My mother has been gone out of my life for 5 years today. Some days it feels like it was just yesterday. Grief is the unwanted house guest that has worn out its welcome but it also makes an excellent teacher when used by the Master. And so, I’ve learned much.
When I was a girl, I lived out in the middle of the desert, literally. Our closest neighbor was 10 miles away and town was 25 miles. The wilderness was my playground and the mountains, my schoolyard. My dad was a gold and silver miner. He bought mining claims just on the Arizona/California/Mexico border when I was 2. The area was once a booming mining community in the late 1800’s, however when we purchased the land, there was nothing there. Just a vastness of desert that was foreign to the mind.
Our little homestead was located in the center bottom of a mountain range. Although a relatively small range, the tallest mountain boasted only 2200 ft elevation, they seemed to tower above our little property. Part of the Chocolate Mountain range, and named so because of their dark brown appearance; were stark, especially against the blue sky. While other kids watched cartoons on Saturday morning I went cave and mine shaft exploring. While my peers would ride their bikes down the sidewalk to visit their friends, I rode mine throughout the canyons mindful to watch for snakes. Finally, while my friends explored neighborhood parks, I explored deep valleys and canyons. And it was to these valley’s that the Lord took me back to as I sat in the ICU with my mother as she was dying.
There are parts of that time that are seared into my mind and heart. The sound of the ventilator, the various beeps and alarms that went off for any reason. The horrible sound of her coughing as the techs cleaned out her lungs. But most vividly, the sound of the curtain pulled back as doctors and nurses came in and out. All with the sad look on their faces of trained professionals who know the look of death and recognized it on my mother. I refused to accept it though. I begged, pleaded, ordered, demanded that God raise her up. And I believed that He would. I was desperate for a word from Him. I scoured the bible, listened closely to the Pastor, and analyzed every word that came out of my husband’s mouth, scanned every text, every email that came from the body of Christ. I was confident that the Lord would send me something.
And then Tuesday night came. And so did the word I was looking for. Mom had been in ICU about 36 hours. I had reached that place in the hospital where time and space all ran together. I could not have told you what time it was or what day it was. But I was sitting in the chair next to her reading the bible. I felt the Lord direct my eyes to Matthew 20:15 – “’Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” And I realized with an awful finality that He was going to take my mother. He was telling me that my mother ultimately belonged to Him. And it was time. I would not hear of it though. I stubbornly refused to believe it. When my husband would ask me if God had given me a word that it was her time, I would say, “I don’t know. I’m too close to the situation. I can’t feel my faith even.” I just thought my faith was weak. Here’s what I learned though. It takes more faith to let go of someone we love, to completely put them in the Masters hands, trusting that He knows what’s best, then it is to believe for a healing or a miracle. I heard God asking me:
In whose hand [is] the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind? Job 12:10
He was asking me if I trusted Him. And I faltered. When the middle of the night came and I sat in that room watching my mother die, I struggled with my faith. Ever so softly I heard the Lord whisper the same question He asked me that Tuesday night, “In whose hand is the life of every living thing?” He was gently telling me, “it’s ok, leave her in my hands”. Finally a few nights later, I picked up the bible and started reading the 23rd Psalm. I got to the line “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. I tried to move on but I kept feeling impressed that there was something there. Finally in frustration I mumbled out loud, “Lord! I get it….the valley of the shadow of death…mom’s dying….what are you telling me??” And the thought that followed immediately behind it was this, “No, this is not her valley, it’s yours. Prepared by me” And followed behind that thought came, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to [His] purpose. The true meaning of that verse is never more evident than when we are in the valley of the shadow of death.
There are parts of who I am that need to die and be broken off. It’s in these deep valleys of sorrow and grief that the Lord does His work if we’ll let him. I knew that He was there in that valley with me, using this time of sorrow and grief, to do a work in me. A seed sprouts in the dark, wet, and tilled up soil. The mighty oaks roots run deep into the ground, plowing through hard rocks below. In the dark, lonely shadows of our grief, the Lord does His greatest works. When we ignore Him we circumvent the cure.
God wants to take us THROUGH our valleys,though. If we do not follow the Shepherd out of our valley, we will remain there. And it’s easy to stay there and even easier to return. There were many times in the first couple of years after Mom died that I returned back to the depths of the valley. When I allowed my mind to think, “Should I have made the decision to remove the ventilator?” “Could I have done more to get the staff at Seton to move faster the morning of mom’s stroke?” I was reminded of when I would go exploring the canyons as a kid. Some were steep, frightening channels carved into the land with the mountains rearing up sharply on both sides. I remember scraping shins and banging knees as I would climb higher and higher. And then one of the rocks I was using as leverage to climb would give way and I would slide down. That’s what our mind does to us. It slips us back to ‘what ifs” and loosens our hold on the “what are’s.”
It has been a difficult journey. But I’ve learned priceless life lessons. I’ve learned that I can’t rely on “feeling” and that faith is doing what you know is right even if you don’t feel like it. I’ve learned that God’s grace really is sufficient for the moment we are in and that planning for the future is important but living in the moment with Him is paramount. Those 193 hours spent in ICU and the many hours of sorrow after gave me on the job training in the sufficiency of God’s grace. ‘My grace is sufficient for right now,” He would whisper into my soul in the days following when I found it hard to put one foot in front of the other.
Jesus was a man of sorrows and I have been comforted knowing that He knows the brokenness of grief and loss.
“Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Isa 26:3
From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2
Mourning and grief is part of life but how we respond to it and how we handle it determines its effect on our life. Even after 5 years, I still walk in the grief of losing my mother. But the canyons are a little less steep, a little less dark these days. I continue to watch the Lord break things off of me and to prepare me for the next valley. And one of the few constants that life brings is the valleys.
My mother may be gone physically but her memory burns bright in my heart. Her voice still rings in my ears with all of the lessons she thought I’d never learn. Thanks Mom. I was listening.
2 thoughts on “The Valley Of Grief”
Catherine, your journey has been very profound. Thank you for sharing with me. I could just see the intense sky and desert as you spoke of your magical time of exploring through the desert and mines. It reminded me of the laid bare conversations I had with God as a young adult, also in the western desert. Your mother is a gentle memory of our time with you all, in Eileen’s precious early years. Thank you. Leslie Salas
Leslie, thank you so much. I am so blessed to have known your family and your beautiful daughter. God has been faithful to us.