Story and Why
by Tom Gilbert © 2006
(written June 27, 2006)
I held my
mother’s hand, gently stroked her arm and leaned close to her
ear. “Hi, Mom, it’s Tom. I’m
eyes were closed but a slight change came over her face. She lightly
squeezed my arm and instantly I felt some peace. Mom was nearing death,
but she knew I was there. "Annette, Kristen and Eric are here, too."
Her eyes were closed, but there was a slight smile.
Pancreatic cancer spreads rapidly. Mother had
been diagnosed just three months prior and there were no treatment
options. She’d been scheduled for surgery but when that day
came the doctors found the cancer had spread to other areas of her
body. At 75 and thirty-three years after a near death experience Mom
didn’t want to go through chemotherapy or treatment that
might prolong her already full life a few more months. She was ready
and accepting of her imminent death. Her faith – like the
Rock of Gibraltar – gave her assurance that she was about to
go forth into a light, a love and an eternal peace. She was eagerly
looking forward to the embrace of Jesus. "It’s just like
stepping into the next room" she’d often told close friends.
comes to us all. It’s as inevitable as our beginning birth.
In fact, it is just another birth process. We know this intellectually,
yet when faced with it we must learn to let go with more than our mind.
Our hearts are broken and the loss we feel when a loved one dies is
real. It should not be denied, although denial is part of our
processing of the death experience. Mom was ready, she’d been
ready for some time, and she was letting go. Soon she was at
death’s door and ready to open it and step into the next room.
of the greatest gifts anyone can give my mother was expressing to all
of us as she lay dying. Don’t be afraid. I love you so much.
Love one another. Mom, even in her intense suffering, was a willing
instrument of God’s message to simply love.
you find you are separated by distance from family, whether geographic
miles or the painful separation of resentment, bitterness or anger, it
can be resolved. I’m grateful that over the past ten years my
mother and I enjoyed a rich and wonderful relationship. Although she
lived in Kansas City with my Dad and me in Albuquerque with my family
we still visited by phone and through her wonderful cards and letters.
I still get a chuckle from the many times she’d apologize for
not writing often enough. No, she wrote plenty often, far more than I
did, and always with such tenderness and honesty.
brother Doug lives in Virginia with his wife, Susan, and dear four year
old son, Joshua. They blessed me with the honor and responsibility of
being his godfather. Doug, just a year and a half younger than me, has
lived an extraordinary life, including time as a missionary in Africa.
He knew the importance of going to see Mom and did what he had to do to
leave work and fly out. He drove the point home to me to also come out,
however possible. Thanks to the great kindness of my wife’s
parents we made the long drive from Albuquerque in their car with
financial support from them, too.
sister Leslie, God bless her, lives just down the street from my
parents in Kansas City and her dear family have been a source of joy to
my mom and dad. Yes, even through the growing pains that Shea and
Kelsey have experienced in teenage years and young adulthood. Leslie,
firstborn of the three children in our family, could regularly go to
Mom for advice, support and fellowship. She lost a husband, Rob, to
leukemia years ago and Mom was there during Rob’s final days
to minister in her quiet, strong way. Now Leslie has a great second
husband, Kipp, whose strength is humor and understanding.
family is perfect, just as no one person is perfect. We’ve
all had our ups and downs. I gave my mother a few gray hairs. In return
she gave me discipline coupled with love and direction. In many ways I
considered her my “unofficial” spiritual director,
especially in recent years. She had the knack for sending me just the
right book at just the right time. What a gift that she introduced me
to the insight of Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Julian of Norwich,
Thomas Keating, Kahlil Gibran and several other great spiritual
seekers. I know she didn’t discover them on her own. Other
friends and mentors pointed her to them and she was paying it forward.
was fortunate enough to visit my mom in May, over Mother’s
Day weekend. Even though her cancer had weakened her considerably we
were still able to talk and share. I struggled a bit over whether to
reveal an experience I’d had not long before, but the Spirit
kept prompting me and on Mother’s Day morning I was able to
relate my “vision”, for lack of a better word, that
came to me one morning while running. I’d been training for a
half-marathon (which I completed June 4th in San Diego –
running with Team in Training in support of the Leukemia &
Lymphoma Society) and during this morning run in Albuquerque I felt
that my mom was with me. In this spiritual experience she was small,
like a doll, riding on my back as I ran towards the mountains. I sensed
around us loved ones who had died cheering and encouraging my mother.
They were waiting for her to join them in the presence of God. It was
real and powerful and as I shared the experience to my mom with tears
running down my face she suddenly sat up in bed and began praising God
and quoting scripture. My dad, Tom (I’m named for him, just
as he was named after his father), noted that my story allowed Mom to
minister to me! Now is that not evidence of God working through His
week was long and emotionally draining in Kansas City over those final
days of Mom’s earthly life. We’d gathered around
her bed a few times to sing, pray and say goodbye, but God’s
time was not meeting our human expectations. Mom and Dad’s
55th wedding anniversary was June 14th and she lived through it despite
our belief she wouldn’t. We had a grand dinner in her honor.
The next day her breathing was shallower and raspy and surely that
morning she would pass. No, she kept on. By noon Dad suggested we might
all leave for a while. Maybe Mom needed time alone.
at that time my sister got a call that her daughter Kelsey was in a car
accident. Nothing major, but she had to go to the hospital to be
checked out. Doug and Leslie went to the emergency room for a few
hours. I went out and ran a couple of errands. When I returned to
Mom’s room she seemed even closer to departing. Dad came in
from outside where he’d been fixing the American Flag. It had
mysteriously come loose from the rings holding it to the pole and slid
to half-mast. Doug and Leslie returned and they all walked into the
room where I was sitting next to Mom, along with dear friends Will and
Carol Evans. And mom took her last breath. The time was just after four
in the afternoon, 1614 military time — 6-14, my
parent’s wedding date, the one for the next day.
days that followed were hard, but our family was together doing what
needed to be done and we had a beautiful funeral service. I miss my
Mom, but I know in my heart that she has given us a great gift in her
death with humility and dignity. She really let go with grace.
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