Some things that remind me of my mom:
the sweet smell of summer corn boiling,
the shape of my own feet,
Hotel California by the Eagles.
The cold, tense atmosphere of hospitals,
my sister’s face, light-blue eyeliners,
the taste of black liquorice, my own mental battles.
After a lifetime of struggling with depression, my mom took her life on an autumn day 10 years ago. Did she take it? Did she lose it? Did she give it up? I was 23 then, a girl living abroad, studying, and trying to figure out the first messy years of marriage. I’m 34 now, and it’s still hard to say out loud what happened, and how it shattered my heart and shaped my life.
The only other person I’ve ever met whose mother committed suicide was a nurse who took my vitals at a doctor’s office when I was pregnant with my daughter. I felt an instant connection to her and wished I could have stayed there to talk. Please, help me, please, tell me how you do it. How do you get through life without a mother? Will it always hurt this much? Will I always feel like an uprooted tree?
When other people are hurting, it’s easy to give the good theological answers for pain, anguish, evil in the world. When you are the one going through the valley of the shadow of death, though, when you are the one feeling like life is squeezing you so hard you can’t breathe anymore and you have no idea where God is, these familiar answers, true as they may be, won’t satisfy the heart.
What’s so hard about grief is re-imagining the future without the person we lose, then actually living through each new stage of life without them. From a motherless daughter I eventually became a motherless mother and was desperately overwhelmed by going through this profound experience without my own mom. I had loving and great family members and friends around me but no one should or can fill the space a mother leaves. No one looks at you the same way, no one strokes your hair with the same ease, no one wants to listen to your breastfeeding woes for a month.
In the last decade I have asked God WHY? a million times in a million situations. Why me? Why my mom? Why did it end like this? Why did she have the struggles she did? Why weren’t there more resources available? Why couldn’t she make a different choice? Why did You not save her life? Why isn’t she here to love my kids? Why did You allow for my heart, my family’s heart to break like this? Why, why, why? I’ve been back and forth more times than I care to admit, asking these questions and explaining to myself what I know of God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, of the freedom He gave us, and of the tragic consequences of living as sinful people in a world full of brokenness. It makes sense, but in the end my heart is never stilled for long.
In the waves of this tragedy, I never questioned if God existed, but I started wondering what kind of a God He was. What kind of a Father lets His daughter die like this, hopeless, sick, terrified, and lets her children go through the cruel, lonely, gut-wrenching reality of picking up the pieces and moving on abandoned.
I didn’t read A Grief Observed by C S Lewis until a couple years ago. I felt hot tears running down my face when I discovered these words, expressing exactly what I had come to realise in my own thoughts:
“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”
How could I possibly put my trust in Him again, put my heart in His hands again? If He’s good, and loving, and all-powerful and things like this can happen under His watch, I better guard myself.
And this is it. Trust. It comes down to trust. For so long I’ve been living in constant caution and fear, pretending that I can cover my heart with bubble wrap to protect it from any further possibilities of shattering. I’ve been withholding my trust, afraid that if I give my all, He will play a cruel trick on me again. I’ve been following Him to the end of the world with a thin, invisible wall around my heart.
Oh, but I am exhausted of holding back and doubting my Father’s love. I’m tired of hesitating and questioning. I’m tired of the whispers I know all too well: “Don’t you remember how He abandoned you? Don’t you know you are not safe with Him? You can ask and pray as much as you want; in the end, He’ll just do whatever He wants.” I long for the intimacy of trusting Him fully with childlike abandon, trusting that His heart is for me no matter what happens.
Recently a counsellor prayed with me and helped me ask Jesus where He was when my mom died. I needed Him to talk to my heart when my mind had grown so numb to the answers I kept repeating to make sense of the pain. She helped me question the lies I’ve unconsciously come to believe: that He turned his face, that He was absent, that evil was victorious that day.
In my mind I saw Him hold my mom’s lifeless body at the end, forgiving her, and I saw Him shielding me as I received the most terrible phone call of my life. I saw Him in the room, I felt His presence. I choose to believe these images because I asked Him to talk to me and because they are in line with His character, with His heart. I saw Him as the One experiencing all the sins and all the consequences of these sins, all the brokenness of my life and my mom’s. The only One who’s ever been abandoned by the Father, the only One He turned His face from was Jesus.
For so long I didn’t know how to include God in this story. But I’m learning to tell it differently now—a story of His faithfulness to me, to us, in the deepest darkness. I see His gentleness, His constant presence, His peace slowly wash over this picture like a layer of opaque paint, I see it run into the deep, sharp cracks and fill them up. Walking with me in the valley, coming around me, the same God every single day of my life. And I can say that even when these incomprehensible, terrible things happened, I am confident that He was with me and He was with my mom. And that changes everything.