On the Death of my Mother
It was the call I was dreading. The hospice nurse phoned during chapel at the seminary with the news: “Your mother has 24-48 hours to live.” At 95, my mother had been in decline for about six months, and in rather severe decline for almost 3 ½ weeks, from just before Christmas. So out I went to Town and Country Healthcare, where she lived the last six years of her life, with my wife joining me soon after. The nurses had placed her into a special room for the situation, and there she lay.
The death rattle was overwhelming. O, Adam! O, Eve! What have you wrought? What inheritance have you bequeathed to us? What end have you destined for us? There was no greater testimony to the desire of a human being to hold onto life and to the inevitability of death, as I watched the bitter struggle between the two.
My mother’s quest for life was valiant, and we went home after 6+ hours of keeping watch. The (second) call came at 2 a.m. Coraine M. Voelz had gone to be with Christ. I went out immediately to Town and Country and was alone with her remains until the undertaker came. In death, everything is so still. But—
But, we are not as those who have no hope! With the promise of the Resurrection, my mother’s stillness had a dynamic quality that I had never felt before. As she lay unmoving, the promise of her baptism—June 17, 1917—spoke loudly, as it were, declaring: “This is NOT the end. Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, and just as he is risen from the dead, so they, too, shall rise!” The hymn verse came back to me:“…Can the head, Rise and leave his members dead?” In the midst of death, all I could think of was Resurrection—indeed, my friend and colleague Jim Brauer, emeritus professor at Concordia Seminary, is truly right: “The death of one’s mother, like nothing else, causes one to think of Resurrection.”—but not because I wanted Resurrection to be the case, but because our Lord has declared that it is so: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, even if he dies, he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall surely never die” (John 11: 25, 26).
It always comes down to promise. Promise is the very foundation of the Christian life and hope. That’s why I’m a Lutheran. And that’s why we sang Easter hymns at my mother’s funeral.
Editor’s Note: In the last six months, three New Testament professors At Concordia Seminary lost a parent. Each has written a devotional piece reflecting on that loss and hope in Christ.