My mother had her first heart attack the year I turned 21. It was the late 1980s, and the country was in a recession. Junk bonds had collapsed and stocks had crashed. Both my parents were unemployed, and for months neither one of them could find work. Sadly, my mom had lost her job due to profound hearing loss. Food was scarce and the gas and electric companies kept shutting off their utilities.
Her life was so hard.
One night, I was over their house and my mom started coughing up blood. In hindsight, I should have called an ambulance, but instead, I called Deaconess Hospital where an ER nurse told me to bring my mom to the emergency room along with a sample of the blood she’d coughed up.
When I hung up the phone and told my dad and sister Faith that they wanted us to bring her — and the blood — they looked at each other and back at me. So, I grabbed a spoon from the kitchen drawer and a container from the cabinet. While they scooped her up and carried her to the car, I scooped up the blood she’d vomited all over the bathroom.
I was the youngest in the family, but had somehow been steeled for the occasion. In that moment of crisis, I rose above my father’s strength to do for my mother what he could not do.
Mom was in the ICU at Deaconess for several days. It was the first time I saw her with tubes and an oxygen mask, and it took the breath right out of me and knocked me to the floor in prayer. I prayed hard for her recovery, and hoped to never, ever see her like that again.
As it turns out, she had a bleeding ulcer. The blood loss was so severe it threw her into cardiac arrest. She was only 54.
Unfortunately, there would be many heart attacks over the next 29 years. She fought so very hard to stay here with me, to stay here with all of us. She fought harder than I could ever fight, and I’m so glad she did. I’m grateful God answered my prayers and gave me my mother for nearly three more decades. She was there when all my children were born. She was there when I turned 50.
My mom died on December 24. When my siblings and I gathered to go through her things, I found this purple ribbon bookmark in her Bible. It was a gift from Deaconess all those years ago. It says the following:
How To Use the Bible
When in sorrow
Read John 14
When men fail you
Read Psalm 27
When you have sinned
Read Psalm 51
When you worry
Read Matthew 6:19-34
When you are in danger
Read Psalms 91
If you have the blues
Read Psalm 34
When God seems faraway
Read Psalm 139
If you are discouraged
Read Isaiah 40
If you are lonely or fearful
Read Psalm 23
If you feel down and out
Read Romans 8:39
When you want courage for your task
Read Joshua 1
When the world seems bigger than God
Read Psalm 90
When you want rest and peace
Read Matthew 11:25-30
When leaving home for labor or travel
Read Psalm 121; 107:23-31
If you get bitter or critical
Read 1 Corinthians 13
If thinking of investments or returns
Read Mark 10:17-31
For a great invitation — a great opportunity
Read Isaiah 55
I’ve thought about that day I gathered up my mother’s blood many, many times. We only spoke about it once, and I never thought to tell her what they did with it when we got to the ER. They took one look at it, held it to the light, and then threw it away.
They threw it away. I wanted to beat my chest and scream:
“Do you know how hard it was to cough up that blood? Do you know how hard it was to scoop it up? I brought it here to save her and you tossed it away like it was nothing!”
It was not nothing. It was evidence of the hell we’d lived through. The internal bleeding that comes from poverty and man’s cruel and selfish choices. It was going to save us.
Finally, these days, I draw the whole of my family to my heart. My sisters, my brother, my children. Nieces and nephews, greats and grands. I ask God for increase so I can help them in whatever way I can. For we were all born of the same dear mother, who was often persecuted, but never abandoned. Who was often struck down, but never, ever destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:9)
From Isaiah 55
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”