother is dying. Pancreatic stage 4 cancer has metastasized and migrated throughout her body and into her brain. A healthy 79-year-old now likely has just weeks to live.
My mother is a woman of deep faith, and although I may not articulate mine the same as hers, there’s no doubt that we both desire a life in communion with the gracious mystery at the heart of all things. That faith has helped her rely on grace – and hope and love and joy and strength – through ordeals and tragic losses along the way.
We lost my brother 27 years ago in a drowning accident. He had entered a triathlon on the very morning of his graduate school commencement, but never came out of the water. That loss, which is something I cannot even imagine, dealt a devastating blow to my mother. So deep and cellular was her grief that she found it difficult to process or understand it.
Such a faith as can lift us up when we’re down, or, more importantly, keep us quietly in the present moment when life falls away from us, is not something any religion can define or broker. The salvation it brings is hardly ever an escape from the pain, emptiness, or confusion we feel. It rises up from beneath us and seeps into us, in the wordless assurance that we are not alone.
I’m not sure yet what it’s like to lose my mother, but I know it won’t be long before I’m on the other side looking back.
There’s something archetypal about this One, whose body was my first home, the origin of this mystery I would gradually come to know and possess as “I-myself.” Her heartbeat was the first sound of the universe in my ears. She is the doorway that connects me to a genetic past going back countless generations and across perhaps numerous species of life. It’s a connection I don’t understand, but when I feel it, I know that this, too, is faith.
As I’ve talked with her on the phone these past several days, my mother sounds very calm and centered. She talks about the complicated things happening to her – the pokes and probes and scans of her body. She also confesses her gratitude for the life she’s been given, and for the gift even now, in this uncertain moment, being opened to her. She is thankful for the love and support, over the long years but especially now at this jumping-off point on the edge of her life.
This life is a witness. She embodies a grounded and authentic life that I want to celebrate, even now as I grieve and prepare for her body’s absence. She calls me to attention, beckons to me from that deep place at the center of my existence, where the pulse of life begins … and will one day be released again.
Thank you, Mother. Thank you for helping me into this life, for carrying me through as far as you could, and for your guidance along the way. You may be too humble to hear and accept this, but you are the grace of God to me – present, compassionate, patient, devoted, fun-loving, thoughtful and searching.
Thank you for finding me … again and again – in this passing hour, and now in your hour of passing.