I struggled to take it all in.
My friend John patiently said it again, “There was more information about your mother than you knew.”
I looked at him blankly.
He sighed. “If things had been properly done, she may not have died.”
The awful truth enveloped me like an empty parachute settling over my head and body, making it hard to breathe.
“I can see it is hard to understand. I’ll come back soon and give you the details.” And just like that he was gone.
John is a good friend and I believed him. What’s more, as an ex-nurse, I trusted him medically. But I struggled to hear what he had to say. More information, he’d said. What did that mean? What’s more, my mother had died so long ago now. Even decades.
My rational brain tried to catch up, and I attempted to reason my way through it. Of course, this makes no difference I reminded myself. It happened. There is nothing I can do. It’s over. God walked beside me all these years, and I can lean on him through this too.
I waited for John to return, trying to make polite conversation with the people I knew in the room. But I wasn’t comfortable sharing this devastating news with them. Not yet.
My mind raced. Would Mum have lived if we had known? Would she have died by now anyway? Why do I have to wait to find out about this information John had? Where was he anyway?
I gasped, and woke up with a jolt. It was 5am, and still dark.
It was a relief to realise it was all a dream, but I struggled to breathe normally. Disturbed. Upset. I just lay there, my heart beating fast, my emotions continuing to wash over me. It had felt so real, so exact, so perplexing. It is true – when Mum died of cancer, I didn’t have all the information. As young teens, my sister and I were not told very much and kept in the dark. With all the best intentions, we were kept in a space of not knowing.
The dream seeped into reality. In a half-asleep stupor, nothing made sense and I dozed in and out of a fitful sleep – too upset to rest; too weary to do anything but lie there. I knew that eventually, daylight would come.
This is the worst thing about grief: When it feels like you have finally got it out of your system, then at the most unexpected moments it comes up behind you, and clutches your heart. Again.
Death was never meant to be part of our lives – and intuitively we know it. Before their sin, Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life, and death was not for them. So, it is not surprising there is something in each of us screaming, “Death is not fair, it’s not right!” Because it isn’t. It’s all wrong. It grates against us with its ragged teeth gnashing.
I’ve worked hard over the years not to allow my mother’s death to harden me. It has been difficult at times, but I wanted to remain soft and pliable, not just for myself but for those close to me, especially my children. It hurts to lean into the grief and roll with it, and it is easy to want to put up self-protective barriers. But I know that hardness brings bitterness, and that’s not where I want to go.
Here is what I have learned – This suffering, this tragedy, this living of my life after death, is the refining thing that changes me. God walks with me closely through it, and shows me the path. He is no stranger to suffering. He leads my steps, and holds my hand. My suffering smooths over the dark and ugly places. The stress and pressure squeeze out the dross, and refine me into someone with more compassion, more kindness, more love for the broken and hurting. Staying soft to death and its horrors, hands me life in all its richness. Such paradox. To allow mum’s death to harden me would have been its victory. But God brought Jesus to life again. There is such a thing as life after death, and it’s called resurrection.
All these years later, my mother’s death is still a big thing in my life, as this dream last Monday shows. I know deep down, I still treasure her. But thankfully her death doesn’t hold me. Jesus does.
The road is dark, sometimes. Often it feels like an endless tunnel. But if I keep on pushing through, if I keep on pressing into the dark, I know this to be true: daylight eventually comes.