This November marks ten years since my mother’s death from cancer. It’s hard to believe, really. There’s at once both the sense of “only ten?” and also “ten already?!” I was then in my first year of med school, attending New York Medical College (her alma mater) and taking the first plunge into our shared profession of medicine. Barely three months into the start of classes, I was already drenched in medical facts — truly “a firehose into a teacup,” as the analogy goes. It was a period in my life that would prove thrilling in its scope, an opportunity to dive into mysterious depths of the human body and there explore its wonders. Yet at the time, in the midst of grief’s ache, it seemed more like a powerful riptide, threatening to pull me under.
I have written elsewhere of the experience during my mother’s final weeks of illness. Yet as it does every year, autumn calls to mind different memories – of friends and family filing past the grave, offering unforgettable kindness simply by their presence; of the chill in the air that gray, late-November afternoon; of the cemetery’s bare hillside, and a strong-appearing, fragile-feeling girl tottering on it. Even now, ten years later, the memory of it can take my breath away. We stood there, my father, sister and I, beneath a Japanese maple, mourning together and yet alone, struggling to maintain our footing on the quaking ground below. That tree was just a sapling then, bare-branched and bracing for the approaching winter. It’s a decade older now, considerably taller and stronger for having marked those years.
I wonder sometimes what my mother, an ophthalmologist, would say of my choosing this path – family medicine; writing; teaching; living in Nepal. It’s not that I think she wouldn’t approve; her heart was one of service and mission, of the love of medicine and the care of patients. My being here is surely fruit of that legacy, and my family continues to be incredibly supportive in every way. I know, too, how much she’d enjoy sharing in these wild stories and experiences. It’s more that I can’t imagine what those conversations would sound like. Ten years ago, I was just beginning to come into my own as an adult; there was still much growing left to do, many conversations yet to be had. It is a deep consolation to know that one day, in the fullness of time, we will someday have them, she and I. Likewise, it has been consoling to have had those conversations over the years with many of you who also knew and loved her.
This is, then, perhaps best of all an elegy to the woman who was beautiful mother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, physician and friend to so many. It is at the same time an encouragement to we who, thankful for her memory, have gone on living, loving and caring for one another, as we seek to serve a hurting world in this same Spirit of Christ.
A dear friend (and longtime friend of my mother’s) shared a beautiful reflection with me this morning on the unrelenting, daily pressures we all feel, and on discerning how best to spend our time. She writes: “The key for me is to try to be in the center of His will. When I spend time on what He wants, there is peace, not anxiety. It is a daily battle for me not to get sidetracked…”
With this call in mind, let us fix our eyes on Him, the same Lord who has received my mother into glory, that we might live in such a way as to hear for ourselves those sweet words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…”