My Mother’s Death: An Irrational Joy


My mother died on Thanksgiving Day and I have never felt more joy in my life. Am I mad or merely cold-hearted?


I was raised believing in Me and Mom and Dad. And that was pretty much it. God wasn’t in the picture. Or rather, he was but I didn’t know it.

My parents were children of the Great Depression, and as a result grew up devoted to Security. Money was good because it bought Things. Things were good because they bought Security. And Security was good because it bought Happiness.

And for a long time that seemed to do it for them. I grew up watching Dad make money, which he was brilliant at, and Mom make crafts, which she was brilliant at. She loved beautifying her surroundings.

But after my father died at age 45 and my mother disintegrated into grief, I lost whatever was left of my belief in the Things>Security>Happiness Principal. My atheism, which had been wobbling anyway, collapsed and I began to turn toward God. In fact, I turned into a full-blown Jesus Person.

That didn’t sit well with Mom: “That’s fine, honey, just don’t get too into it.”

“Mom, Jesus said he was ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ You can’t be ‘too into’ the way, the truth, and the life!”

Mom eventually married Bud who was nearly as ambitious as my dad, and he helped restore her faith in the Things>Security>Happiness Principal.

But then, in the fall of 1999, she had a series of strokes. These left her mentally cloudy, shaky on her feet, and unable to pursue her projects. So she took to sitting and watching the news.

She began to look at the world differently. Our phone conversations, which had always been filled with reports of her little projects, now turned to diatribes against the cruelty and injustice of the world: “There’s so much suffering, so much wrong!”

For years I’d ended our conversations with, “I’m praying for you, Mom,” and she’d always replied, “I’m praying for you too.” Then I’d ask, “Really?” And she would answer, “Oh, you know, I mean I’m holding up a good thought for you.”

But one day, she said, “I’m praying for you” in a deliberate, I-mean-this sort of way. “Really?” I asked. And this time she replied, “Yes. Really. Oh, honey,” she continued, “the world is so broken–I never realized just how broken–and there’s nothing I can do about it. So I pray. All the time.”

Two days later, Bud called from a hospital in Hemet, California. He sounded shell-shocked. “Your mother’s heart…she’s not going to be leaving this place,” he whispered, refusing to confirm the truth with a full voice.

The moment I saw her, I knew he was right. Pale and struggling for every breath, her heart pulsing more like a memory than a reality, she smiled and whispered, “Still praying.”

“To God?” I asked, as if repeating an old punchline.


She slept fitfully throughout the night. Bud and I did the same in two tired vinyl hospital chairs.

Mom faded in and out of consciousness all the next day, unable to offer more than yeses or noes. I talked about our life together, about her love for Dad and for Bud, about tennis and origami, about all the Christmases we’d spent together.

The doctor told us that in order to make her more comfortable they would need to up her medication; she would no longer be able to communicate. It was code for, “Say your good-byes.”

Bud sat by her for a long time, unable to speak. Then I took her hand, smiled and said, “You can’t have too much of the way, the truth, and the life, can you?” She did a little choking laugh, squeezed my hand, and shook her head no.

She was fighting for every breath, yet her eyes were glowing. I suddenly realized that in the race toward God, she’d run far ahead of me.

“I love you forever, Mom,” I told her. Tears slipped from her swollen eyes as she squeezed my hand one final time.

Dolores TMy mother died in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day. God, in his wonderful, inexplicable economy, had used everything—her strokes, her heart failure, the evening news—to speak to her, to strip away all that had kept his precious daughter from him for so many years.

And that was why, just after sunrise on Thanksgiving Day, 1999, I drove home to be with my family,

Filled with irrational joy.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

120 Responses to My Mother’s Death: An Irrational Joy

  1. Nitin says:

    Thank you Mitch. That really means a lot. All I need is for that love to return and stay. There is no way I can resist the people in power without it. It’s impossible. Just yesterday there was a riot of sorts near my apartment. And I will read what you’ve written.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Irrational Joy | A Great Testimony – Helping to change the world one life at a time | Odie Anderson, MS

  3. mcurry09 says:

    Just loved that. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 34poet says:

    I am so glad you read “Is There Any…Good News?” on the rancherwriterpoet. I appreciate your kindness. I also read this blog and thought it was very appropriate. You are a talented writer. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a sweet and beautiful post. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Teary-eyed😑 Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Simply beautiful. I too am estranged from my mother and know that it would take divine intervention to change that. Your writing is gripping, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dhaval Mehta says:

    This was an absolute wonderful read. I had a similar experience and awakening in my life when I read this article about death

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. Sherry says:

    Thanks for sharing these precious memories of your mom. I remember her as beautiful, an amazing smile, and full of life. So happy to call her my auntie! Love you cuz!

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. Heidi Viars says:

    It’s that unspoken word … that speaks through the eyebrow, the wink, and the squeeze of the hand that has the power to penetrate deep and leave lasting joy.
    I am glad I was able to read this today! Thanks, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Bill Sweeney says:

    “God, in his wonderful, inexplicable economy, had used everything—her strokes, her heart failure, the evening news—to speak to her, to strip away all that had kept his precious daughter from him for so many years.”
    I think I commented on this post when you originally posted it, but it is well worth another read. I love what you wrote above – exactly! Hebrews 12:27 is where the name Unshakable Hope comes from.
    You were a good son.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Lesley says:

    I’ve got a big lump in my throat and tears in my eyes after reading this. How wonderful, though, that your mum came to know and give her life to Jesus, and how beautiful in that photograph she is. It’s unbearably sad to lose a loved one but lovely too that she had her family with her and that she knew she was going to be with Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

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  17. This was lovely and it showing up as a suggested read was no coincidence. My father-in-law, Charlie, died yesterday morning. After going through a bladder removal surgery due to the belief he’d have at least a year left of life because of what the doctors told him, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and sent home to die about six weeks ago. We think he held out long enough for his grandson, who’s in the army, to visit on Thanksgiving. The following morning he was gone, but the day before I was sure to softly speak into his ear about Jesus. He was unresponsive, loaded up on morphine and too weak to even move, but I knew he could hear me. I never had much opportunity in the past to have deep conversations with him about Jesus but I did pray over him in the hospital. In the end I know it’s not me that saves anyway…it’s Jesus. And I believe I will see him again.

    Thanks for sharing this, Mitch. It was beautiful and I saw it at just the right time. If you happen to go spy on my page now, please don’t get mad at me (you don’t come across as the type anyway, and I truly appreciate you for that very reason). I know we disagree on certain aspects of this COVID thing…but now I’m really struggling with these restrictions as we all grieve our loss amidst a controlled funeral of limited guests, impersonal masks, and social distancing. This thing has made something that was already difficult all the more frustrating. A lot of emotions have been at play.

    Liked by 1 person

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