My mother passed away a year ago. I say “passed away” because I’m not at the point where I can say “died.” Jesus and the Apostle Paul used the term “asleep.” In I Thessalonians 4: 13-14, Paul wrote, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow no, even as others which have no hope. For if we beleive that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (KJV).
My mother loved to play the piano, but the last few years of her life, she narrowed down her favorite pieces to two or three songs. The one she played the most was “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” She played it in every key. Mom would say to me, “How old am I?” I would tell her and she would say, “I can’t live much longer.” (She lived to be 97.)
Mom loved to ask questions–especially questions that are hard or impossible to answer. Many times she would ask, “Where is heaven?” I would say something like, “I don’t know. I guess it’s another dimension.” Actually, Mom wasn’t that interested in my answer; she just enjoy asking the question.
My mother told me that she wanted a graveside service, not a funeral. She gave me specific scriptures to be read and songs to sing at the service. The songs were “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and “Amazing Grace.” I added one more: “He Ransomed Me,” a song she wrote herself.
Her favorite Bible verse was James 4: 14. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” I wasn’t fond of the quote. I would say, “Mom, lets put the verse in context.” If I tried to read the verses after it, Mom would say, “I don’t want to hear it in context. I like it the way it is.”
Mom passed away December 8, 2015, and was cremated per her instructions. Her graveside service was held in Lynchburg, VA, the following April. Friends and relatives were given the opportunity to share their memories of my mother. I knew I had to say something, but what?
I had no idea what to say except that I idolized her. She was beautiful, a gifted pianist and painter, a wonderful mother, and a helpmate to my father, a Methodist minister. The night before the service, I was rummaging through her writings and drawings looking for inspiration when suddenly I came across a drawing of a staircase that appeared to be suspended in air. I gaped at Mom’s drawing. Now I knew what to say at her graveside service.
The preacher (my son-in-law) conducted the service, using the hymns and verses that Mom had requested and sharing his thoughts. When he asked if people would like to share their memories of Mom, I waited my turn.
I started by sharing Mom’s favorite verse then attempted to answer her question: “Where is Heaven?” The staircase she had drawn said it all. I read from Genesis 28: 10-17:
Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that palce to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to the land. For I will not leave you unti I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Isn’t it interesting that Jacob called Bethel the house of God and the gate of heaven? Bethel means “house of God.”
I suspect that Jacob’s ladder was more like a spiral staircase than a modern-day ladder. The Bible has a lot to say about heaven, a subject I’d like to explore in depth in a future post. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that heaven is where God is. And today my Mother is celebrating her first birthday in heaven.
A few days before my mother “fell asleep,” she saw Jesus and let me know it. Around 4 p.m. on the 8th of December, during the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights (John 10: 22-28), her spirit left her body and she climbed the spiral staircase.