This will be the first Mother's Day of my life without my mother physically, but she'll be with me in spirit.
Ruth Hanselman Ross, 82, died just over one month ago on Good Friday and was resurrected to a heavenly body on Easter Sunday. During the interim, while she remained in a coma on life support after being revived when found in her bed with a stopped heart, she preached an Easter sermon about her sustaining hope of faith in Jesus -- without saying a word.
My wife and I have returned to a "new normal" since the family Diaspora following a time of reunion around the viewing and memorial service for my mother the next weekend, during which we honored her as a dedicated woman of God who represented a life well-lived and a Lord well-served.
But in the days leading up to the annual observance celebrating mothers and motherhood today, I have found myself again reflecting not only on my mom's life and legacy, but also the powerful spiritual journey through which my family and I were able to observe and experience the peace and joy of Holy Week through her passing on Easter weekend.
My mother had been in the hospital for several days of observation and recovery following minor surgery. Early the afternoon of Good Friday, a nurse found her slumped over in her bed, no longer breathing after her heart had stopped. Doctors called a Code Blue to resuscitate her and put her on a respirator in ICU, but did not know how long her brain had gone without oxygen.
I was en route to Newark Airport when I received a call from my wife informing me of my mother's unresponsive state and the doctor's promise to keep her alive until I returned home.
I had been on a client media tour in NYC with the Scruggs, the parents of the 23-year-old Texas fashion editor who walked into a plane propeller last Christmas, accompanying them as they appeared live on ABC's Good Morning America on Good Friday and to pre-tape NBC's Weekend Today to discuss the meaning of Easter in the context of their sustaining faith through the challenging last four months.
Over dinner with the couple the night before, we discussed messaging of their daughter's story and over-arching themes of hope and second chances found in the Easter lexicon, including resurrection, restoration and new life and strength in Jesus that empowers individuals to move on from difficult challenges of life. Little did I know that all of the points that were physically resolved for young Lauren here on earth I would quickly face with my mother in a spiritual realm over the next few days, including:
- The message of Good Friday is of sacrifice and suffering -- such as Jesus endured on the Cross and my mother experienced without complaint for the past four years. It is through that process that we find strength outside of ourselves, our faith is deepened and our character is refined. As our priorities are realigned, we receive an added measure of grace to see us through.
- It is in our pain that we find gain -- even victory -- that can also benefit others. Pastor Rick Warren often says, "Our misery becomes our ministry."
- The message of Easter is the hope of the Resurrection, new beginnings and new life, as we serve a God of "second chances." It is a time of year when believers especially celebrate the joy of our faith in Jesus. Happiness comes and goes, depending on one's situation, but joy transcends circumstances, because of the hope within us.
When I started my car on my way to the hospital to see the doctor early Easter Sunday, the radio was mid-song, playing, "The Music Never Stopped," by The Grateful Dead. After several bars of a musical interlude, the lyrics of the next verse were:
"They're a band beyond description, like Jehovah's favorite choir,
People joining hand-in-hand, while the music played the band,
'Lord, they're setting us on fire.'"
At the end of that tune, I switched to a Sunday sermon before heading into Starbucks for coffee, and when I came out, the church choir and orchestra began a live rendition of "The Hallelujah Chorus." Later, I realized that for two days my mother, the most grateful person I have ever known, was literally the grateful dead lying in that hospital waiting to be taken off life support. But the music never stopped, she was already in heaven, as:
"The band kept playing on, and kept on dancin'
through the daylight,
greeting the morning with song."
While waiting to speak with the doctor at the hospital before going to church early Sunday morning, my mother developed a fever -- presumably due to neurological damage -- that quickly spiked to, and remained for several hours at, 106.7 degrees.
A brain scan Sunday afternoon revealed she had no cognitive function, other than reflective stem activity. Though she had rallied off a respirator from three pneumonia-induced comas in the past year and one-half, this time was different. She was clinically brain dead, and doctors recommended she be taken off life support to not prolong her life unnecessarily.
So we spontaneously gathered the family together, including my father, wife, three sons and in-laws, and took my mom off life support after a time of Scripture reading, prayer and remembrance honoring her incredible life of Christian service and faithful witness.
What a blessing to not only hear about the hope of Easter preached in a sermon, but to actually observe it this year. As the party was already underway in heaven, my family and I experienced that expectation while I held her hand as she walked into the presence of Jesus and all the heavenly hosts:
"When the cool breeze comes on Tuesday, and the corn's a bumper crop,
the fields (white unto harvest) will still be full of dancin',
full of singin' and romancin' (to Jesus), and the music
(myriad verses of "The Hallelujah Chorus," I am sure) never stopped."
Though I was only able to follow Phil Mickelson through the 12th hole, it was a perfect "Master's" weekend. To God be the glory.
Having placed her obituary to run in two newspapers, it hit me the morning of the memorial that, for the first time in 82 years, my mother -- a virtually anonymous second grade school teacher for nearly four decades -- was finally searchable on the Internet. So, I Googled Ruth Hanselman Ross, and sure enough she had not one, but four entries, including a blog post from the Answers in Genesis website.
It reminded me of Steve Martin's film, The Jerk, when he finally felt validated seeing his name in the phone directory. My mother mattered to a lot of people, especially the myriad children she started on the correct path in life by teaching them to read and develop other life skills, but now that she is with the Lord she so faithfully served -- resting with a harp on a cloud -- she is forever ensconced on the iCloud, which warms my heart as a perennial PR guy.
Our society encourages us to avoid suffering, but like Jesus, my mother endured it. Amidst significant health challenges, physical limitations and enormous pain, she maintained a grateful heart and reflected a continual spirit of optimistic faith and trust in the Lord for His strength for each day.
Someone once said the longest distance is the 18 inches between one's head and one's heart, but my mother definitely expressed the love of Jesus from her heart. Over the past four years, her joy and gratitude ministered from a hospice bed to all she encountered, and though in significant pain, she maintained a persistent spirit of joy, never uttering a word of grumbling or complaint.
A woman of the Word, who spent hours each day reading the Scriptures, my mother's testimony of Christian love and compassion was as real and alive as her own breath, and she lived out the teachings of Jesus each day as an organic, authentic way of being. It was an honor to serve her in the latter years, and I am aware of my responsibility to carry her legacy of faith and extend it to my three boys.
And for those readers whom she never met, don't worry -- you will. She's already left the light on for you.