Back in 2005 when I first heard that mam had been diagnosed with cancer, I was distraught. It was the most devastating news I could ever imagine receiving. I still remember going to visit her in hospital after they had removed a football-sized tumour from inside her. On top of everything else she had contracted MRSA and so was in a room on her own and we had to wear gloves, aprons and hugs were prohibited!
It was rough.
What I couldn’t get past, however, was the peace and grace that was just radiating from mam as she lay there. Her face was serene, her words were hope-filled and her faith was as strong as ever. Apparently she’d been reading about “the peace of God that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4v7) and it really works!
The way that mam lived the final 4 and a half years of her life was the most remarkable testimony to the power of the gospel and the strength of authentic faith in Christ that I have ever personally witnessed. I’m sure she had moments of anguish as she contemplated leaving behind the people whom she loved (and there were lots of them) but she never despaired. She never lost control. She never lost sight of Jesus through all of it.
Bizarre as it sounds, she was one of the brightest sources of grace that shone into my life during those dark days!
My mam was a Christian when I was born so I’d never known her any other way. But she was never a fake Christian. She loved the LORD, she loved to pray, worship, and serve, and she epitomised grace. I went through some really dark, difficult and dangerous times as a teenager, and my mam always brought light and hope into the situation (even before I was saved!) Since her death, so many have commented on her integrity and the inspiration that her life was. Well I saw that up close and personal throughout my whole life. I can genuinely say that I saw Jesus in my mam more than I have in anyone else (and I’m not just exaggerating because I’m feeling emotional – it’s the truth!)
One of the blessings of losing someone to a disease like cancer is that while it is a slow and painful death, you do have the time to make sure that you get to say all that you want to say. One of the things that I told mam was that she had been the best tutor in grace that I had known. She really was!
Mam showed me how to live.
However, when it became clear that the cancer was untreatable and mam was moved to the hospice, I learned another precious and poignant lesson from her.
She showed me how to die!
The nurses at the hospice couldn’t help but comment on the courage and serenity that she displayed while she was there, and check this out – she didn’t complain once! She didn’t complain throughout her 3 weeks in the hospice, she didn’t complain when they told her the cancer was incurable, and to the best of my knowledge she didn’t complain from the day of her diagnosis in 2005 to the day that she stepped into the presence of Jesus.
Admittedly it was harrowing in the extreme to witness what mam went through in her final days, yet while the grief was very real, it was difficult to fall apart when you could see the reality of the hope of glory in mam’s countenance. It was like every day she moved closer to death, she knew she was moving closer to Jesus! I’d go in and hold her hand and read scriptures to her – and she would glow. I’d pray and she’d say ‘Amen’ with deep intensity.
One of her most remarkable moments came a few days before she died. She had been barely conscious throughout the day, and so as she slept I started singing a hymn that we used to enjoy singing together – “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater.” And all of a sudden she just burst into song joining in as passionately as she could – through the pain and despite her frailty. Then she rested again! It was one of the most precious memories I have of mam, and a moment that for me captured the true strength and beauty of a woman who was clinging to grace!
And now – she’s dancing for joy with her Saviour – her passion in life and her hope in death!
Lord Jesus, please help me to live and to die with the same dignity and grace with which you blessed my mam, and with which she blessed so many others!