After I wrote my post https://www.lifeinallitsfullness.blog/blog/other/what-mothers-day-means-to-me/ about losing my mum when I was 14, my friend asked me how I had managed to continue to be faithful to God in the face of such a loss? How do I reconcile faith in a loving God and suffering? I promised her I would write up my answer, but that, as it may benefit others, I would blog my answer.
I need to unravel a bit to help to explain my answer. As a 12 year old, with a mum recently diagnosed with cancer, I vividly recall sitting in school assembly as prayers were being said. I specifically chose not to partake in those prayers because I felt it would be hypocritical, as I had no belief in God. I believed in caring for the earth, for caring for animals and other people, I believed in caring for the created but not worshipping the one who created all these things. I had never understood that Jesus loved me and wanted to live in a relationship with me, despite going to Sunday school from time to time and singing occasionally in the church choir. Having a relationship is not just about knowing who someone is, but it is spending time with them and feeling their love for you and offering your love in return. I just hadn’t realised my need for that love yet.
For over 2 years I watched Mum slowly deteriorate from an active English teacher to a woman bound to her bed by the illness that consumed her. During this time our vicar would come along and pray with Mum. Did Mum have faith? I think so, but it was a quiet faith.
The day Mum passed I was on a school trip. I was off in Dovedale, climbing over the stepping stones, not realising that I was about to be stepping into a new and painful season of life. When I returned to school, our vicar was there to collect me, along with my sister. She broke the news, that Mum had passed a couple of hours before. I laughed. I felt so bad, not about Mum dying, but my inappropriate laughter. I didn’t understand my response and yet of course I was in shock, but a 14 year old is not equipped to understand the nuances of grief. I had laughed and I felt like a fraud, why couldn’t I cry like a normal person? I had no idea at the time, or for many years later, that grief doesn’t look like it does in films, grief is personal and there is no one right way to grieve.
We got home and the police were there because her death was unexpected (she was never officially terminal) and the house was full of family friends. There were many cups of coffee and tea to prepare and the fridge was lacking in milk. I saw my opportunity to do something, and as a ‘doer’ I jumped at the chance to cycle 3 miles to the nearest shop. I’d never done it before, but my new life of responsibility began at that moment.
Her funeral came and went, but still no tears fell. I stored them deep inside where they leaked out within a few months, in eating disorders. For 7 years I coped with the internal pain through using food as a means for comfort and a way of purging the pain inside. It was only when I met Phil that I finally I started to feel safe enough to let go. I recollect one weekend, at about 21, when I cried all weekend as I became aware of what I’d lost, finally my grieving had begun. I never cried with my family because they were each carrying their own grief and they didn’t need mine as well. I just got on with life, but underneath I was broken.
In the initial few months after Mum’s death I turned to boys for attention and discovered the short term satisfaction of teenage lusts and parties. It wasn’t long before I was heading for self destruction. On a school art trip to Paris, my teacher found me on the balcony, leaning over. I wasn’t trying to end it all, but I had no sense of self preservation, I was rapidly careering towards a very dark place.
Coming home I think I knew I was searching, but it took a conversation with my sister to show me the place I should be looking. One afternoon my sister, who is 6 years older than me, and I were discussing Mum’s death and she explained what had happened that day.
Mum was lying in bed, talking with our cleaning lady and told her that the room was getting lighter and there was someone coming to get her. I think our cleaner knew that the end was near and so she ran to get the vicar from 2 doors down and he sat with Mum until she passed away within the hour.
So someone came to get Mum? The room got lighter? Who and why? Questions raced round my head for some time as I dwelt on the situation that had unfolded that day. The answer came one day soon after, when my eyes fell upon a booklet that my sister had brought home from university. It explained that Jesus had died for my sins and that by believing in him I could have peace today and for eternity. As I read the words I knew I had the answer I had been searching for. At that moment I prayed to God, declaring my belief in Jesus as my Saviour and asking for forgiveness for all that I had done wrong. That was the end of one chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful story. It is a story of beauty from ashes, the story of my life, given to my Saviour and the wonderful way he has transformed every single part of it.
That was the end of my desperate searching for attention from boys. I remember saying to a boy I met at a party the following week, that I wouldn’t kiss him, as was expected, because I was a Christian now and I didn’t think that kissing random boys was appropriate for me now!
A few days later I popped round to see our vicar to ask him if I could be confirmed. He was rather surprised to see a teenager on his doorstep asking such a question, as he was a vicar of a small village church with no youth! This always reminds me that God doesn’t need great youth programmes, although these are important, to reach the hearts of young people, his Holy Spirit is more powerful than anything we can ever say or do.
Since then I’ve never looked back. I wobbled off the narrow path for a short while just before I met Phil, who was also wobbling a bit, but together we came back to our faith with renewed strength to follow Jesus.
So my answer to the question, how can a loving God take away the mother of a young teenage girl and leave her broken? God loves me and wants to spend eternity with me. He used an awful situation to draw me to him and away from a life headed towards self-destruction. Without my Mum’s death I might never have come to know Jesus, who has given me a life of joy, not always an easy life, but one in which I am secure in his love for me and full of his joy. My Mum’s death was a tragedy, but through it God has helped me to find life, life in all its fullness.