I feel like the hard part is over; the rest of the story is a relief.
For nearly 20 years I prayed that God would surround my mom with people who believed in Jesus. Surround her with scripture. Surround her with worship music.
I prayed that word — surround — over my mom for two decades. Initially, I did it because I knew she’d need to be consistently confronted to stop long enough and consider what God was offering her. Eventually, the idea of her being enveloped into the hearts of Christ-followers gave me hope.
The last time my mom and I saw each other was 1997. After that, we had a handful of conversations over the phone — in 2000 when my grandparents were being moved from their home into assisted living, and again in 2002 when my grandfather died.
In early 2004 I called my aunt, my mom’s sister, to check on my grandmother. My aunt told me that my mom was sick. About two years prior to her 60th birthday, and after having breast cancer at 42, my mom had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“Surround her,” I prayed to God.
In January, 2006 I spoke to my mom on the phone. She had just turned 60, and to celebrate the milestone, along with one year being cancer-free, she and her sister took a trip to China.
She had kicked cancer. Again.
We spoke a few more times when my grandmother passed away. I think we were both seeking something normal, whatever that looked like for us. Still, tension and resentment tainted every conversation.
I mailed her a picture of my children, she said they looked like I did when I was little. I sent a set of pot holders my toddlers had finger painted. She said she’d use them.
A brief conversation, nearly 10 years ago, was our last.
I had two more children, and changed jobs, and we moved, and life kept me filled to the brim.
“Surround her,” I always asked on her birthdays, my birthdays, every Mother’s Day.
Then, this June 21st, I sent my cousin an email. It was pretty out-of-the-blue. I had questions about my mom’s medical history. I wanted to know about her cancers, her treatments, etc. I asked her if my aunt would be able to fill me in. She replied later that her mom was out of town, and would call me when she returned.
On July 1st I thought about emailing again, since I hadn’t heard back, but the next morning I awoke to find an email from my aunt, asking me to call her.
The message was vague, and that spoke volumes.
I called, and my aunt gave me the news.
That trip she had been on, was a trip to Oregon, where my mom was living. She was at my mother’s bedside, nursing her through her final weeks of life.
More than 10 years since my mom’s first bout with ovarian cancer, the disease came back with a vengeance and took her.
She passed away on June 24th, three days after I sent that random message to my cousin. I sent a message asking questions about a disease that my mom was dying from, at the exact time I inquired.
It was too unbelievable, so my aunt walked me through it. My mom was diagnosed in September, 2014. By February, 2015, she was doing better. She started feeling poorly again at the beginning of June, and by the 24th, she was gone. I had no idea she was even sick; she didn’t want me to know.
But then she told me that my mom’s life during the last several years had changed quite a bit. While RVing in Phoenix, she met a man. They became friends, and for a few winters they’d see each other at the same RV park. Then, he asked her to travel to Oregon, to the place he called home. And she did. And they fell in love.
“And she started attending his church with him,” my aunt said. “His faith was very strong.”
Even though he had cancer, they married. Nine months later he was gone. [Cancer is a bastard]
“She kept going to the church though,” my aunt explained. “She was really active there. She even went on missions trips.
“The friends she had there meant so much to her,” she added.
I was shocked. Who was this woman? My mom had become a virtual stranger, one who was able to maintain friendships and freely give her heart away and stopped hating the Church. Even her name had changed.
“So she didn’t die alone?” I asked, choked with tears.
“Oh no,” my aunt replied. “She was surrounded by her people from church.”
And I nearly dropped the phone.
I was speechless. The kind of speechless that comes when Jesus is at work and it’s palpable. When you realize that twenty years of the same prayer was just answered.
When you clench your fists and your heart fills with regret for all the lost time.
I listened to everything my aunt said, and before we’d even said good-bye, I’d made up my mind.
I was going to Oregon. I was going to chase my mom’s story, and get to know this woman who walked her own Damascus Road and finally found peace, and I was taking my husband with me.
Next week I’ll post the 4th and final part in this series.