A friend’s mother had been very ill for a long while and we knew her death was imminent. She was a faithful Christian and loved the Lord and her family. I always enjoyed visiting with her because she was so positive and joyful. The last time I saw her she was unable to communicate or respond and I knew the end was very near.
As I left her house I told my friend to give me a call, no matter what time, when she was getting close to death and I would come over to sit with him. About 5 a.m. in the morning my phone rang and it was my friend. He was broken and crying.
“Rick, if you don’t mind, please come over to the house. Mom passed away a few minutes ago”. When I arrived the funeral home had not arrived yet to retrieve her body. My friend was alone with her. We sat beside her still body, not saying much, just lost in our thoughts and memories of this sweet, godly woman.
Sitting there my friend told me of his sorrow that he had disappointed his mother. He hadn’t served the Lord as she had raised him to do so. He had lost his family through a nasty divorce and had tried to compensate for his failures by taking care of her in the past year. And he had done a good job of showing her he loved her. But he felt regret in his heart. Things could have been different.
Finally, the hearse arrived and the men gently placed her body on a gurney, covered it with a blanket, and rolled it to the waiting vehicle in the driveway. The streets were empty because of the early hour and the sky was just turning light gray from the dawn.
The back doors of the hearse were opened to carry her to the funeral home. Suddenly my friend lay across the quiet and still form of his mother and with a mournful and pitiful wail began to sob, “Oh, Momma, oh, Momma, oh, Momma”. His heart was filled with grief, loss and regret.
This happened a long time ago, but the sadness of it marked my mind and heart. I’ll never forget it. Now he had to live for good or bad with the choices he had made in the past. And so will I when my loved ones pass away.
Death has a way of changing us and simplifying our belief and values as to what is really important. When a loved one or closed friend dies our relationship failures are suddenly magnified. We see things totally different. We wonder how we could have allowed unimportant things to make us so busy to crowd out what was crucial.
I know this because I learned it in my own life having experienced a lot of death for a young person. It continued through my teen and young adult years. On top of that, my calling as a pastor, frequently requires that I be involved very closely with those going through losing loved ones through death.
More than I would like to remember I been in funeral homes where I am privy to the most private and painful expressions of sorrow one could ever experience. Sometimes it is gut-wrenching. Perhaps that’s why I’m so sensitive to this issue because I have been exposed to it so often.
The sorrow has never been over goals that were not reached, a level of income that was never enjoyed, or a position that could have brought fame and recognition. They always deal with the fact that the opportunity to do the simple things with their loved one would never be possible again. At that poignant moment the realization settles in that life really isn’t about the destination, but the journey. Comments are made about the most mundane issues. The daily, simple, unspectacular tasks and duties that make up our lives.
When my father passed away I arrived about ten minutes after the fact. A few minutes later my brother walked in the room and we reverently and quietly just stood by the bed of the man that had laid his life down for us and my sister. (Melanie was out of state and flew in that night).
The words my brother and I shared were not about income levels, the kind of cars Dad drove, the square footage of our home we grew up in, the expensive clothing we wore because of his money. The truth is, our family was probably lower middle class, we grew up in a house about 900 square feet (I measured it one time), Dad never had a new automobile, and none of us were ever known for being stylish in the way we dressed.
Hoss and I for a precious few minutes spoke of Dad coming to our football practices, buying our cleats, teaching us about God, telling us he loved us, always being there for us, and the sacrifices he made for us. The things we remembered that brought us joy were all about the journey, not the destination.
I don’t think Dad ever had a big destination in mind for any of his children or for himself. He just loved people and wanted to help them. His joy came from enjoying the present. The person in front of him at that moment. The job he was working on right now. The conversation or story he was telling at that moment. The child or grandchild he was talking to right then.
That’s what I miss the most about my father. His simplicity and focus on whatever was going on at that specific time. When he did that everything else sort of took care of itself and he enjoyed it so much. And the people that he journeyed life with enjoyed it, too. We were never treated as projects or objectives, but as the reason for whatever was happening in that moment.
Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone”. She’s right, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Yesterday I had a lot to do, but I saw my Mom working in her yard as I drove by her house and I pulled up in her driveway. We talked for about thirty minutes….about nothing of much significance. People we had seen, repairs that needed to be done on the house, our health challenges, my kids and her grandchildren.
When I pulled away my heart was filled with joy and my eyes were brimming with tears. I don’t want to one day have regrets with my sweet Mom wondering, “I wonder, what if……” I know there will be some of those, but I want the balances to weigh out on the other side where I can say, “I’m so glad I did….”
When I do those things now they bring me a lot of joy. And in the future that joy will only compound. They will for you, too, my good friend.