Learning to Laugh Again
Faith comes through in the worst of times.
by Jamie Schaeffer as told to Shirley Quiring Mozena
I choked out the words “Can’t we pick her up and get her off the driveway? It seems so wrong!”
“I’m sorry, we can’t do that,” the tech said gently, shaking out a folded blanket and placing it carefully over my mother. “The coroner needs to come first.”
Coroner? How could my mother be dead? She was only forty-seven years old. She’d been complaining about heartburn in recent days, but the doctor had recommended Tums to treat it.
On that Sunday morning in May 2013, my mother told me she wasn’t feeling well. “I’m going to the store to get another antacid,” she said.
“I’ll go with you.” Church could wait, even though Mom had always made sure I went to Sunday school and church while I was growing up. Grabbing our purses, we took off in my car.
Mom and I looked out for each other. She struggled with Type 1 diabetes, had undergone a kidney transplant, and took lots of medications. I had been a two-pound preemie, so when I was sick as a kid, Mom showed me lots of attention.
In fact, if either of us were sick, we’d pass the day watching old TV shows. We laughed through the antics of the Brady Bunch, were indignant when Nellie in Little House on the Prairie snubbed Laura and Mary. When Mom laughed, I teased her that her wheezing sounded like a seal.
Now at the pharmacy, Mom muttered as she opened the package of antacids. “I wish the doctor would have prescribed something better.”
Once we pulled into our driveway, she opened the door. “I really don’t feel good,” she said as she swung her legs out and pushed out of the car. When Mom turned to close the door, she looked at me with surprise. Then she hit the pavement with a thud, the contents of her purse flying across the driveway.
I ran to the other side of the car and knelt beside my mother. Her face was gray, her eyes closed. “Mom! Mom!” I shouted. No answer.
Grabbing her cell phone, I punched 911 and told the dispatcher what had happened. While he asked some questions, I began CPR. “Come on, Mom!”
Minutes passed. Though I was frantic, a calm came over me — outside myself. Bible verses swirled through my mind: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). In the chaos of the moment, I cried, “Lord, she’s Yours to take. Your will be done.”
I’m not sure I meant that entirely. When the paramedics administered epinephrine and shocked her heart, I found myself silently praying, God, please let her live. Make that Your will.
Despite my shock, I had presence of mind to call my aunts and grandma, to ask them to come quickly. But they didn’t get there fast enough. After what seemed like twenty hours, but was only twenty minutes, the tech looked at me with a sad expression. “I’m so sorry. We’ve done everything we can.”
Just then, my dad’s car roared into the driveway. Flinging open the door, the engine still running, my father jumped out and ran toward Mom.
The tech started to tell him what happened, but I interrupted. “It’s too late. She’s gone.”
Dad wordlessly sat beside Mom’s body. Just a few minutes ago, she and I had returned from the store. Now Dad and I, stunned by her sudden death, waited for the coroner. With my father numb from grief, I answered the coroner’s questions when he arrived.
I also tried to collect myself when the family came. They were just as bewildered as we were. Mom’s death was too soon, too fast.
Two days later, we met with our pastor to plan the memorial service, and each of us took on a task for the big day. Mine was to create a slide show.
I thought I’d never stop crying as I scrolled through the photos scanned into the computer. There we are at Disneyland! My parents in their wedding photo look so young. That tiny baby in Mom’s arms is me!
Early in the morning of the memorial service, I panicked. “I don’t think I can do this,” I sobbed to my cousin. “Just go on without me.”
“You have to come,” Carla answered. “Your mom would want you to be there.”
“Don’t tell me what she’d want. You don’t know!” I wailed. “I just can’t face this. It’s too hard!” I looked at my reflection, eyes red and swollen from weeping, my hair a mess.
Surviving the service
With all the courage I could muster, I dressed and covered my tear-blotched face with make up. I have to do this — for Mom. I’m her only child.
At the service, our pastor talked about how my mother had placed her trust in Jesus Christ, how she loved her family. He reminded us that Mom would spend eternity with her Savior, Jesus — the only truth that brought me comfort.
Dealing with grief
I thought things might improve once I got the memorial service behind me, but I had nightmares about Mom’s death and cried myself to sleep nearly every night. My dad grieved too, but we didn’t share our pain.
Knowing I couldn’t go on like this, I joined GriefShare, a grief recovery support group, and found people who understood me.
Still, enormous grief threatened to drown me. Five months later, it almost seemed my dad wanted me to move on and start a new life. So I moved away from home and started a new job in a another state, hoping the change would remove my grief. It didn’t.
About a year after Mom’s death, trying to find some kind of “normal,” I moved back home, only to discover my dad living with another woman. In our home! How could he do this? He was a Christian but had compromised his beliefs.
I couldn’t believe it. Had Dad worked through his grief?
Finding another woman helped my dad cope, but it made my grief worse. His decision hurt me deeply. In truth, I had lost both my parents. I gained courage to move forward through the verse “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
Five years have passed since that unforgettable morning. I rarely have nightmares anymore, but I still miss Mom. She was my best friend, my laughing buddy. One day, we’ll be reunited, and we’ll laugh again.
Until then, I will survive, but life will never be the same for me. I know I’ll grieve when I get married and Mom isn’t there to help me choose my dress, and when I have babies she won’t hold. But I take comfort that Jesus promises to be with me and will continue to see me through.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.