23 April, 2011 is a day I will never forget. It was the day that marked the end of my mum’s four-year-long battle against breast cancer. She was 59 years old that year.
It was a battle that didn’t quite have a happy ending. I still don’t understand why it happened, but at the very least it allowed for Mum to receive Christ as her personal Lord and Saviour. More importantly, it is the battle that taught me what it means to live in total abandonment and obedience to the Lord’s sovereignty.
I use the word “battle”, because it aptly describes what the four years journeying with her through her cancer journey were like. Ever since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2006, I prayed every single day that the Lord would heal her completely.
From initially interceding that her condition would not be terminal before her official diagnosis, to praying against a relapse – I faithfully prayed every single day.
I grew up wondering if Jesus would save my mum, because she used to always scold Him. She used to tell me that if I ever went to church, she would disown me and never let me come home. She used to turn up the TV’s volume whenever people from church came to our house to share the gospel with her.
She finally accepted Christ in 2007 after the Lord saved her from a life-threatening viral attack during her first bout of chemotherapy. The attack was so serious it confined her 11 days at the hospital.
But God graciously saved her. She was touched by the Holy Spirit when my cousins shared the Gospel with her at the hospital. I wasn’t around, but my cousins told me that my Mum cried like a baby, and then they led her in the Sinner’s Prayer.
After she was discharged, she said she would like to go to church. It was a 180º change. On Easter 2009, she got baptised together with my Dad.
But I still feared she would relapse. Despite my anxiety, I continued to pray every single day for the Lord’s complete healing to come upon my Mum.
Unfortunately, my Mum really did fall prey to relapse. My nightmare came true on 16 October, 2010, when Mum was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer as her cancer cells had metastasised to her lungs, liver, brain and bones.
I remember it so clearly because we got the news one day before her birthday. She was so composed, but I broke down. I couldn’t stop crying as I scolded her for not taking care of herself better to prevent the relapse.
Deep inside I wasn’t angry with her, I was simply devastated by grief. Mum chided me for crying and said there is nothing to be upset about. She said that because she came to know the Lord, she had been blessed with 3 good years.
It totally put me to shame. I had been a Christian for much longer than her. Though she was suffering and dying, she still gave thanks to the Lord.
In fact, I never saw her shed a single tear after she learnt of the bad news. Sometimes I wonder if she cried herself to sleep, when no one was watching. But to my knowledge, I never saw her cry, not even at her deathbed.
My mum was admitted to the hospital just before she passed on during Easter weekend in 2011. In those three days at the hospital, she was surrounded by loved ones.
I’ve heard of people saying that Christians do not fear death, and that death can be a joyful thing. I think my mum was a great example. Not only did she bravely not cry, she even told us not to be upset. She was even cracking jokes and making all of us laugh.
The good humour was in part due to her jovial nature, and also the fact that she was no longer lucid as her body was intoxicated by her failing liver. Looking back, that was an aspect of God’s grace. It would have been so much tougher for us all if she was sobbing and weeping.
In the early morning of 23 April, when the sky was still dark, she asked if it was morning already. Mum remarked that it was “so bright” and that she could hear Somebody calling her name. I knew that was the Lord calling her Home by name. It was a Saturday.
I asked the Lord why He hadn’t brought her home on Easter Sunday itself. He led me to a specific verse that matched the date – 23/4.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Reading this verse, it brought to mind my mum’s peace and faith, instead of fear, even to the point of death. It was His way of assuring and comforting me that she was safe with Him in Heaven.
Yet, deep inside me, I have to be honest that there was period where I resented God for taking my mum away so soon. Her passing left me in a rut as I struggled to understand and accept her death: Why didn’t divine healing happen, even though I’d prayed for it every single day?
It has been more than six years since her passing. Sometimes, all I can do is to trust and have faith that the Lord has His purpose for it all because I can’t deny His goodness and presence through it all. Many divine moments marked my mum’s faith journey, so many that I was even able to write a book on them.
But the grief resurfaced twice, first when my dad had a heart attack in 2015, and again during his surgical procedure in 2017. I was worried about him, but it was the grief I hadn’t dealt with when Mum passed that felt overwhelming.
The night before my dad’s surgery, I felt the Lord asking me: What if the worst happens to your dad, what would you do? Would you abandon your faith in Me altogether?
I told God I would certainly be upset if I lost my father. But I also said that I could never abandon Him because He has been so real to me. After all He’s done for me, I told Him I trusted Him the most.
In that moment, I found peace.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt, it is that some things are just not meant for us to fully comprehend. It’s a horrible cliché, but that really is when faith matters: To be able to trust in God’s sovereignty through it all, though you do not understand the whole of it. And maybe never will on this side of eternity.
Is it normal then to doubt and question? Yes, the Bible is filled with a lot of characters who did, even the most holy of prophets! Questioning and doubting doesn’t make you any less of a Christian – not unless you decide to walk away from your faith altogether. But does walking away really change anything?
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Though I have my occasional struggles with sorrow and faith, a part of me believes that the Lord is preparing me for something. These two quotes from the book The Colour of Grace really spoke to me:
“Nothing can hurt you if you can understand that whatever you are going through is your invitation to participate in the redemption of the world.”
Father Thomas Keating
“If scars could sing, their songs would be of triumph.”
Bethany Haley Williams
My mother’s journey remains a story to be told. Her passing has certainly enlarged my capacity to love and allowed me to journey with people who are going through similar trials of trauma and grief – something that I never thought that I’d be able to do in the past.
God sent His boats when I was stuck on the shore of my grief, disappointments and pain. I can imagine Mum smiling at me from Heaven; I know she would want me to continue living life to the fullest for Him.
These scars of mine will continue to sing with triumph, because my dear mother has found eternal life in the arms of Jesus.
“All that I am, or every hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
The author’s name has been changed to protect her identity.