Saying goodbye to mum: Between joy and grief

On December 2nd at just around 4am in the morning, my mum went to be with her Lord and Saviour.  It has been a roller coaster 10 days prior to this.  Mum had gone into hospital the week previously for planned surgery knowing that at her age there were risks but confident in Jesus that whatever happened she was safe in his hands. The operation seems to have gone well but unfortunately mum was very weak and particularly her lungs were struggling to recover afterwards and so she was placed in ICU.  We were warned that things were very much on a knife edge, and the future hung in the balance.  Over the next few days there were ups and downs, concern that some indicators were going the wrong way, hopeful signs of little improvements in  other ways.

Then on the Wednesday it became clear that mum wasn’t recovering and so we gathered the family together.   We had a day and two nights with her, singing, praying, reading Scripture, crying, sharing memories.  It was a mix of sadness and also a sense of hope and joy for mum that she knew she was going home to be with Jesus.  Mum’s concern was for us, wanting us to know she loved us, wanting to tell us to look after each other. Then peacefully in the early hours of the morning she slipped away. 

I will not deny that a huge hole has been left in our family life.  Death remains in many ways an enemy even if robbed of its sting when Jesus took the penalty of sin.  We are going to miss her so much.  But as I said above, there’s also much hope and comfort, even that right sense of tear tinged joy.  There’s also much to learn about the way that mum lived her life, right through from putting her trust in Christ as a young person living in Singapore with a forces family until that final breath.  She learnt to walk with Jesus.  She was completely dependent upon him.

I only recently mentioned my grandma’s love of life and how she had travelled all around the world.  My mum too had travelled, first with her family to Singapore and Italy.  Then later in their fifties, mum and dad had found themselves called to serve God in China having given much time in Bradford to ministry with overseas students.  Dad had been made redundant from Nestle then God opened a door for him to work as a technical consultant at  a chocolate plant in Shenzhen.  Mum quickly got integrated into local life and would be approached by people in the street asking her to come to teach them English or even go into a local kindergarten to teach the kids.

They eventually found a church which was experiencing revival and in the church were a group of young people learning English and using the Bible as a textbook.  They realised that they had found in mum and dad not just teachers but in effect pastors who would share their lives and the Gospel with them.   After 10 years, mum and dad had to return to England as dad could no longer get a work permit over the age of 60.  They still went out every year for a month until the pandemic and probably packed as much in as most of us do in a full year.

My mum was brave.  She went to a completely different culture with a different language at a stage in life when most people are settling down into comfort. She travelled around a city of several million and when I went to visit would come across the border and down through Hong Kong on her own to meet me, or she would travel down to see me off before returning on her own.  I would almost say fearless but it is not that she didn’t experience fear or anxiety. Rather, she knew she could overcome those things through trusting Jesus.

My mum was faithful.  You could rely on her to keep her word.  I sometimes joke about an early memory. Mum was strict with us growing up. I probably needed it!  She took us to see the Fox and the Hound at the cinema and I must have misbehaved in the ice-cream queue because she said “I won’t be taking you to the cinema again.”  And she didn’t.  Though to be clear, she took us to many fantastic places and events including introducing us to the wonder of the Sound of Music at the Alhambra Theatre.

But mum was faithful in love, compassion and service. She held no grudges.  Forgiveness meant forgiveness. She was warm and caring.  Her concern was constantly for others not for herself.  She was genuinely humble. She did not want to be the centre of attention.  She could be faithful and forgiving because she wasn’t doing anything in her own strength.  Rather, she had learnt to depend on her saviour in all things.  She knew how much she was loved by him, how much forgiven and she knew his faithfulness to her.

My mum clung close to Jesus in prayer. She loved going to the Keswick Convention and before that when we were young to the old Filey week. She appreciated the singing and the teaching but one of her favourite places to be, was walking around the mission exhibition, talking to the people from the different agencies because she would be praying for them in the year ahead. Mum prayed for our church, and she would remember specific families and their needs. She’d ask me how people were getting on.

Mum had a pastoral heart and she particularly looked out for those who might be on their own or on the fringe. She would also make it her priority to phone those who couldn’t get out so easily, especially during COVID. Again, she was even phoning and looking out for some of the people in our old church.

So here we are right now in a different situation to where we’d hoped to be.  We thought that around about now we’d be seeing mum coming home from hospital after her surgery, expecting her to need time to recuperate.  But mum has gone on to a much better home, the one promised in John 14. 

And we find ourselves living in a place I would describe as “between joy and grief.”  There’s real grief and sadness. We are missing mum, dad is missing his beloved, many are missing a friend.  Already I’m finding myself going to update mum about something she’s been asking about so she can pray, or wanting to call to tell her that we have got safely home after being up in Bradford or that we are nearly there so she can put the kettle on. 

However, there’s joy.  We haven’t lost mum, she didn’t fail to make it. She is at home. She has fought the fight, she has finished the race. For a beautiful, lingering moment, in that hospital room, heaven came to meet mum and we got to witness that. Jesus doesn’t just wait for us having gone on before us. When the time comes, He comes to meet us and take us to be with Him.

Lo, Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb.
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let His church with gladness hymns of triumph sing,
for the Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting.

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