Facing Grief and Finding Faith

I stepped quietly into the room where my mother lay sleeping and walked to her bedside. I took her hand, thin and bony, and held it to my face. Struggling not to cry, I leaned down and kissed her forehead.

“Mom,” I whispered, “The nurses are going to put a tube through your nose and into your stomach to drain it. It will help you not feel nauseous anymore, okay? So don’t panic. They’re here to help you and as long as you hold still, it won’t hurt.”

At first she didn’t respond.

I didn’t think she could hear me, but then she opened her eyes and turned to me and smiled.

“I just saw Jesus,” she said. “He told me…” Whatever insight Jesus had made my mother privy to, it was lost in a garble of sleepy syllables, but her thin hands arched above her as she tried to explain. She laughed quietly and smiled at me, happier than I’d seen her in days.

Then, for reasons I still cannot articulate, I felt moved to sing to her our favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee…”

I made it through the first line before tears choked my voice,

but she, who had barely talked in days, smiled at the sound, and proceeded to sing the rest of the verse and the first chorus back to me. Her voice was clear and unhindered, the way it used to be when she sang solos at church. She was even mostly on key.

And this thought popped into my head,

“I’m closer than you think.”

And along with those words an image : Jesus, gently and patiently and lovingly coaxing my mother away from this world and into the next.

In that moment, a peace and a joy descended on me, something that I had not felt in more than a year.

She died five days later.

After 14 years of fighting against breast cancer, her body had had enough. I watched her vomit several times a day for months before that, watched her abdomen distend not with fat but with fluid, while the rest of her body withered until she was Auschwitz thin.

Forgive my graphic description. There’s something about terminal illness that strips us of our preferred pretenses, the things we wish we didn’t know.

And there is something about watching the people we love die that kind of death that shifts our perspectives on life, on the eternal. It’s an experience akin to staring, nose-to-paper at a stereogram until suddenly, Bugs Bunny’s giant face emerges three-dimensional from empty, chaotic design.

I had always had faith.

I had always believed in Christ and proclaimed Him as my Savior. I had always believed in Heaven as a real place, a place I would go to someday.

But I believed in Heaven the way that I believe in the quadratic formula; it exists somehow, but I just didn’t get the logistics.

I believed in Heaven the way that I believe in six figure incomes; some people have arrived, others are on their way, some are working their asses off to make it, some claim they’re ambivalent, and others just don’t have what it takes.

How foolish I was, how flat and empty and selective was my concept of God’s grace.

In the days before and the days immediately following my mother’s death, life took on a distinct and urgent spirituality. The gap between where I placed God and Heaven and the spiritual world and where I lived my every day life, down here on this tiny planet earth, grew smaller and smaller as I listened to that still, small voice,

“I’m closer than you think.”

It didn’t ease the grief of our goodbye. However, my hatred for life, my distrust of God, my self-perpetuated isolation from His Spirit was not something I clung to anymore.

I wasn’t ready to be motherless, but I was finally ready and able to pray that impossible prayer, God, Please take her Home.

Have you experienced grief? How has it challenged or grown your faith?

  • http://ramblingbarba.com Ken Hagerman(The Barba)

    Thanks so much for allowing us the privilege of reading your personal story. My Granny died about 3 weeks before my first child was born. She was instrumental in my life and that was a devastating thought that she would not be a part of my childrens lives. However, I know she is with the Father and I want to make that reunion.

  • http://www.jessiwhitt.wordpress.com Jessi

    My dad passed away 2 weeks ago of colon-rectal cancer. He was a true example of living out his faith in Jesus Christ. I’ve been a believer for 15 years, but seeing my dad the few weeks before he passed away and after, I’ve really had some tough questions enter my mind. I’d like to think his passing has challenged my faith in a positive way. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • http://twitter.com/lizzykipps Elizabeth

    I have been spared of experiencing much grief for the majority of my life. But several months ago, we learned that my 17-year-old cousin, who had been battling a rare form of cancer for just over a year, was beyond the cure of doctors and medicine. I was present when my grandparents found out that their grandson was going to die, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. All I wanted was to run away and hide from this overwhelming sadness that seemed to be enveloping my family. As the weeks and months have passed, though, I have been even more overwhelmed by the palpable grace of God in this situation. He IS close. And as Corrie Ten Boom put it, “there is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still.” Things might get bad, they might get really REALLY bad. But He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. My faith is rooted in that promise.

  • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com bethany

    I love that quote, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing it!

    And to Jessie and Ken, my condolences and sympathies for your losses. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  • http://sandraheskaking.com Sandra Heska King

    Having recently lost my own mom to an aggressive brain cancer, this touched me deeply. I’m grateful for being able to spend those last weeks living in the hospice home with her. I’m much more aware that we are all closer than we think and of the importance of unwrapping every moment as the gift it is.

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Sandra. As hard as it is to live through it, I wouldn’t have traded that time with my mom for anything in the world. It truly is a blessing to have time to say goodbye. My prayers are with you.

  • Amber


    I always admired you for your strength and ability to overcome any obstacle you faced since I’ve known you. Your mom was an incredible woman, and I only hope since Christ has brought her back home to Him that she’s no longer in pain.

    What a great article, thank you for allowing everyone to read!

    Amber (West) Parr

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you for reading and for your kind words, Amber. Hope you are well! 

  • Debbie Hart

    Oh, my word, Bethany you are a phenominal writer and have such an incredible way of expressing your feelings & observations! What maturity! This article totally knocked my socks off! You are a rare jewel whom your mother was extremely proud of! God bless you!

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, Debbie!

  • http://www.wisdomtown.com Kathy Beal

    Awedome post! You relate your journey with such clarity, honesty, and humility. How precious of God to allow your mom the honor of bringing you closer to His heart as she slipped from this earth. He used her to bring you into this world, and He used her to draw you into His. Amazing, lovely, sweet, and dear – thank you for sharing this!

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      So well put, Kathy. Thank you for your kindness.

  • http://amberwackford.wordpress.com Amber Wackford

    I appreciate the beauty of this post in a way I wish I didn’t. I lost an aunt and an uncle to cancer this week. I wrote about it yesterday:


    What I’ve found is that through the company of friends and faith grounded in a belief that God is Love, I’ve ended up some place good when it seemed like I was only facing bad.

    Thank you for writing. All I can really say, I guess, is…I get it.

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you for sharing your own story, Amber. Five days after my mom died, her aunt passed away, too, so I totally understand that severe grief in losing not one but two people in your family at once. My prayers are with you and your family after such a difficult time! 
      We’re always looking for stories of God’s goodness hear at Prodigal, if you ever want to share your experiences with the rest of our community! 

  • Kristy

    This is beautiful, Bethany. This is beneath-the-surface, raw and real. I’ve never heard it this way. I could hear you singing as I read the words to the hymn. Great piece :)

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you, friend. Much love. <3

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Bethany, this was a beautiful tribute – I was truly moved by it. I somewhat envy the fact that you had time with your mother in her final days. Both my parents passed suddenly. My mom was in a car crash and my dad died of heart failure 18 months later. Here’s a post I wrote on the five-year anniversary of my dad’s passing. http://bit.ly/xlvr7J 

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      Tor, thanks so much for sharing this. I wrote my mother’s obituary, so I understand how hard it is to try to put words to that loss so soon after the fact. But it’s how we writers put things into perspective, right? I love your writing. Can’t wait to read more of your stuff here on Prodigal again soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003188882011 Katherine Elizabeth

    I lost my father when I was eleven. Now, 8 years later, it is still a constant struggle; impossible to grasp, fearful of the truth.
    Your words mean something. They impower me. They may not have healed me, but they touched me.
    So, thank you.

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  • Meredith Miller

    As you know, I lost my daughters Kate and Lucy January 8, 2102. And I have learned that grief will not, in fact, kill me like I thought it might. It also won’t go away, not that I really expected it to. I hope God feels very near to you on this anniversary, Bethany.