Pulling into mother’s driveway, my headlights sweep across the front of her house. It’s my regular Wednesday night visit to check and see how she is doing.
After daddy died ten years earlier, she moved to the town where I live. My weekly visits are not because she is scared to be alone or is a weak, dependent person. In fact, she is the opposite of all those traits. I visit because she is dying. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, its specific name, wouldn’t cause most people to give pause. But its general name – cancer – causes blood to run cold in the bravest of hearts.
Mama tried the chemo and radiation route. That treatment gave her an eighteen month reprieve. But now The Big Bad Wolf is back with a vengeance and has blown the door off her house. He’s thrown her to the floor and his fangs are buried in her throat.
Mama has made the decision not to go through anymore treatments. My brothers, sister and I don’t try to change her mind on that issue. “Let her meet life, or death, on her terms,” we say.
As I softly knock and ease in through the back door, I see mama sitting in her chair reading. The chemo changed her normally soft auburn hair into a coarser, salt-and-pepper version. She senses me and looks up.
“Well hello there,” she says with a smile.
“Hi mama. How are you doing?”
“A little tired. But I’ve had a good day.”
I check to see if she has food in her refrigerator and look for evidence that she is eating well. Satisfied with the results of my search, I sit across from her on the couch.
“How are Brenda and the girls?” she asks.
“Everyone is doing good. Busy as usual,” I reply.
Then mother begins her usual rundown of all the family members she has talked to and updates me on all the happenings. Maybe it’s because she worked as a switchboard operator in college that she ended up being the central point of communication in our family.
Silence fills a pause in our conversation. Her look of concern alerts me to something on her radar screen. Something she wants to talk about. Without a prompt on my part, she begins.
“David, something is bothering me. I know that I am dying and don’t have a lot of time left. I wish there was something I could do to make things right between me and Martha.
“She knows I’m sick, but I haven’t heard a word from her.”
I think, Why do people feel the need at the end of life to torment themselves with reaching resolution on every unresolved, sometimes unresolveable, issue across the course of their life?
There were three sisters. All born in the 1920’s and all their names started with an “m” – Mayme, Martin, and Martha. Their parents had hoped Martin was going to be a boy, so they stuck with the name they had chosen. She was my mother.
The girls grew up during the Depression – the real one. Sharing chores on their farm in Kentucky created ample opportunities for experiences that would bond them for life.
One passion they shared when they were grown was their families. One trait they shared was their easy laugh, though mom seemed to be the most serious of the three.
Spending vacations with my cousins, whether camping or visiting at Grandy’s (my grandfather) house or staying a week at Mayme’s farm, was a regular part of my life. My siblings and cousins would play hide-and-seek in Uncle George’s corn field, shoot basketball in the hayloft of the barn, ride horses, or play in the creek.
Watching my dad and uncles, through the haze of their cigar smoke, play a hotly contested game of Rook would occupy me until bedtime. Once in bed, I could still hear their good-natured hollering and laughing through the thin walls of my bedroom.
For more than fifty years, these sisters were close. But something changed. Distance grew between my mother and Martha. They shared fewer and fewer phone calls and letters.
How do people who lived and loved and shared their lives have a falling out? What creates the space? I never knew exactly what happened, and still don’t. I don’t have to. The reason is not important to me.
To mother I say, “I know that has to bother you. But there is only so much one person can do to make things right. Remember your father’s favorite chapter of the Bible? Romans 12? It says, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. There are some important qualifiers in that thought – if and as far as.”
She gives me a patronizing smile. Me telling her what the Bible says is pretty presumptuous of me. “I know that,” she says. “It just seems like there ought to be something else I could do.”
“Here’s a suggestion, mom. Why don’t you write Martha a letter and just tell her how you feel? Tell her what you want. Then it will be up to her. You will have done all you can do.”
With a little more energy in her voice, mom says, “That’s a good idea.”
Before the night ended, she had penned her letter. The next morning she placed it in the mailbox. Then she waited.
When I saw mother on Sunday, she had extra color in her cheeks and a twinkle in her eye. “Guess who called me last night? Martha! She said she wants to come see me!”
“Wow,” I reply. “That’s amazing. But do you think you are up to a visit?”
“It doesn’t matter. I invited her to come. She’ll be here Tuesday and is going to stay for a few days.”
A sense of resolution truly eases a burdened heart.
For four days the two sisters engaged in a whirlwind of activity. I’d call to check on them, but often found them gone – off on another jaunt. When I did get to talk to them, they were so full of happiness and peace, I found myself not caring if Martha’s visit was fatiguing mother.
A good night’s rest can revive a fatigued body. But a fatigued spirit often requires the touch of God.
Mother called me the night of Martha’s departure. “Well she left this afternoon.”
“Are you exhausted?”
“Yes, but I don’t care. I don’t have that many more days anyway. But I’ve got to tell you the most amazing thing about her visit. I kept waiting for her to talk with me about the things I’d put in my letter to her. But I didn’t want to push it, or break the spell. So I kept quiet. Finally, as we were saying our goodbyes, I couldn’t hold back. So I asked her, ‘Martha, what did you think about the things I said in my letter?’”
A chill runs up my back and across my scalp. Somehow I sense what she is going to tell me next. “What did she say mother?”
“She said, ‘What letter? What are you talking about?’”
“David, she hadn’t even gotten my letter. Isn’t God good?!”
With misty eyes I say, “Yes He is mother. Yes He is.