Early one summer morning, a very sick mother was on the patio enjoying the outdoors with her daughter at a hospice house for the terminally ill. Morphine has a way of erasing the memory, so the daughter was helping her mother recall some of the names of the friends and family members who had been so faithful coming to visit her.
Then they sat quietly on the patio listening to and watching nature wake up all around them: the birds singing, butterflies dancing and flowers bursting with color. After a few moments the daughter looked at her mother. Her heart broke. This one who had always been so strong, so vibrant and so active was quickly slipping away. Her body had never been more weak or more frail.
The mother looked at her daughter with eyes that began to fill with tears. And as tears began to stream down her cheeks, the dying mother asked a familiar question. It is a question that every human being living in this broken world asks at some time or another. Sometimes we ask it about others and sometimes we ask it about ourselves. When life is difficult, when life is unfair we ask it. Sometimes silently, sometimes shouting, we ask it: “Why me?” “Lord, Why me? Why!”
After her mother asked the familiar question, the daughter, in her thoughts that were shaded with grief, understandably joined her mother.
“Yes, mother, why! Why you! Why do you have to have this stupid disease? Why do you have to leave all of your wonderful friends and family? And why do you have to leave us when you are still so young? It just does not make any sense. You are such a good mother, such a sweet person. Why? Why do bad things happen to good people?”
She was a very good person. She was a compassionate mother, a very involved grandmother, a faithful sister and a devoted friend. She was the selfless type who lived to help others. Even after her terminal diagnosis she continued to put the needs and interests of others before her own.
In recent weeks, she made it a priority to spend time with her grandchildren. She told them not to worry because she knew Heaven was real. She said, “One day, you might feel a faint nudge on your shoulder. It will be me.” She told them if they found a penny, then they should always pick it up, because it was from her.
She possessed a special gift to love all people unconditionally regardless of what they looked like or where they were from. She could always see the good in others as she could in all circumstances. And as generous as she was with her love, she was also generous with grace and forgiveness.
This generosity spilled over everywhere she went. It is hard to count how many regarded her as a second mom. Even during these last difficult months, her generous spirit established instant relationships with all sorts of people. She made friends with her doctors, her nurses, with every caregiver, and even with those working in housekeeping at the hospital or hospice house.
It was said that the mother lived her life the way she cooked her meals. Her daughter would often tease her about her cooking. She would taste her food and say, “Mama, I think I know what your secret ingredient is! It’s sugar! Mama, you add sugar to everything, don’t you?!”
That is just what she did. It is who she was. Wherever she was and whomever she was with, she added a little bit of sweetness to everything she touched.
So, O Lord, why? Why do some of the sweetest, most pleasant, most loving and forgiving people we know suffer and die at an early age? Why her? Why my mother? Why, Lord, why?
As they sat outside on that patio, the daughter understood her mother’s question, “Why me?” It is just so unfair! It is so unjust and so unbelievable! The wave of enormous grief was overwhelming. It hit her all at once: pain and sadness and anger and despair. “Yes,” the daughter thought, “Why you, Mama! Why you! Why!”
In that moment, the daughter wanted to say something to comfort her mother; however, before she could say anything, her mother had a big surprise for her.
Her mother simply finished her question.
As tears rolled down her face, the mother began to smile and continued to ask: “Why me? Why am I so lucky? Why have I been so blessed? Why me? Why do I have so many friends? What have I done to deserve such a wonderful family?” Sitting outside enjoying God’s beautiful creation, she was asking the creator of all that is: “Why have I been blessed with such a wonderful life?”
She understood the sheer grace that is in all of it, in all of this miraculous mystery we call “life.” And she was grateful for it.
And thinking about how grateful her mother had always been, the way she lived her life, the daughter smiled, for she knew that she should not have been surprised when her mother completed her question.
The daughter knew that there are basically two kinds of people in the world. There are people, like her mother, who are sweet and kind, generous with love and forgiveness. And then there are others are bitter and mean, stingy and selfish.
She now understood why, as she thought: “Mama was sweet because of gratitude. And folks who are bitter are usually ungrateful. They think that others and the world owe them something. Sweet people like mama have an understanding that all of life is but a gift.”
She was the mother, the sister, the grandmother and the friend she was because she understood all of life is but a free gift of God’s amazing grace. So, on that patio, when she asked: “Why me? Why am I so lucky?” none of us should have been surprised.
But that is what God’s grace does. It surprises us.
A few days later, the mother, who was at perfect peace, died.
Time passed, but the grief the daughter experienced did not. The immense grief that came in waves and overwhelmed her came less frequently. However, every time it came, if she was paying attention, she could feel a faint nudge on her shoulder, or she might look down and find a penny, and be reminded to pause and give thanks.
Instead of being bitter over the years the disease took from her mother, she became grateful for the sacred years she had with her. Thus, in what seemed very strange at first, each time the waves of grief would come, the daughter would stop and thank God for her grief. For grieving only meant that she lost someone wonderful–someone she did not deserve to have.
And although thanking God for grief seemed strange, instead of being surprised and shocked that she was being grateful to God for the pain, she would ask God, sometimes in silence and sometimes in a shout, but always with a smile:
“Why me, Lord? Why me! What did I do to deserve to be loved by and to love someone as special as my mother, a true gift of God’s amazing grace!”
And like her mother, the daughter discovered a perfect peace.
A re-telling of Ashley and Mandy’s remembrances of their mother,
Nadine Petroff Martin, July 5, 1949 – September 17, 2013