However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 11, verses 7-8.
I’ve been away from these words for a few days now. Sunday night, my wife and I rushed up to Oklahoma to be at my mom’s bedside when she was rushed to the hospital. Mom had difficulty breathing and much fluid on her lungs. We spent many hours in her hospital room, talking, waiting, and anxiously anticipating the slow release of information as regards her condition. Mom is doing much better now, and thank you so much and many blessings to the many people who have been praying for recovery.
To be honest, I had only briefly read today’s verses before going up to Oklahoma to be with my mother, but in reading them today I see that, as usual, they’re appropriate and fit the situation. My mom is 83 and has lived a storied life of friendships, faith, and travel. She graduated high school in 1946 and insisted on going to college in a time when most women didn’t. Indeed, her stubborn Minnesota farmer father argued “I’m not paying for some damn school that’s a waste of time for a woman” ended up not only paying for her degree but supporting her right to get it. In the late 1950s, after working as a scrub nurse and then a nursing educator, she wanted a change in life so she joined the Army Special Services and moved to Germany. Germany at that time was still an occupied country and still very much in ruins a dozen years after World War II ended. It didn’t deter Mom, who worked for 3 years there, seeing every nation in Western Europe (and even a few in the Communist bloc) and making lifelong friends…including my dad, who she married there in 1958. They were married for thirty-nine years, and since his death 15 years ago, she has continued to travel (including a trip back to Europe and numerous trips to Minnesota, Colorado, and down to see my family in Texas), has been active in her church, and has even written four books.
It’s as if the verses for today could have been written for her.
Through all these years and trials, Mom has enjoyed a full life but has also seen her share of darkness. Mom and Dad were the closest of friends as well as husband and wife. Indeed, I think their marriage was based more on that friendship than on romance. They treated each other as best friends and confidants instead of just as partners in marriage. I think now that this helped them to face the dark days that can happen during marriage. My dad’s faith grew deeply during the 18 months when he was dying of cancer, and my mom’s faith allowed her to cope with this without falling apart. Since his passing, her faith has grown in ways I never thought it would. I always considered my mom to be an intellectual giant in my life because, of my two educated parents, mom was the one who has always held up higher education and self-improvement on a pedestal (I think because she did it herself). Faith was important, but secondary and in its place. Consequently, while I look back and see the faith of my youth as having mainly been a Sunday morning affectation, I see now that it has become a living and vital thing in my mom’s life. It is the intellect that has been put in its rightful, secondary place, and faith in God that has become more important.
It follows that, while she was recuperating in the hospital yesterday, I brought her the study Bible she takes to weekly study as well as a book on the life of Christ. She was thankful and enthusiastic for both as they will help pass recuperation time constructively. She prays regularly and repeatedly for all of us in our family, but also for friends, and for the people hurting after the massacre in Connecticut, and for other people who come across her radar as needing prayer. Especially in the years since Dad has been gone, she and I have talked deeply about matters of God, and what they all mean in our lives, about how God uses all the events in our days to mold us closer to Him. And about how God isn’t indifferent or inactive in our lives, indeed about how He is always involved and at work even in ways we don’t understand in the moment. I believe He was present and involved there in that hospital.
Those talks and that faith are an encouragement now, both for her as she recuperates from a brush with death and for me as I will do what I can to help her heal. It is a day of darkness when you realize that your parents may be dying. That call came, again, this past Sunday night, and my wife and I drove the three hours north to see where that call would take us. During that drive, we prayed and talked and I contemplated things I might have to do if she were permanently incapacitated, or if she passed away. It was pitch black on the road and pitch black in my heart by the time we arrived at the hospital to find her hooked up to various monitors, oxygen, and prone in a hospital bed. When you see someone you love in a position like that, you consider the healing power of God as well as the meaninglessness of everything else around you.
Thankfully, neither incapacitation nor death have landed at her door just yet. She’s still in the hospital but is better and will be released from the hospital just before Christmas. Mom isn’t used to the kind of physical training and exertion that is likely ahead of her in rehabilitation, and there could be more dark days ahead as well. While this latest episode may have been brought about by an interaction of prescription drugs, it also points to the fact that, with advanced age and her physical condition, debilitation is inevitable. The day will indeed come when we get the news that she has gone. That day comes for all of us, and in it, everything else about life is meaningless except one’s relationship with the Almighty. The travel, the good experiences, the lifelong education, meals, and the fun are all good to enjoy here, but they are only preparation for and a pale reflection of one’s relationship with God. When the chips are down, that’s all that really matters.