I didn’t want to go. Truthfully, I wanted to get out of it, not because I didn’t want to see my mother-in-law or spend valuable time with her, but because I was afraid.

I’ve never been good with illness. My scalp tingles and my feet sweat every time I get an immunization. I can’t look at the needle as it plunges into my bicep. When one of my kids throws up, I freak – my hands shake and my breathing gets fast and shallow and I lay awake all night, dreading when the next wave will hit.

I knew this situation would be far more difficult than dealing with a routine virus.

My mother-in-law was dying. I knew this would be the last time I would see her on Earth. I knew I would have to say goodbye. I knew I would have to help my children cope with seeing their grandmother bed-ridden and frail. And I didn’t know if I could cope with any of it.

I’ve always had a grave fear of death [read my post on vampires if you want to know just how grave]. It was worse as a non-believer – finding faith and God has helped enormously – but still, who actually welcomes death? Who isn’t just a little bit – or a lot – afraid of it?

I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to say goodbye. I was afraid I’d bawl, or worse, that I wouldn’t cry at all, that I would freeze cold inside. I was afraid to see what a dying person looked like. I was afraid to see someone I loved look like that. And of course, deep down I was also afraid of facing my own mortality.

I felt it in my gut as we drove north to Minnesota: the flight instinct. I wanted to run away.

"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." (Jonah 1:3)
I felt like Jonah on that drive north. Minnesota was my Nineveh. And I was desperate for a Tarshish, a place to escape my fear.

As we exited the interstate and wound through the city, I turned to Brad. “I’m afraid,” I told him quietly, glancing over my shoulder to make sure the kids didn’t hear. Brad rested his hand on the back of my neck as he drove, eyes still on the road. “It will be okay,” he soothed. “It’s still my mom; she’s still the same person. It’ll be okay.”

My husband, consoling and comforting me through his own grief, was right. It was okay.

As I sat on the edge of Janice’s bed and held her hand, God held mine. As I clasped her frail body, God clasped me in tight embrace.

Though the hole in my heart yawned aching and wide, I felt God’s presence that weekend in Minnesota. I saw him in the neighbor’s faces as they rang the doorbell bearing pans of lasagna, platters of homemade cookies and sliced fresh fruit. I saw him in my children as they ran up to Haukebo’s bedside for a squeeze before dashing off to resume games with their cousins. I saw him in my husband and his brother as they so tenderly cared for their mother. I saw him in cards and flowers lining the mantel, heard him in the sound of the telephone ringing non-stop. And most of all, I saw him in Janice herself, in the way she so selflessly cared for, accommodated and served all of us through her steady faith and unwavering love, even in the midst of her suffering.

My husband stayed in Minnesota to help care for his mom. I drove the boys back to Nebraska on Monday morning. I cried quietly while they watched a Scooby Doo movie in the backseat, tears streaming down my cheeks and neck as we sped by rustling corn stalks and cartwheeling windmills. But through empty gnaw and howling protest, I also felt the beginning of something unexpected: an incomprehensible peace. A peace that passed all understanding.


A little head's up: Next Monday I'll launch a brand-new weekly link-up community here called Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday. [I made a button – see the sidebar...now I just have to figure out how to get the Linky up and running!]. Feel free to come by Monday, or even later in the week, and link up a post about what you're mulling, either related to a scripture reading, sermon or hymn from a Sunday service or a verse or passage you've read or pondered during the week. Let's share what God is teaching us through his word...I can't wait to read what you have to say! 

Jennifer  – (February 7, 2011 at 6:38 AM)  

Beautiful post, Michelle. Yes, I think most are afraid of death in some way. I'm not sure that I'm afraid of death--I believe I will meet Jesus on the other side--but I am afraid of dying, if that makes sense. And, if we want to get into the craziness that is my brain, the concept of eternity freaks me out a little, too.

But as you experienced, I know I will experience peace. It's not something that I can understand, but I know it is something that He gives.

I look forward to participating in your link-up!

marlece  – (February 7, 2011 at 7:24 AM)  

I am glad the peace of Jesus was with you during this time. I know the Lord was with you putting words in your mouth and the touch of His in her time. You are a good daughter inlaw.

deodate  – (February 7, 2011 at 7:27 AM)  

Michelle, thank you for sharing what is deep in your heart. Your honesty and humility shines through your words. I'm so glad that you allowed God to comfort you and to see his work through others. I'm sure that your visit was a blessing for her.

Christine  – (February 7, 2011 at 7:29 AM)  

How poignant. Having lost a parent at a very young age and only now coming to terms with it, I can honestly say there is grace in acceptance, however hard it may be.

My condolences to you and your family through this difficult time.

Charming's Mama  – (February 7, 2011 at 8:32 AM)  

You know I've been there. Glad you found your peaceful place in the midst of it all.

Glad to see you are starting up a linky thing. I wondered when you would. I may or may not link up from time to time. Just call me 'Charlie Brown', 'cuz I'm so wishy-washy!

Leslie  – (February 7, 2011 at 8:57 AM)  

There is honesty here that is much needed. We have hope for life beyond death, but that doesn't mean that experiencing it is easy. So glad you found peace waiting for you...

Keli Gwyn  – (February 7, 2011 at 9:27 AM)  

My heart goes out to you in your loss, Michelle. I'm grateful the Lord gave you that sense of peace.

I experienced the same thing when my beloved mother-in-law lost her long battle with cancer some years ago. When the end came, we experienced what Hospice called a "beautiful death." She went peacefully and willingly into the waiting arms of the Lord she'd loved all her life. In the midst of my grief, I experienced peace.

Thanks for sharing from your heart in a beautifully written post.

Jodi  – (February 7, 2011 at 9:50 AM)  

This made me cry. I'm so greatful for the Lord's tender mercies, and how you expressed them here.

M.K.  – (February 7, 2011 at 10:59 AM)  

Wonderful post :) Such a hard thing to face, especially with your children. I was very afraid of death when I was younger. A recent study on heaven has totally changed my outlook. Now I take very literally what Christ says in the N.T. -- that those who believe in him will not die. I think the experience of "exiting" this earth is just that - a departure, a going from one room to the other. Real life starts then. I'm so eager to see what wonderful living God has for me there, that I'm really not very anxious. Aging and infirmity are a pain, true -- but they are short, in comparison to eternity on a beautiful New Earth with those I love. I'm excited about it!

Deidra  – (February 7, 2011 at 11:12 AM)  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deidra  – (February 7, 2011 at 11:16 AM)  

In "Stone Crossings" L.L. Barkat tells me that Jonah's name means "dove." Isn't that something? The man who's famous for his flight of fear was actually named for a bird that symbolized peace.

I think you found that. Peace. Right there. In the middle of grief.

Missy@Wonder, Friend  – (February 7, 2011 at 11:28 AM)  

So lovely. Isn't that peace miraculous?

Megan Willome  – (February 7, 2011 at 1:27 PM)  

See? Aren't you glad you went?
Having done it with my mother, yes, it's awful and beautiful, and I wouldn't trade one minute of her last days.
The poet, Elizabeth Alexander, says it is a holy thing to be invited in to see someone's dying. BTW, she wrote that about her mother-in-law.

Heidiopia  – (February 7, 2011 at 2:19 PM)  

Great idea, Michelle! I often think I don't spend enough time pondering and processing the verses and messages. Maybe this will help spur me on!
Happy Monday. :)

Laura  – (February 7, 2011 at 6:25 PM)  

This fear you describe...I think it's part of all of us. A dear friend died recently and when I was tucking my youngest in,I prayed for her family. I waited for him to ask about my friend...he doesn't know her, she is from my childhood. When he said nothing, I asked, "Aren't you curious about my friend who passed away?" "Well," he said. "I didn't want to be rude".
Oh, my goodness, I had to set him straight. We can't let our fear keep us from offering comfort to others, I told him (easy for me to say when I was the one needing the comfort, not the one required to give it!) He did a pretty good job after that, I must say.

YOur story always moves me, Michelle.

Amy Sullivan  – (February 7, 2011 at 7:40 PM)  

Tough topic, beautiful post. I sometimes find that plowing through our strongest fears brings the greatest peace.

Word on the street was you were starting this link-up soon. Count on me participating.

Southern Gal  – (February 7, 2011 at 8:14 PM)  

That fear is there in me, also. Yet I know He's there and enough for me in all circumstances. Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes it's so hard.

Tiffini  – (February 8, 2011 at 10:21 AM)  

a sense of longing and belonging stirred when I read your post. my heart feels the phote as I feel your words...

I Live in an Antbed  – (February 8, 2011 at 10:45 AM)  

He is so close to the brokenhearted and tenderly leads those with young. Thankful for His Sufficiency for you, for me.

Dawn  – (February 13, 2011 at 8:21 PM)  

brave girl... to bring this memory up close. and He's holding your heart yet again...

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