After the doctors had gone and the family had gone their ways, I stood in the hospital room with my mom and dad skeptical and second-guessing the diagnosis. Surely, my mom had more than three months to live. How could this have happened so fast?
In the spring of 2007, my mom was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Her liver was damaged and would not recover unless she underwent a transplant. As spring melted into summer, my mother’s condition worsened and the window to restore health via a transplant closed. There was nothing left to do but to ease her pain.
As the final weeks came to a close, my father called me more and more often to help. Eventually, I packed my things and took several days off of work to stay by her side. Family dropped in now and again, but mostly my dad and I stayed with her, stayed with each other, and prayed.
One night, as my dad and cousin were in another part of the house, I was alone with my mother. Weakened into silence, she could only communicate with mumblings and sometimes an eye flutter. As sickening as it was to me, I knew that if there was anything I wanted to say to her, I needed to say it now. Fortunately, because of our relationship, there was nothing unsaid that was burdening me. I told her I loved her and didn’t want her to go. I paused. Then—
Sing to her.
I’m embarrassed to sing to her.
It’s just the two of you. It would mean so much to her.
I felt weird and cliché and self-conscious as I thought about singing to her. I felt like it would open up the most vulnerable place in me that I was often scared of sharing.
Now, I’ve sung in church my whole life. I’m sure you think it odd that I would be uncomfortable singing for only my mom. However, I’ve found it harder to sing for one person than for thousands. See, there is a scrim, or see-through curtain, I can lower psychologically during a performance that distances me from the audience. The scrim allows some vulnerability through—enough to lead others into worship, or enough to appropriately convey the emotion and story of the song. But, for me, to sing for one person is to truly give a gift. It ceases to be a performance. It becomes an intimate conversation. That’s the best way I can explain how I feel and think about it.
I sat on the side of the bed, thinking for a few moments. And then I just sang. I picked one of my favorite songs my mom sang to me as a child, “When He Cometh.”
When He cometh, when He cometh, to make up His jewels. All His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own. Like the stars of the morning, His brightness adorning. They shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for His crown.
I actually forgot the words to the hymn and made up my own. I told Mom, because I knew she knew it. And mumbling, she tried to help me.
“I’m sorry mom, I can’t understand you,” I told her.
“You’re probably telling me the right words to the song,” I said laughing.
“I wish I new what you were saying. I’m going to sing some more, okay?”
I moved to “I Need Thee Every Hour.”
I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord, No tender voice like thine can peace afford. I need thee, O I need thee. Every hour I need thee. O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.
Then “Shout to the Lord.”
My Jesus, my Savior, Lord, there is none like You. All of my days, I want to praise, the wonders of Your mighty love. My comfort, my shelter, tower of refuge and strength. Let every breath, all that I am, never cease to worship You.
I moved through a whole worship set. And when I was at the end, I kissed her forehead and told her again that I loved her.
One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me was the confidence of their love. I knew unequivocally that I was loved, and there was nothing that could remove their love from me. Because of this unshakeable love, I know how much it meant for me to sing to my mother. I know she loved it. I know it helped her. I know God ministered to her through me. And I know these things not because I’m a great singer, or because I’m so awesome, or that I’m so spiritual. I know these things because she loved me well. I know what I meant to her.
And in the end, the last gift I gave to my mother was also the last gift she gave to me.
©2013 Jennifer Wilder. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or publish this content elsewhere, please contact me through this blog.