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A couple of years ago, I decided to take time off from blogging for The Twelve so that I could concentrate my creative writing energy on my doctoral dissertation. Little did I know at that time that my energies would also be needed to navigate a global pandemic as a mom and a pastor and to journey with my own mother through her cancer diagnosis and treatment and, eventually, her death at the age of 70.
I return to The Twelve today with my first of four blogs about my mom’s death. Today, I write about her Last Supper. In the weeks to come: the Last Question, the Last Conversation, and the Last Sea.
My mom loved food. She wasn’t a foodie or a chef and her tastes weren’t adventurous, but she ate what she loved and she loved what she ate: juicy hamburgers, McDonalds ice cream cones, cinnamon rolls made from frozen bread dough, macaroni salad, half a burrito from Plaza Mexico (Dad would have the other half).
As many of you know, chemotherapy affects your tastebuds and your tummy. During her illness, Mom deeply grieved her loss of appetite. She was constantly searching for flavours and foods that sounded good or tasted good. Our daily morning FaceTimes often included a few minutes of her food diary: what she’d eaten the day before, how much of it she’d eaten, if it had tasted good, if it had stayed down, etc.
On All Saints Day last year, it became clear enough to all of us that her end was near. It was time for me to get on a plane, cross the border, and join my siblings and my dad in caring for Mom in her last days. I arrived at her condo in Minnesota early in the afternoon on Monday, the 2nd of November, and sat by her side as she drifted in and out of sleep.
That evening, she woke up and looked around. She was agitated. “Where’s my food?” she asked. “Who took my food? Why didn’t anyone feed me?” No one took your food, Mom. You’ve been sleeping! Are you hungry? “Where’s my food? Who took my food?” Okay, Mom. Let’s get you something to eat.
Mom’s dear friend, Marcia, had brought over a Scandinavian almond cake with strawberries and whipped cream, and so we got her a piece of that. But then she noticed my brother eating some bread with strawberry jam, and she certainly wanted a piece of that. I helped her eat the bread and jam, and then the cake.
This was her last meal. And she enjoyed every bite. She died about 48 hours later. (I will tell more of the story in posts to come.)
A few weeks ago, I preached from Acts 2:42 where we read that the early church devoted themselves to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. And I was struck that these were the things that occupied Jesus’ last evening with his disciples. He taught them. He fellowshipped with them in service and song. He asked them to pray with him in the garden. And at the centre of it all, the breaking of bread. A meal. The last meal.
But it wasn’t really the last meal. Because Jesus rose from the dead, the firstfruits of those who fall asleep! And what did he do with his disciples on the other side of his death? He ate fish and bread with them. And what’s more – before he died, he promised that he would one day eat the Passover meal with them again at the time of its fulfillment in the kingdom of God.
So, the Last Supper wasn’t Jesus’ last meal. And the Scandinavian almond cake with strawberries and whipped cream wasn’t Mom’s last meal.
And she knew it. As soon as her prognosis became clear, Mom started longing for the new heavens and earth. She focused her energies and her appetites on the wedding supper of the lamb. “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
This image hung on the walls of all of our parsonage dining rooms as I was growing up. We ate our meals anticipating the great feast. As Mom neared death, she could see it. She could taste it. “I’ll save you a seat at the table, Heidi,” she said to me a few different times.
At my mom’s funeral, her friend, Marcia, gave my sister, brother, dad and me each a gift: a tin for making Scandinavian almond cake, a serving platter, and the recipe. This week, I made the cake for the first time.
I made it and ate it in remembrance of Mom’s last meal – and in anticipation of all the meals to come. Save me a place at The Table, Mom.