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‘Mom passed away’

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Life Matters

The two missed calls and voicemail from my brother, Mark, caught my attention. His voice message said: “Call me back as soon as you can.”

Of the three sons Mark lived closest to Mom and he and his wife, Joy, had made frequent trips to Lubbock, Texas to check on and care for Mom.

“This can’t be good,” I said to my wife, Lori.

“Mom passed away,” Mark broke the news.

I sensed the shock in his voice, that tremor beneath the spoken words that says, “I can’t believe it.”

And neither could I.

If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, you know the jolt, that punch in the gut when you first learn of the death. Sometimes it’s a cutting jab; at other times, it doubles you over, knocking the breath from you, dropping you to your knees.

This one was more like a sharp punch, the kind that catches you off guard, even though you knew it was coming, but still not sure when, and then, bang: you’re somehow flat-footed when it hits you.

I had already made flight arrangements to visit Mom the next week, and my son, David, was flying out that very week, to introduce his new bride, Kayla, to his Meme.

With Dad, death was imminent. We were there days before he passed. We had the opportunity of saying good-bye to him, telling him what he meant to us and how we loved him.

With Mom, it was different. Where Dad’s cancer had declared its victory over his body shouting, “This is it; the end is here,” Mom’s demise was more of a slow fade, like a shadow growing fainter and fainter, dimmer and dimmer until finally, there was no longer any light to cast a shadow, and it simply disappeared.

All her vitals had been good, even though her already small body had become less and less.

Then, she just passed away.

I’m certain she welcomed it.

Mark and Joy wanted to be there when Mom passed, like they were with Dad, and so did I, or at least to have made that one, last visit. And David envisioned his Meme seeing Kayla and smiling at both of them. He saw himself kissing his Meme, “Good-bye.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

Death was reminding us: we aren’t in control. Death does not call us for permission: “I’ll be there at 12:07 p.m., Sunday, if that’s okay. Or would you prefer, Monday at 10:12 a.m.? I’ve got another opening on Tuesday afternoon, at 4:47. Still too soon? Well, when can you get plane tickets? Maybe we should start there.”

But death is not a person. God himself is sovereign over life and death. Had God wanted David and Kayla to have made that trip, had he desired me to follow them, had God wanted Mark, Joy, and family to surround Mom as she was ushered into heaven, had he wanted my other brother, Lowell, to have completed the chemotherapy for his cancer, God would have kept Mom alive until everyone could arrive on time, our time that is. But it’s not “our time,” is it? It never has been, nor ever will be.

Time means nothing to death. Death is under God’s orders.

As the Puritan divine, John Owen, put it: “Our times are in his hand, at his sovereign disposal. We must accept that as best.”

Having concluded my phone conversation with Mark, I hung up my cell phone and looking at my family, simply told them what Mark had said, “Mom passed away.”

Soon, we were making arrangements to arrive there and scheduling our return home.

Where life goes on.

And where a sovereign God wraps his gentle hands around us, until in his time, he opens those same hands, and in his love, releases us into his very presence, our new home and maybe as we enter that place, just maybe we will hear them talking about us back “home,” about their shock that another of their loved ones has “passed away.”