In 2003, my mother suffered a spinal cord injury that felled her completely. She was 81, a powerhouse. We felt as if she was still in her prime, and we couldn’t believe that she was not going to recover all her mobility and get on with bossing the world around. But that’s not what happened. She never recovered her mobility at all, and worse, her ability to breathe on her own vanished completely. She lay for five months with a machine breathing for her, immobilized. It was her worst nightmare, and ours, too. Our worlds were turned completely upside down, and the person we had depended upon to keep our world running (whether we needed it or not), now needed us to keep things running for her. We advocated for her with an impersonal, rigid medical system and doctors who saw her as a case number, not a person. We cared for my Dad whose stroke a few years before impaired his ability to take care of himself just enough that you couldn’t really leave him alone for long. Siblings who lived far away flew in and out of town and granddaughters took up the slack when we couldn’t get there. We watched and waited and grieved until the day when she decided that she could surrender herself to the hands of God, and disconnect from the breathing apparatus. Powers of attorney and medical directives and trust executorships were all in place. There was nothing left but to say goodbye and to sit with her until she took her last earthly breath and was born into Jesus’ arms.
This Holy Week brought this all back to me in such sharp focus, I could feel the blow of each event all over again. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was something our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton said in an early Easter message. She said that Jesus’ suffering and death assure us that when we are at the lowest, most desperate times in our lives, Jesus meets us right there, in the midst of our pain. He tells us that all is not lost, that suffering and death are not the only story, nor are they the end of our story. The resurrection – mysterious and miraculous as it is – is our proof that even in the gravest disaster, another story exists alongside our tragedy. As we lived through my mother’s tragic suffering and death, we had each other, and our faith, and her faith to light the path we walked. We were held by the prayers of scores of family and friends who never let us forget that prayed fervently for us. The promises of God that we trusted, honed through years of ups and downs that often turned us around and set us down where we least expected, were sufficient for us as we wept and held each other close. We trusted that God was at work to bring new life for her, and for us. All the Sunday School lessons, all the hymns and prayers of Sunday worship, all the practices of tithing and service had taught us that God was trustworthy. And so we walked in hope every day.
Our prayers for healing were answered differently than we wanted. Healing for Mom meant a peaceful rebirth into a life with no more suffering. Healing for us meant a bond that was formed between us who lived through it. That bond deepened our faith in God and in each other, and in the power of prayer to change each day from despair to hope. Healing was indeed resurrection for all of us, stepping into a new life beyond the pain of the moment into a new way of seeing God’s faithfulness. Our trust in God’s promises was forged forever, as we experienced the frailty of human life, and God’s willingness to exalt it in the life of Jesus among us. Resurrection happened to all of us, even those of us who still await that rebirth into the new life with Jesus forever that we have been promised.