Until Death Do Us Part

This is a guest post by Laura Tringali.

It has been a little over two weeks now that my mom has been in the hospital. She has been battling cancer for three years, and recently, brief stays in the hospital have not been uncommon. I was already planning to visit my family last week, as it was the week of my wedding. I arrived on Monday morning as planned, but instead of driving to see my parents at my childhood home I was driving straight to the hospital. The nurses all promised me she would be discharged in plenty of time to make the six-hour road trip from Hershey, PA to Columbus, OH for my wedding.

Tuesday morning was a different story when I arrived at the hospital to spend the day with my mom. The staff was not preparing her for discharge as planned. She was in so much pain, and by the end of the day I was calling my fiancé from the surgical waiting room asking him to come be with us. Her surgery was a long three hours, and my fiancé was a long seven-hour drive away. There were so many unknowns in this situation, but the only certainty was that she would not be in attendance at my wedding after all. Seeing her at the end of the night was the first time I saw someone on a ventilator in real life. Nothing could have prepared me to see her like that.

Thursday afternoon, I held her hand and in between sobs told her goodbye. I couldn’t image getting married without her there. She couldn’t speak to me, but she wrote me a note. She loves me. She loves him. She felt ready to pass on to him the responsibility once hers to love and protect me. We left for Ohio without her for my wedding, and her sister stayed by her side.

Still present with us
We live-streamed the wedding for her. My mom didn’t feel so far away because every time my brother-in-law came by me I could look straight into his smart-phone camera and say hi to her. We placed her corsage on the empty seat next to my dad at Mass, and her name card sat at her dinner table. We sneaked away from the reception briefly to video chat with her. The hospital staff had decorated her room in our wedding colors, and she was wrapped in a prayer shawl made especially for her for this occasion. My mom was as present with us as she could have been.

We returned to Hershey the day after the wedding to be with her. My new husband and I booked a few nights at a cozy bed-and-breakfast – calling it our “fake honeymoon” – so we could be close-by and spend our days at the hospital. My mom was finally being transferred out of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, but it was becoming clear that she would not make any sort of recovery. Midweek the doctors switched her to “comfort care,” which essentially means that they would only manage her pain and care for her basic needs but no longer try to treat her disease or failing organs.

The day before her transition to comfort care, the family had gathered around her, holding her hands. She told us she was ready to die. We sang hymns and cried together. We all thought we were losing her right then. It would have been a beautiful moment for the Lord to call her home.

She hasn’t been able to interact with us in three days since comfort care began. My dad has slept in a chair at her bedside for at least a week, and the rest of us have spent every day here in her hospital room. When she could speak to us, she told us she liked the sounds of us chatting with each other and playing board games in her room so we have continued to do that for her. We have prayed over her, sung to her, held her hands, and talked to her even though we aren’t sure how aware she is of our presence.

As she sleeps the days away in her hospital bed, I wonder why God is prolonging the end of her life. I have had a cold all week, and we are all exhausted. My brother and new husband each are traveling home today to return to work this week. Her death seemed imminent every day last week, but now we aren’t sure how many more days she might just lay here asleep as her organs slowly fail.

Why is God not ready to call her home?

Why must we watch her like this day after day?

Where is the mercy of God?

These last three years since she was diagnosed with a terminal recurrence of cancer, I have wondered why God would allow my mom to be taken from us at such a young age – all of us, including her, being too young for her to die. But today I see things a little differently. The first time she had cancer, I was just seven years old. Her biggest reason for fighting was that she wanted to finish raising my older brothers and me with our dad. What a gift God gave her: seventeen more years to love us, teach us, and encourage us until she got to watch her youngest baby get married to a man that she loves and respects.

Grace from heartache
This morning as I watched my mom in her perpetual state of sleep I wondered why God would let this suffering drag on for her and for us. While my heart ached for her soul to be at peace, the Lord drew my attention to two graces in this situation.

The first is the beautiful and timely example of married love my dad is demonstrating to my new husband and me in the way that he has been faithfully by my mom’s side day after day and night after night through all of this. The second is the wisdom to recognize that the love we have for my mom, which keeps us coming back to the hospital each day to spend time with her even while she is unable to interact with us, is a mere shadow of the love that God has for each of us. If, in our human weakness, this is how we are able to love her with our imperfect faithfulness, then how unfathomable the love and faithfulness of God must be for us. So today I thank God that I can look over at my dad in the chair next to my mom, one hand on hers and the other scrolling through articles on his tablet, and know that God loves each of us at least as much as my dad loves my mom. And hopefully, my new husband and I can likewise share such love and faithfulness through the grace of God until death do us part.

Laura Tringali, born and raised in Hershey, PA received her BS in Psychology with minors in Nonprofit Studies and Classics at The Ohio State University. She then went on to earn a Master of Theological Studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry concentrating in New Testament Scripture. Laura now works as a Youth Minister and Director of Confirmation at a parish just outside of Boston.

Categories: Essays, Guest Posts

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21 replies

  1. How beautiful. Your mum must be a very special woman. May God be close to you all at this time. Thank you for sharing. Truly God in all things.

  2. Thank you for sharing these moments. This has helped me feel the presence of God in such a deep way. God Blesses you all.

  3. Thank you for sharing. Your anniversary will always be interwoven with this experience in your heart. May God bless you with the grace to hold the lessons close while allowing the grief to ease from your heart.

  4. Thank you for sharing this with us. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. May God bless you.

  5. What a beautifully written piece about the love, angst and grace that are all part of life and death…
    Praying your mom Home in His arms… thank you for sharing 🙏

  6. Laura, what a lovely, personal, soulful, inspiring, reflective tribute both to your Mom, your family and our God. My heart aches for each of you and your loss and rejoices in knowing she’s at peace without pain cradled in the Love of Christ. Prayers to each of you as you continue your journey.

  7. Thank you, Laura, for sharing this difficult and yet so inspiring journey that you have experienced. You have given us a glimpse into God’s love through the love of your family. Blessings as you journey through your grief.

  8. Laura, as you read these comments, I hope you’ll see that your questions have been answered. In fact, you answered some of your own questions and I hope you see that.

    Our purpose to bring glory to God in all that we do and all that we experience. That’s no mystery. And through your writing and insight, the suffering your mother is enduring is doing exactly that. When Paul asked God to remove the thorn from his flesh, God answered, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Together, you and your mother have brought glory to God this day.

  9. I’m praying for you and your family to know God’s peace, truly know it and feel God’s love at this difficult time. Perhaps we all ask such questions as those we most love transition. I certainly did, along with herder ones, when I was losing my beloved dad to cancer. The loss of him crushed me. Healing answered my questions and opened me to consent daily to God’s presence and action in me, to surrender, to say, “Do with me what You will.” I’m transformed. The wound of my father’s death allowed a place for God to enter in a way I hadn’t allowed before. May you and your family know such grace, love and healing.

  10. Thank you for sharing this story, Laura. Growing up with an awareness of mortality is a spiritual gift with which you are already blessing others. Shine on!

  11. Despite complementing the article very well, the photos embedded here are not taken by the author herself. Please add proper credits to the photos.

  12. How beautiful is that letter and the love of Jesus ! All I can say is WOW ❤️

  13. What wonderful comments on a moving post. Theoria, these photos are royalty free and require no credit or attribution. They are under a Creative Commons CC0 licence.

  14. Thank you for this grace filled reflection. May you enjoy many happy years of marriage.

  15. Thank you for sharing your story and wisdom. You and your family are in my.prauers.

  16. Your wisdom is beyond your age and experience. I knew this from the first time I got to see you in action on your high school Kairos retreat. This reflection is absolute proof that God has you right where He has called you, leading you people to Him.

  17. Thank you Laura, for sharing such a personal and difficult experience. Losing a parent, or anyone close to you, leaves a hole. It seems that hole doesn’t ever really go away, but we become more accustomed to its presence. Your Mom’s positive presence in your life will live on in many ways as you all will celebrate her life and legacy of love.Your family’s love, support and dedication through such a hard experience is such a wonderful example. Your willingness to look for and find God’s comforting presence in the midst of your pain is really commendable. That is not easy to do sometimes. Thank you for leading by example and giving so much of yourself to our kids in the confirmation program. Monica Stopka

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