This post ran originally in 2012 on Bright Monday, the blog of Pepperdine Chaplain Dave Lemley.
It was the day before my graduation from college that I realized my mother was dying.
It had been months since I saw her last. They pulled into the parking lot of my college apartment, and I rushed out to embrace them both, overjoyed that mom and dad had arrived. My bank account was empty, and I had been surviving on a single box of macaroni and cheese for three days. Now that the parents had arrived, I would not only be showered in hugs and kisses and be called “our baby” … I would finally get a square meal.
Over the next 24 hours I noticed the changes. The tell-tale markers I remembered from her mother’s illness before were no longer hints of unanswered questions; the signs were prominent. Time always tells the truth. This was a truth I could no longer hide from. The illness that had taken my grandmother, an evil that could only have been designed in hell, would soon rob my mother of her poise and grace, her kindness and capability.
I look back at the sunshine-y photos taken that beautiful weekend in Malibu, with the blue blue ocean posturing beneath a blue blue sky, my best friends and roommates posing, their arms around my neck, black gowns and mortar boards trying to climb into the wind, and in all of them I am smiling. At least my face was.
By the time I turned 23 she was gone. My champion, my confidant, my closest friend was stolen by a genetic illness that replaced what should have been with dementia and disability. Every event since, every monumental and pivotal event in my life, I have lived and survived and I’ve done it without her.
The birth of our first child, and then our second. First house and second house. Triumphs and losses. Good days and bad days. Feast, and famine.
For the last 16 years I have lived without my mother.
But I have never been mother-less.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. – John 19:25-27 (NIV)
Jesus’ last act on the cross was a very human one. A son, the eldest son—in a patriarchal society—providing for the needs of his mother. Joseph, we can assume, is gone. There were other children but for whatever reason, Jesus did not leave her care to them. He left her care to John. The beloved friend.
To be the beloved friend of God With Us is a weighty title. John himself described this last act on the cross and I think it is important to note—Jesus did not just ask John to care for his mother, to care for a widow in her distress.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
Perhaps John needed Mary, just as much as Mary needed John.
As we, each of us, draw near to the cross this Easter, to contemplate and remember, we draw nearer, but default, to one another. It’s crowded down here at the foot of the cross – we are not alone.
As we draw near to the cross this Easter—look around. There is family waiting here for you. Whatever—whomever—you have lost, I believe that He continues to provide for us here. The community and people who join us at the foot of the cross, we are here for one another. Friends, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.
I can never have my mother back. But in the community of people that I have joined at the foot of the cross, I have found champions, mentors, confidants and friends.