My mother’s death at age 101 10/12 is a good time to reflect on aspects of both her life and death.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. It was a slow-growing form of cancer. At first we were considering surgery for her, but second thoughts proved better. She was willing to delay, and that proved wise. So she managed to live with breast cancer for a significant handful of years, without pain.
She was always concerned for the well-being of her children. She worried that caring for her was too much of a burden for us near the end. She was quite willing to go to a nursing home, and advised us to send her there when things got too tough. The misery that she was going through was no fun for her, but what made it worse for her was that the children were having to go through the misery also. However, we were able to keep her at home till the end (thanks largely to the continual superb care by my sister Peggy).
That reminds me of one of my mother’s classic comments, from just a couple years ago, before her health took a seriously downward turn. I was taking her on a wheelchair ride–good exercise for me and it got us both out of the house into the fresh air–and she spoke up and said, “I’m just afraid I won’t live long enough to go to a nursing home.” Hilarious, but I knew exactly what she meant. She had always felt like she would flourish at a nursing home. She pictured herself as organizing card games and using time in the nursing home as a chance to interact with other people in a good manner. And she is correct–she would have been a wonderful nursing home denizen, as long as her health permitted. She would have livened up the place. If she couldn’t find bridge players, she would have settled for euchre players. However, I’m glad we were able to keep her at home to the end. It worked out for the best for all of us.
My mother was the child of Italian immigrants. She was glad to be of Italian heritage. But there were limits to her identification as Italian. She had been given the name Anna at birth. When she was in about the third grade, she began to sign her school papers with the name Anne. Why? Anna sounded too foreign. She wanted to be an American. That desire to identify as an American stayed with her the rest of her life. The name Anne stuck. I don’t think she had to say anything more about it. Everyone just went along with Anne instead of Anna. And, like Anne of Green Gables in the classic novel, she definitely wanted there to be an e at the end.
My mother was thoughtful for other people. If she saw something in a newspaper or magazine on a topic which she knew a family member or friend would find of interest, she would cut it out and mail it to him (her). The U.S. Postal Service is going to miss her; their budget has taken a hit.
I have commented before on the great benefit of having siblings, even when sibling relationships are far from perfect. The final months of my mother’s life were more proof of the value of siblings. There are four of us living children. The burden of caring for my mother fell principally on my sister Peggy (who lived with my mother). Secondarily it fell on me, since I lived next door to them. We both were encouraged when Jill or Tom came down (or up) to support us, which they did often. Their drives were not short, but they made them, and Peggy and I felt the benefit. It took some of the burden off of us, both physically and psychologically. We felt supported. My brother Tom made an insightful comment. He said that he knew beforehand that he was appreciated, but all this with the challenging last days of my mother made him feel needed, which was good for him to feel. A good point. We all want to be loved, but also we all need to be needed. It was good that Tom realized he was needed. Anyway, my advice is, have big families. I’m glad we were four living children, and I’m glad to have hope that there are two other siblings waiting for us in heaven. I look forward to meeting them–although I’m willing to put off the meeting for quite a while.
My mother’s health was pretty remarkable, all things considered. As noted above, she fought breast cancer and, really, won the battle. She endured decades of diabetes, and fought to no worse than a draw. She had her eyesight all the way to 101 10/12. Her hearing held out also, although with some loss of quality in latter years. She walked with a walker the last few years, and always got to the bathroom by herself, until the last year or so. Finally it was necessary for my sister to help her to the bathroom, and then eventually it took two of us to get her there. But for well over 99% of her life, she was able to get around on her own. She had her mind her entire life, except for brief intervals in the last few weeks.
My mother was not without faults. We would be here for a while if we listed them all. Her life would have gone better in some ways had she had more knowledge of the Bible, and more obedience to its teachings. That can be said of any Christian, I suppose. She, like all of us, is going to be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, or not at all. If she is in heaven, as I hope, it is by the grace of God. In heaven whatever faults she had will be corrected.
She was a person who never doubted her salvation. Such faith is not granted to all of us. Was she afraid to die? She acknowledged some slight fear, but it was minuscule. As she noted, millions of other people had done it before her. If they could do it, so could she.
Off and on during those last three months, she had considerable suffering. Most of the times were not all that bad! But there were some tough times, both for her and of course secondarily for those of us trying to take care of her.
Why, we can ask ourselves, would a good God let a helpless, powerless 101-year old woman experience suffering to that degree? Is He not there? Was she a person destined to be cast away, after all?
I am going to say some things that may sound like speculation here. I discuss these issues at more length in my two books What Are God’s Goals? and If: God’s Covenant of Grace. I don’t think Christians in general pay much attention to what the Bible teaches on a lot of things. We kind of make up a theology which pleases us, rather than look at what the Bible teaches.
What I am going to say may be just speculation rather than biblical exegesis, but my ideas are based on what I read in the Bible. Think for yourself. Anyway, here goes, briefly.
Jesus Christ warns us in Luke 12:42-48 that Christians may get lashes. If we know God’s will and don’t do it, we may get more lashes than the person who did not know His will and didn’t do it. We Christians were given much, and so, reasonably, much was expected of us. Whereas non-believers were not given as much, so not as much was expected of them.
In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul warns that when we build on the foundation Jesus Christ, we may build wisely or not so wisely. Our building blocks may be gold, silver, or precious stones. Or they might be wood, hay, or straw. The value of our work will be tested by fire. We could have our works burned up, but still be saved, “yet as through fire.”
Many other places give a similar message. (Buy my books if you want more on the topic.) Putting this all together, there is much to scare us–and perhaps much to console us. We Christians may have to accept some stripes–which we will know to be well-deserved, when we know everything about God’s evaluation of our behavior.
And possibly, God gives us some stripes while we are still living, so that He does not have to give us stripes after we die. I am hopeful that my mother got her stripes while she was living. When she died, perhaps she did not have to have more stripes. She no doubt had a lot to learn and many ways in which she would have to improve her thinking. But she may have gotten all her stripes out of the way while she was living on the earth. If my theory is correct, my mother may have been able to enter heaven without receiving more stripes after death.
Luke 12:42-48 also gives us hope that maybe not as many people face torture as mainstream Christianity seems to believe. I am not a universalist, but I also do not believe God is tormenting millions or billions of people in hell for eternity. This is not the place to try to defend my opinions, but I will say that my opinions are based on reading the Bible text and believing the Bible text.
One thing about my mother’s suffering that was beneficial to the four of us children is that it helped us to get prepared for her death. If she had had perfect health all the way to the end, we might have felt cheated. Instead, we had time to get ready. Had she lived another five years in the same state of off and on suffering, that would have been pretty rough for her, but also pretty rough for us. It was better for her that her suffering months were few, but it was also better for us that they were few. So the death, when it came, was also a relief. We will miss her, but it is time for God to figure out what to do with her. The ball is in His court now, and that is good. I remember thinking, during those tough times with my mother, something to the effect that if there is no God, it doesn’t much matter what happens, whereas if the God of the Bible really exists, then it will all make sense. Routine thoughts, but perhaps not unreasonable.
She had always wanted to be cremated. Her discussions with various pastors supported her opinion that there was nothing wrong with such a desire. We readily acquiesced in her wishes. There was no funeral service, but we still may have some sort of gathering to celebrate her life.
March is an important month in our family. My mother had always considered March 1 as the unofficial but real start of spring. Some of the rest of us went along with her on that point. Also, her 102nd birthday was going to be March 8. She fell slightly short of making that on earth. We hope she will be celebrating in heaven. We won’t forget her, and we are grateful we had her for so long. Anne Wells, rest in peace.