Conversation with Death in My Mother’s Final Hours
Eating less and less, my mother began to look like a live skeleton. It was difficult to watch her and still more difficult to bathe and dress her.
Her heart kept beating at a normal rate, but her bony rib cage heaving in and out made breathing seem like a chore which overtaxed her body. On the day she stopped responding, everything in me—my strength, my courage, my emotions collapsed.
My first cry was to God. “God, I do not want this. My mother doesn’t want this. Do something to change this situation.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Death whispered.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” I said that with all the rudeness I could muster, but no insults could push him away.
“I understand,” he seemed to say, “but I am one of God’s answers when human beings ask for loved ones to be spared the travesty of a lifeless life.”
For the next two hours, the three of us—Death, my mother and I shared the room. God was there too, inhabiting each of us, and assisting me in making peace with the intruder.
1. Death Provides Refuge
Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death. - Isaiah 57:2
My mental capacity was inadequate for debate and rebuttal. Death reasoned with me about some positive issues which lessened my desire to struggle.
My mother had experienced 85 years of productive life. I had watched her mature from a shy, uncertain teenage mother to a mature, influential woman of faith. She had worked hard, leaving me sufficient to build on. Now that her brain power had deserted her and her physical stride had become too stressful for her body, rest seemed like a fitting reward.
“But don’t expect me to thank you,” I pouted.
“You’re welcome,” Death smiled.
2. Death Takes and Gives
He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. . . I am making everything new!” - Revelation 21: 4, 5
The emotional ties between my mother and me had been strengthened. Sitting on the bed close beside her to prop her up would be a lasting memory of how intertwined our lives had been when as her child I relied on her care; and when as my aged mother, she relied on mine. There was love even though we did not say the words.
“It isn’t fair to rob people of life and love!” I screamed at Death.
“The one you lose does not feel robbed,” he replied gently, “and when she leaves, you gain a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude.”
3. Death Is Limited
Neither death . . . nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God. Romans 8: 38, 39
"Death, you may claim the body, but that's all you can touch."
When my mother could no longer remember words, she hummed the tunes of songs she loved. What she hummed the most was that 1831 arrangement by Thomas Hastings for the song Come Ye Disconsolate written in 1816 by Thomas Moore. It contains the following lines, each one at the end of a stanza.
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure.
Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.
Alzheimer’s could not take away her habits of prayer and singing, and death cannot take away the love between her and her God, or her legacy of faith.
“Death, you lose.”
4. Death Aids Self-Awareness
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Psalm 146: 4
Insightful Quotes about Death
None of us, in our culture of comfort, know how to prepare ourselves for dying, but that's what we should do every day. - Joni Eareckson Tada
I don’t so much pray that my death will be without pain, but that it will be without doubt. – John Piper
If we have been pleased with life, we should not be displeased with death, since it comes from the hand of the same master. - Michelango
The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude. - Thornton Wilder
Love like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, love again. - Max Lucado
It was difficult to watch Death reach for my mother without remembering that one day he would reach for me.
“Sooner or later?” I asked him, though not wanting an answer.
“What else do I want to finish between now and then?” I asked myself.
He intruded again. “Just a reminder that when I show up, it’s over. What is undone remains undone. My presence here today may be primarily to end your mother’s struggles, but if you pay attention, it can also remind you to focus on yours.
"You will leave owing the world a debt if you shirk the responsibilities to which you have been assigned."
My short bucket list popped up before me, and I felt Death looking over my shoulder with an undefined curiosity. I prayed that from that day onward, I would be careful to use my time wisely.
5. Death Promotes Fellowship
And many . . . had come . . . to comfort them in the loss of their brother. John 11:19
“One of your redeeming factors, Death, is your influence in gathering family and friends who establish or renew connectedness.”
“True, and although folks do not give me credit, they appreciate the happy fellowship which lighten the sad moments.”
That would be especially true in my mother’s situation. Eight children of her late sister had already scheduled a reunion with daily activities for the week in which my mother would be buried. The reunion with extended family lifted our burden.
“Death you lose again; not only because of the earthly reunion, but also because we hope for a heavenly which will include my mother.”
Scripture quotations throughout this article are from the New International Version.
© 2016 Dora Isaac Weithers