A Gift of Faith

A Gift of Faith

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

A Gift of Faith

Growing up in suburban Baltimore, my brother, sister and I were typical kids. What set us apart from the other children in the neighborhood was our Irish Catholic upbringing. We were the “Catholic-school” kids. All of our friends went to the public school. They got to ride the school bus. They got new clothes every fall. They always talked about people we only knew from their yearbooks. And they definitely weren’t forced to go to Mass every Saturday night!

Some of my friends went to church with their families. I even went with them a few times, but I often found myself defending my Catholic beliefs. Many times I’d come home and ask my mother questions like why we prayed to the Blessed Mother.

My younger brother, Chris, questioned our religion for different reasons. A sensitive kid, he was always disturbed by news reports of violence and famine. As a result, the question he would often ask my mother is, “How do you know there is a God?”

My mother enjoyed these conversations. She would sit for hours in her rocking chair, happy to share her beliefs, and hoping to provide comfort and strength to her children as they grew into independent young adults. Her faith was always evident. She lived her life the way she thought God wanted her to. That is one reason why she was okay with the thought of dying. She often said, “When it’s my time, it’s my time. It’s not up to me.” She accepted God’s will for what it was.

Her faith sustained her through every challenge in life. It wasn’t until the Persian Gulf War that I realized how powerful that faith could be. Fresh out of college and a young army officer, I had no idea what a war would be like. When I got deployed to Saudi Arabia, my mother sent me a card that read, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” I kept that card next to my pillow so it would be the last thing I’d see at night and the first thing I’d see in the morning.

After I had my own children, I started to realize how special the relationship between a mother and her children is. I had always loved my mother, but once I became one, I began to really appreciate her. When I was younger, I had sworn I’d do something more than “just” be a mom, which seemed so trivial, so unimportant. As events unfolded, however, I found myself making sacrifices for my family. I learned how powerful a mother truly is.

My mother and I talked about that when my three girls were little. We talked about everything. She really was my best friend. We’d end our conversations with her saying, “Mother loves you.” I’d answer it with, “Daughter loves you.” She knew how I felt because she had lost her own mother shortly after my older sister, Kathy, was born. It made my mom sad that she never told her mother how much she appreciated her. Ironically, I never fully understood the depth of the pain she felt after her mother died until she herself passed away in May 1997.

I was living in Indiana at the time, thirty-one years old and pregnant with my fourth child. I was looking forward to having the baby because I knew my mother would come and cook for me. I even told that to my husband the Thursday night before Memorial Day weekend, after a long day of morning sickness and taking care of my three small girls. As soon as I said it, the phone rang.

My brother-in-law was calling to tell me my mother was in the intensive care unit. Her heart had stopped as she was working out that afternoon at the health club. At fifty-seven, she was in pretty good shape. She and my father enjoyed an active social life and, though she had been on heart medication for years, she never let it slow her down.

Fortunately, a doctor, an off-duty firefighter and a nurse happened to be working out at the club and were able to revive her with CPR. She had no recollection of her ordeal and seemed fine to everyone who spent the weekend visiting her in the hospital. On Monday, they moved her to a private room with a phone, giving me an opportunity to talk with her. I teased her because she didn’t remember seeing any white lights at the end of the tunnel. She assured me that if she had to go, that was the way she wanted to do it because she didn’t feel anything, and it happened quickly.

“At least hold off till this baby is born,” I remember saying to her, half-joking, half-serious.

Her response: “When it’s my time, it’s my time. I’m ready if the Lord wants me.”

“That’s great for you,” I said, “but none of us are ready for you to go yet.”

What she said next were the last words I remember her saying to me. They were the beautiful culmination of thirty-one years of my Irish Catholic upbringing all summed up in a humorous, heartfelt flubbing of the lines: “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, and may God hold you in the palm of his hands, until we meet again.” We said good-bye, hung up, and I knew I’d never talk to her again. Daughter loves you, I thought.

She was scheduled for an operation on Tuesday morning. If all went well, she’d be released on Wednesday. Unfortunately, my father got a call around six in the morning on Tuesday. Her heart had stopped again. He and Chris rushed to the hospital and were led to a waiting room. They waited until a nurse named Bobbie came out and said to my brother, “Are you Chris?”

Days later I called Bobbie to hear her tell the story. My mother’s heart had stopped, and the hospital staff had rushed in to revive her. She had been gone for about forty-five minutes. “We didn’t want to stop. She was too young,” Bobbie told me. Certainly, all hope was lost; still, they had persisted. Suddenly, my mother’s eyes opened! She reached up and grabbed Bobbie’s arm, looked into her eyes and said with great urgency, “There is a God! I saw his face! Tell Chris, there is a God!” And then, my mother was gone.

Our mother, who constantly reaffirmed our faith in life, did so even more in death. When I heard the story, I remembered the many times I’d seen my mother praying the Rosary, sometimes even using her fingers to count the Hail Mary’s. So many times she had asked for the Blessed Mother’s intercession, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Her prayers were answered. Mary’s gift to our mother was our mother’s gift to us—the gift of faith. There is a God.

Kelly E. Kyburz

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