I got the call early in the morning. My mother had died overnight. I was with her briefly the day before, but I had expected to see her again. Oh,I knew she was very sick. She had battled ovarian cancer for more than a year. But somehow, I was still surprised. Psychologists call it denial. No matter the reality, we create our own false reality and then are surprised when the obvious occurs.
So February 17 is now among those most significant dates in my life. My birthday I suppose is on the list, certainly the day I got married (42 years ago this June), the days each of our four children were born, our six grandchildren and other milestones.
But February 17 is in a category of its own. I was already in my eighth year as a pastor. I had done plenty of funerals, hard funerals, not just the glorious funerals of aged saints. My first funeral, five weeks after I became a pastor was for still born twins, placed together in an infant casket and taken to the cemetery in the back seat of my car; then a sudden heart attack of a man not much older than I am now; a seventeen year old boy killed in a car accident; a six year old boy who succumbed to leukemia,my then 7 and 5 year old daughters knew Toby well and were playmates of his sisters. Sobering? Yes, but I faced death okay, even confident. Most funerals were celebrations, highlighting the glories of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
But February 17, 1984, all that changed. No, not the celebration of the Gospel. That became even more precious because of that day. But the hard reality of death – the loss, the separation, the unpreparedness. That’s what was new. I realized I didn’t understand death like I thought I did. I hadn’t empathized with grieving families like I thought I could. Death is so cruel, an awful enemy. I desperately wanted to be a little boy again, comforted in my mother’s arms. But I had grown up, declared my independence, and appropriately so.
When Mama turned 60, I teased her about getting old. She cried and I didn’t know what to say. Now, that I’m 60 plus three years, I can’t believe I did that, but we learn what not to say by saying things we shouldn’t have said I suppose marriage teaches us that more than anything. I had no unresolved issues with Mama. It was just the realization that I hadn’t appreciated her enough while I had her. I hadn’t expressed my love and gratitude for her faithfulness, her constant love, her patience, her teaching, her nurturing care, her tears of compassion.
Thirty years later, February 17 isn’t so much a day of sadness. Strangely, my other greatest loss to date was 18 years to the day of my mother’s death, the passing of my father, 12 years ago today. But it is now more a day of memorial thankfulness. No one gets to pick their parents. I didn’t get to choose mine. But providentially, I was born to Alton Ralph and Margaret Ruth McCormick Macy.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for parents who led me to You!
And even more, Thank you Heavenly Father, for sending your son to die for me and defeat death by His resurrection from the dead!
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:56, 57