the art of dying

Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God.  Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

John 21


Trying to live a life without regrets is like trying to buy a house free from any trace of dust: futile. As Solomon would say, “It’s like chasing after the wind.” As surely as you will never catch the wind, you will never live a life without a moment of regret. There’s only One who lived so perfect a life, and we are not Him.

You know what? As your mother, I forbid you to even try to live your life that way. If you chase after a regret-free life, you’ll miss the point of life itself. The grief of regret ladles tasty gravy on this life, covering both the sweet and the bitter on our plates. So I say live regretfully, but not recklessly.

I’ve done both. 

I have cupboards and drawers full of reckless regrets. For example, my makeshift Gherri curl back in the 7th and 8th grade. And, I regret painting our old kitchen table that traffic-sign shade of yellow. I regret much deeper things too, of course, but let’s not wallow there. Those are trivial and I have too many that dangle, glinting in my memory like baubles and junk store trinkets. We could be sorting through them all day. But I'll tell you one regret that has stained me: Nada, my mother, was sick with lung cancer and emphysema. She was dying. I did not go to her. 

And like all true instances in our lives, God has captured this heartache of mine and written it down in a story set after the crucifixion of Christ. It’s the story of Peter casting out nets of regret. He’s grieving and his heart is begging to walk on the water just one more time with his friend. Suddenly, as quick and as quiet as the break of dawn, Peter sees the Risen Savior standing on the shore. Jesus. Alive. Stood on the shore. 

I wonder how many times Peter replayed Jesus’ last words to him, “Couldn’t you keep watch with me even one hour?” He couldn’t, and then Jesus was gone. Now his heart, naked and raw and filled with every possible language of “I’m so sorry,” swims with him to meet His Redeemer on the shore. And here is the perfect picture of the kind of repentance that is born of regret.

This is where my story intersects: How I wish I could swim to my mother. How I wish I’d kept watch with her in that last hour. I wish I could say, “I’m so sorry.”

Sometimes, when I hear my busy, cocksure life crow, I am reminded that many times when asked about my mother, I said, “I do not know her.” That woman wearing the “vintage” leisure suit at my 4th grade dance recital, “I do not know her.” The woman dressed in the full-length rabbit fur coat on my college campus, “No, I don’t know her.” The woman naked, rearranging all our living room furniture outside on the front lawn? "Sorry, I do not know her.”

My mother’s death was not the first time that I went to sleep on her.

My mother loved Jesus. Her love for Him was cracked and medically, certifiably crazy. Beautiful and terrifying. Her love for Him was so big. The eternal weight of her love for Him still lingers here. Sometimes, riding on the clouds of night, her voice calls to me, “Marcie, do you love me?” And my heart cries, “Mommie, you know everything now. Didn’t He show you that I love you?” 

I do wonder how it will be when I die. Peter stood with the Risen Dead Brought to Life who told him that just like His death, Peter’s would be lonely and at the mercy of others. Then He said, “Follow me.” 

For me, will it be like mother like daughter? Will I ask you to keep watch with me and will you fall asleep on me? I do not know. But no matter, I follow. And should you ever get lost, I pray that like the Good Shepherd, I will leave my ninety-nine to go and find you. Should you claim, “I do not know her,” when asked about me, I pray that you will someday recognize me standing beside The Savior and waiting to meet you on the shore.


Marcie Walker