Chatting with the mature, lovely woman on my JetBlue flight Friday morning was a welcome change from the events in the media over the past few days. As soon as I sat down in the aisle seat, we began talking about everything from our mutual affection for our parents to our common desire to help those on the fringes of society. Our conversation led to a discussion about our mothers who both happened to have cancer in their lifetimes. Thankfully, her mother is still living with cancer, 14 years after her diagnosis. Sadly, my mother went home to God 2 years ago, only 3 years after her diagnosis. This peaceful soul seemed interested in the person of my mom, so I happily spoke to her about the woman who loved me most in this world.
Turning to her with my stiff, sore back I said “I actually gave a talk to our women’s group at church this past week and in it addressed my mom’s faith, strength and courage during her journey with cancer. I was comparing her to St. Joan of Arc and noting that the two women shared similar virtues in the face of daunting obstacles in their lives.” The stranger wanted to know more so I’ve decided to share excerpts from my talk in today’s blog. Make no mistake, this loving soul was placed in my path for a specific reason and I thank God, as it was a much-needed reminder of a person who made everyone feel better in her presence, who sought the best for others over herself and who gave more than she received. May we all be more like her!
Like Joan of Arc, my mother Joan did not seek the role that she was called to at the end of her earthly life. Being asked by God to step into a position that you feel unprepared to fulfill can be a daunting task for anyone. It was for Joan of Arc as she prepared to save her country from English domination during the Hundred Years War and it was for my mom as she battled inoperable stage 4 cancer. In her early 70’s, my mom had visions of continuing her role as an involved grandparent to her 8 beloved grandchildren, of being an active spouse to her husband of 50 years and a faithful friend/mother to her 3 adult children and their spouses. But God had other plans for Mom. He was asking her to be a witness to the power of love and trust in the Divine. My mom was to be an example of hope to so many who live without hope. She was being called to bring others back into communion with God, through her heroic example of acceptance, prayerfulness and faith. She would succeed on every measure.
On one occasion when mom was quite ill and admitted to the hospital after a chemo treatment, she demonstrated her true beautiful self to all around her. Mom was not able to communicate and was quite unresponsive in the hospital yet she kept whispering something about chicken to my sister and me. We thought she was just out of it but she persisted until my sister, a nurse practitioner, got right down in her face and asked her about the chicken. “Deliver it, deliver it” mom mumbled through labored breath. After that, we found my dad and asked if he understood. He responded that mom had prepared a chicken dinner for the Noah Shelter on Cape Cod and it was the meal for the homeless men and women tomorrow night. My sister and I stood in disbelief. Here was our beloved mom fighting for her life and all she could think about was the homeless men and women whom she cooked for each month. We took care of the chicken delivery but this experience taught us that our mother was so much more that even we understood. She was truly a saint on earth – a women who gave all of herself for others – not just when it was comfortable, but precisely when it was not. This was a sign of Christ living within her.
One month after mom’s diagnosis, on September 14, 2013, I wrote the following: “I have had to watch someone I love and admire suffer greatly. This pain is so hard to bear and it is a pain that I wish no daughter ever has to experience. But as much as it is hard for me, I imagine how much harder it is for mom. She is so stoic, strong, faithful, trusting and unwilling to complain at anything. Her head burns, her sleep is deprived, her body itches, she is nauseous and yet she does NOT complain. I can’t understand it other than to say it is the power of God. God is so close to her. “ I share this journal entry because it reveals a woman who is deeply connected to God. Like my mom, Joan of Arc was also in pain due to the difficult task she was called to accomplish. But like my mom, Joan of Arc was a deeply faithful woman so she was able to see the hand of God in everything and follow Him without delay. Both my mom and Joan of Arc possessed the gift of a deep faith, nurtured by a life of daily prayer thus they were able to handle unexpected challenges that life presented them with grace and courage. This is a beautiful example for all of us.
As the plane landed and we began to depart, I turned to my new friend and thanked her. “For what” she asked? “For asking me about my mom today…I needed to recall her courage, thoughtfulness and strength right now in my life and you gave me the opportunity to do so.” And with that, we left the JetBlue gate via different paths destined to go our separate ways forever, but connected for one brief, beautiful moment in time.