Calls received at 5:30 in the morning usually aren't good news, and this one was no exception.
"Mom's had a bad heart attack," my brother Russell said on the other end of the phone. "She's on a respirator. Pam and I are leaving right away. You need to come as soon as you can."
It was a week and a half before Christmas of 1997 and Traverse City was almost four hours away from Grand Rapids. Questions began swirling in my mind—Would she be alive when I got there? Would she have some kind of permanent brain damage because of the massive heart attack? Would we be able to mend our strained relationship as mother and daughter?
A close friend of mine who lives near me and also has a home near Traverse City said, "Let's go" when I told her the news. My husband stayed home with our two teenagers.
Since I had not been raised by my mother from the age of seven, we weren't as close as we could have been. She and my father had not married and that was something that was always between us—a closed part of her life and a blank part of mine.
My grandmother's sister raised me and although I saw my mother periodically as I was growing up, she was busy with six other children.
Later, when I married and had children of my own, my mother and stepfather moved to the northern part of Michigan. Because they didn't have a phone, cards and letters were our only means of communication. Even as her life was becoming freer with all of her children grown and married, mine was becoming busier with three children five and under.
"Please don't let her die, Lord," was my constant prayer during the long drive. "Please let us have another chance to love each other."
The weather was windy and brisk as we exited the car in the parking lot of Munson Medical Center. Christmas decorations filled the hallways of the hospital. It was not a good time to think of losing a parent.
The hallways to Intensive Care were full of family—my brothers and their wives, my young sister Gloria, nieces and nephews. "What happened?" I asked Gloria as we embraced.
"We called the paramedics and they had her airlifted here. She was dead but they took the paddles and resuscitated her."
I greeted some more of my family and made my way to Mother's room.
Mother was alive and off the respirator. She was sitting propped up on pillows in a large lounge chair next to her hospital bed. She was breathing with only the help of oxygen. All of a sudden I realized how old and frail my mother was.
"Hi, Sharon," she said with a faint smile. I kissed her and put a picture of my first grandchild on her hospital stand.
"He looks like you, Sharon," she said. And he did. Kaleb has dark hair, dark brown eyes and is a little on the chubby side.
I spent four days in Traverse City staying with my friend at her home in the country, making daily trips to Munson Medical Center.
During my stay, my mother told me that this was her best Christmas ever and that I was the best Christmas present she could receive. My youngest brother, Mark, who had been at the hospital day and night, looked up with a smile and said, "What about me?" Mark knew that a restoration was taking place between the two of us.
The doctor told my sister Gloria, who lived next to Mother, that she had only a brief time to live. One year at the most he told Gloria. They had also discovered that my mother had cancer of the bladder and they could only do minimal treatment because of her weakened heart. God graciously gave my mother three more years before the cancer became more aggressive.
In January of 2001, my mother had a large growth on her ankle and needed a biopsy. I came to spend a week with her. After I returned home, Gloria told me that Mother had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the entire body, and had six months to live at the most.
Mother lived three months from that diagnosis. She died in April, two days before my birthday, in her modest mobile home with five of her seven children i her side. I was privileged to be one of them.
Her funeral was an incredibly warm and glorious spring day. I played the organ for her service, and with my sister and brothers, watched six grandsons carry her silver casket up the hill in a small country cemetery.
It had been three and a half years since the December heart attack. Even as I wept tears of sorrow at her grave, I thanked the Lord for the extra time He gave us and for Mother's Christmas Miracle.