Holy Days

Jesus, Remember Me

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

(Luke 23:39-43, NRSV)

When my mother was dying, an Episcopal priest, the daughter of family friends, brought her a tape of songs from the Taize community. Mother listened to it over and over again, and we listened to it on the Friday and Saturday when she took the final journey to her death.

It was a gorgeous May weekend in 1993, a true Virginia spring, hot and sunny. I arrived on Friday morning and a cousin drove me from the airport to my parents’ house. My mother lay in a hospital bed set up in the dining room, near the windows looking out to their sun room and a small courtyard, a favorite light blanket thrown over her legs.

I must admit I really didn’t know how to be at a deathbed. I had no idea how long the process might take. I just knew I needed to be there. At home in City By the Sea I left my two little boys with their father and an indefinite return date. In Jane Austen’s Village I sat restlessly at her bedside, wishing there were something more to "do," not knowing that simply being there mattered most.

"Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray."

Those are the words of one of the Taize pieces that meant so much to my mother. I tried, I tried, but I was such a Martha on those two days, busy and troubled about many things.

"Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom."

That was the other one. My mother had been afraid not just of dying, which she feared would be painful, but of being dead. Had there been too many pictures of hell painted in her young mind years before? Somewhere in the final weeks of her life she came to an image of floating peacefully in a great sea of souls, and there she found comfort.

"Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom."

Have I told you this story before? When the hour of her death came, my father and I were out of the house. I had taken him for a meal, because the smell of cooking made Mother feel worse. Nancy, the practical nurse who had cared for her daily for some months, sat beside the bed while we were gone. Nancy knew how to choose the better part, how to simply be with my mother as her body’s life ebbed and her spirit prepared for the great transition.

Mother looked for Daddy, and Nancy reassured her he was with me.

"I’ve done all I can. There isn’t any more," said my mother.

Nancy, a good and faithful woman, replied, "There’s just one more thing, and that’s to meet Jesus."

This is how she told me my mother answered her:

"I want to meet him. I’m ready."

I’ll never know if Nancy told me a pretty story to comfort me, one that she felt assured my mother’s salvation, or if the words were true. But the feeling was, since over and over she had listened to those words, asking for the tape to be rewound to that selection.

"Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom."

We read the passage at her memorial service, although only a few of us understood why. Is her spirit floating in a sea of souls, or is she playing bridge at a heavenly garden party? I don’t know. I only know that in the end she felt accompanied, and I pray that in the end, Jesus did, too. All I can do is sit with him today, more patiently than I did with my mother, knowing there is no way I can change what happened.

I can only watch and pray.

12 thoughts on “Jesus, Remember Me”

  1. Beautiful and poignant, Songbird. That Presence bit is perhaps the ministry thing with which I struggle most. I am, like you, a Martha in so many ways (except for the gender bit, of course). Thanks for this.

  2. hugs
    I think she did meet Him – at that moment – because he’d been meeting her through the worship. And that’s how death was conquered – that’s what makes this Friday good.
    Yet hard.
    Songbird thank you for sharing this. I will tell the story to my mother whenI see her at the end of April. She too is afraid of dying and being dead – and while nominally a Christian – she doesn’t have that assurance.
    It will be a hard visit because she wants me to sort out affairs too … and to make plans for her funeral – for when the time comes (she’s 76 today) but I’ve also told her we’re going to get her a recordable DVD and I’ll teach her how to use it. So prayers for that too – I’m not exactly the world’s best at that kind of thing. But her VCR is dying and it’s getting harder and harder to buy blank tapes anyway.
    I think the story of your mum will encourage her and I too want to be near when her time comes, though have no idea how it will really work out.

  3. Thank you for this poignant and powerful story. I have never in my life felt the need to “watch and pray” as I do this year. Blessings to you, dear Songbird, in these busy, holy days. I hope it doesn’t snow on Easter, either where you are or where I am!

  4. Both my grandfather and my MIL at the time of their deaths opened their eyes hugely (after being sedated for hours prior) as if they were seeing Him and could not believe what they were seeing. I would bet your mom saw too and so was reassured that it was OK to go meet Him. We are bathed in the light as we go to join Him, of that much I am so very sure.
    Thanks for sharing such a powerful story on this Holy Saturday… yes… we will watch and pray, just being at his side.

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