A couple of years ago, I was asked to portray the Blessed Mother in a drama about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Every year at Easter, I always recall that experience to mind. I really threw myself into the acting. I tried to see everything that happened through Mary’s eyes—I prayed that she would give me insight into what she felt and saw and knew in each scene, and through that experience and by the grace of God I gained a little window into the passion of Christ that I could go back to year after year as a great meditation for Holy Week—until last year.
Last year, God gave me a similar yet different experience of the sorrow of his passion and the hope of his resurrection that would leave a mark on my thoughts of Holy Week—one that I never in my wildest dreams expected.
Last Wednesday marked a year since my mom passed away.
I had been serving with a missionary group for about 8 months and we were in Los Angeles at the time. My mom was pregnant with her 8th child. She had had complications with high blood pressure for her last pregnancy, but this time around it was going really well and we weren’t really worried. I got a call around midnight from my mom saying that her blood pressure had gone up and they went to the hospital. She said after they got there, it went back down and they gave her the option of inducing labor or having a C-section. My mom HATED C-sections, so she chose labor. She said she would keep me updated throughout the day while I was working a retreat for some middle school kids with my missionary team. Then we said a quick “love you” and hung up. After I hung up—something inside me said that that would be the last time I would talk to my mom. I pushed it out of my brain, and went to sleep, but that whole night I had dreams about getting “that phone call” telling me something had happened. I woke up to an update that she was only a few centimeters dilated and still had a ways to go so I carried on with my day. Around 10am I got a text from my dad of a picture of my new little sister, and god-daughter– Jennie Elizabeth—and I was so excited! But something gave me pause—that was a really quick labor. So I called my dad and he told me that my mom’s blood pressure had spiked again while he had gone to grab some food. She had a seizure and after it was over, she woke up and told the nurse that she was in pain. The placenta had ripped from the uterine wall and Jennie was without oxygen. They quickly put my mom under and did an emergency C-section.
Jennie was fine but my mom never fully regained consciousness after that.
What happened to her was essentially the perfect storm of pregnancy complications. My mom had DIC, which only happens to a small subset of women, where your blood loses its ability to clot. There was also a bleed in her abdomen that the doctors could not locate, so my mom began to bleed internally after the C-section. They had to put her on a ventilator because she could not breathe on her own anymore. A few hours after all of this happened, it was decided that I needed to leave my missionary team and fly home. I spent the night in the airport and caught a red-eye flight home. They said that during the afternoon my mom would occasionally open her eyes and was vaguely lucid. She seemed aware that she was in the hospital and would look around the room. I think at one point she tried to move and they had to restrain her arms after that. That night, my mom’s best friend told her I was on a plane home, and my mom squeezed her hand, and just like that she slipped back into unconsciousness.
I arrived early the next morning and the next 48 hours was an emotional roller coaster of life or death medical decisions and helping my dad take care of a newborn baby for my mom who couldn’t. When I walked into the hospital room, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My mom was normally 115 lbs soaking wet. The woman couldn’t gain weight if she tried, but the woman I saw in the bed with tubes coming out of every possible place was swollen beyond belief with eyes that couldn’t open. She was barely recognizable. They had to do a surgery on her that morning to drain the blood from her abdomen and they decided to pack her and leave her open for the time being with a draining tube. Her kidneys began to fail and they also had to put her on dialysis. The doctors said her blood needed to clot before they could take care of anything else and that the next 24 hours would be critical. I remember praying the entire next night “Jesus, let her blood be your blood.” I said it to myself over and over again and hoped for a miracle.
The following day, nothing had really changed, and my dad and I decided it would be best if I took Jennie home. When I got there, I took a shower, and tried to take a nap while she was napping. Around 3pm, I got a call from my dad. After all the hope and the prayers of those 3 days, it was time. He told me to come back to the hospital, so I left Jennie with family friends and when I got there he explained that my mom’s blood was starting to clot, but it was clotting in the dialysis machine which was making the toxins from my mom’s kidneys rush to her heart. They could thin her blood, but then she would just continue to bleed. They had already revived her twice by the time I got to the hospital. There was no longer anything they could do. Her heart would continue to stop. A few days before, my mom had posted on Facebook:
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
I don’t think she realized how true that statement would be for her life in just a few days.
My dad then asked me, “Should we let her go? Should we tell them to stop reviving her?”
I can tell you with absolute certainty that what came out of my mouth next was both the easiest and hardest thing I had ever said.
I told him we should let her go, and in that moment I knew it was right and I felt peace for the first time in 3 days.
I was so sad, but I was so at peace because something in me knew for the first time in my life with absolute certainty that this was God’s plan. Sitting around her bed with my family, waiting for her heart to slow to a stop, I began to know, though not completely, the sorrow, the hope, and the strength the Blessed Mother felt watching her son die on the cross.
Mary watched her son be beaten until he was unrecognizable. She watched him suffer as he walked with the cross up to Calvary. She watched him labor to breathe as he hung there. She felt the sadness and the sorrow for the pain of her son. She wished there was another way, but knew there wasn’t. She knew that she would miss him, but I believe she also knew that the suffering was worth the cost. She knew of her Son’s great love for us and she knew this was necessary in order for Him to gain salvation for those He loved. She knew that there was hope in this. She knew that there was hope, and that gave her strength.
In the same way, I knew of my mom’s great love for her children. I knew that if there was any way that she would want to leave this world—this would be it. Doing something she loved—being a mother– Giving that final piece of her heart to the world. I had hope and strength because my mom’s death was one of the greatest acts of love I’ve ever witnessed.
Bl.Mother Teresa once said
“ Love, to be real, it must cost– it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”
Her self-giving love was such a powerful witness of Christ’s sacrifice for me— and for all of us– one that will leave an indelible mark on my heart for the rest of my life.
After my mom passed, though, I began to feel the same confusion the apostles felt. After Christ died, they didn’t know what to do, so they hid. In the same way, I felt just as lost. My mom was my rock. The one who I turned to for comfort, for faith, for her opinion, and her advice. For the first time, I had to look at my world standing on my own two feet instead of leaning on her. I moved home to help my dad take care of Jennie and the rest of my siblings, and let me tell you— there were a lot of times this year that I hid just like the apostles. I hid from the people in my life that I cared about, from my own emotions, and even from God. There were a lot of times when I wasn’t strong, when I couldn’t feel the peace that I felt that first night quite as strongly—But God was still there in those moments too. I don’t know what I would do without my brothers, my dad,my family, my friends, my church community. The outpouring of love that I and my family have received from our community in this year has constantly reminded me that I was not lost, and that there was no need to hide. Through the suffering, the doubt, and the pain—the hope of new life breaks through. The promise of the resurrection and salvation of God permeated even my darkest times. All I had to do was grasp it and hold on. When I miss my mom, I always remember that because of the great love and passion of Christ, my mom has found salvation, and that always brings me joy.
Joy—true Easter joy—is not just about being happy.
Joy is the fruit of our faith, hope, and love. It’s knowing that God is working and is close to our hearts in the good and the bad. It’s knowing that God works for the good of those who love Him, and that the trials of this life are nothing compared to the eternity that is waiting for us in heaven.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor she has sorrow, because her hour has come, but when she delivers the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, because of the joy of knowing that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
This is my prayer for all of you this Easter—whoever you may be– that you would know the true Easter joy and let NO ONE or NOTHING take that joy from you. Whatever battle you are facing, big or small, be assured that Christ has already won. Know that He is and will always be victorious over suffering and death. YOU belong to Christ, who has purchased your salvation with His unending love.So when you are suffering, walk with Christ and his mother up to Calvary and share in his cross, but always remember that his suffering leads to the hope of new life and there is always a reason to rejoice!
HE IS RISEN!
In Memory of Gwen DeLaune
Jan 10, 1972- March 23, 2015