It’s easy for me to associate Easter with new life. Living in the northern hemisphere, my experience of Easter is associated with the budding of trees and blooming of flowers. Having grown up in Western Pennsylvania, there were some years when Easter mornings came blanketed with snow. But even then, the crocus would gently push through the snow with hint of bright color and the promise of life.
I’ve often thought that the cycle of seasons in the southern hemisphere was more a testament to faith in new life at Easter. Of course, the southern hemisphere experiences autumn for Easter – longer nights, colder days, and vegetation that moves toward dormancy. As the cycle of life draws to completion in the southern hemisphere, the hope of Easter takes on a kind of contrast with autumn decay.
This year, in the midst of flowers, new growth, and warming weather, I’m experiencing something of Easter in the southern hemisphere. It’s not because the movement of the Earth has changed on her axis. Instead, the movement and rhythm in my home has changed as our lives are colored and shaped by a change in life’s seasons.
For the last six years, my mother has lived with us. Unable to live on her own because of blindness and severe arthritis, she has been a welcome part of our household. Of course, over this time, we’ve been aware that her health has slowly diminished. We also knew that the time would come when we would need to prepare for her passing.
Given that her health seemed very stable, it was our assumption that our arrangement would continue for several years to come. But, unexpectedly one weekend, there were some changes we hadn’t anticipated. After some tests, it was discovered that other health concerns had developed. The season of Lent began with the awareness that Mom’s time with us was more limited than we once thought.
A few weeks ago Mom decided to not seek further treatment. I presently refer to her as being “pre-hospice.” While we’re maintaining her comfort, she really doesn’t yet qualify for a home hospice program. For now, she sleeps about 16 to 18 hours a day. When she’s awake, she is alert and has a tremendous appetite. She’s comfortable and remains her usual pleasant self.
Over these weeks, the familiar stories of Jesus passion and death take on a very different perspective for me. I find myself identifying with those who watch Jesus in his struggle as he approaches death: the women of Jerusalem who wept for him; Simon of Cyrene who helped carry the cross; and his mother, Mary along with Mary of Magdala and the beloved disciple John who stood at the foot of cross helpless to prevent his agony. I attempt to make light of my mother’s incontinence as I change her, but I know it’s an embarrassment to her. I often grit my teeth when I see her attempt to move as she struggles because of her lack of strength and limited mobility. I’m often glad now that she is blind so that she can’t see me hold back tears or witness what must be a troubled expression on my face.
No one knows how long this progression will take. It could be three, six, or nine months. It’s very doubtful that she’ll be with us next Easter. While she has lived a full and beautiful life, there are times when I fall asleep at night hearing her voice in my head as she asks me, “What has become of me?”
In this Holy Week, vigils at church are replaced by vigils kept at her bed as she sleeps. The silent suffering of the Christ of the gospels becomes my warm and pleasant mother who rarely complains of any hardship. And the new life of Easter morning….
Yes, it’s difficult to know what the new life of Easter really means. Having passed middle age and facing my own aches and pains, concepts of a bodily resurrection don’t mean much to me any longer.. I’m not sure that I’ll want this body returned to me. It’s slowly wearing out and will soon need some replacement parts. But new life: yes, this is my hope for my mother as it is for myself. Yes, to hope that she will again be filled with life and energy and the gracious vitality that marked her life: that would indeed be Easter joy.
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.