Reflections on Death With the Passing of My Mother

In Ricky Gervais’s 2007 movie, The Invention of Lying, an interesting thing happens as his mother faces death. She is in the hospital about to die, and she’s mortally afraid.

But he reassures her: “You’re wrong about what happens when you die, Mum. It’s not an eternity of nothingness.”

She hangs on every word he says—so does the hospital staff.

He continues, “When you die you’re going to go to your favorite place in the whole world. And you’re going to be with all of the people you’ve ever loved and who have ever loved you…and there will be no sadness, no pain, just love and laughing and happiness.”

She dies contentedly.

It turns out he was making it all up just to provide comfort to her. The actor professes to be an atheist, so he himself doesn’t believe the comforting words he was saying in this moving scene.

But what if it is true?

What if it’s not?

How can we know?

My own mother died last Friday, so death is definitely on my mind.

Death is a sword of Damocles that hangs over all of us. We’re not getting out of this thing alive. The question is: Do we need to get ready somehow?

Woody Allen supposedly said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

My mom was ready to die. It was a long time coming—she had been struggling with Alzheimer’s for years. In that sense, by the time the end came, it was a relief.

Ann Lombard Newcombe was born on December 7, 1922. She died September 2, 2011.

Ann was married to Leo R. Newcombe since May 1, 1948. She was the mother of eight children—six boys and two girls. As Dad once jokingly said, he had married “Fertile Myrtle.”

Her first cousin was William F. Buckley, Jr. Her husband was a newspaper executive, serving as Vice President, General Manager of The Chicago Sun-Times and The Chicago Daily News (defunct since 1978).

One of her sons (Richard) founded the first successful newspaper syndicate startup to stay in business since the 1930s—Creators Syndicate (established in 1987).

In one of Buckley’s books, he talks about the remarkable family of sisters that his mother came from. They all loved God. One of those sisters was my grandmother.

That love for Jesus was passed on from mother to daughter—that daughter being my mother. Her enthusiasm and love for Jesus has rubbed off on me.

Not that I’m as devout as she was. I wish I were. She reminds me of the classic statement from the Confessions of St. Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

I have every hope, based on historical facts, that she is with Jesus.

Why? Because she trusted in Christ for her salvation.

When Jesus conquered the grave, He gave us a reason for hope beyond the grave. His resurrection is a historical fact. This isn’t just “pie in the sky, when you die, by and by.”

This is hope based on facts of history. There would be no Christianity, in all its manifestations, had Jesus Christ not walked out of the tomb bodily, 2,000 years ago.

The first skeptics of the resurrection were the disciples themselves, including Doubting Thomas. But they came to believe when He appeared to them over and over. So convinced were they that they went out and told the world. Most of them were martyred for their efforts, but none of them recanted.

Mom believed deeply in Jesus Christ.

According to eyewitnesses, including my sister and brother-in-law, my mom, after about four or five days of having her eyes shut and being completely “out of it,” suddenly opened her eyes with her pupils slightly dilated—“like when you see someone you really love,” to quote my sister. She began to stare intently at something for about five minutes. She didn’t blink. Was she looking at Jesus?

My wife says that when her father was little, in Norway in the late 1940s, his 22-year-old sister, Kirsten, was dying of heart failure. The whole family (all seven siblings and the parents) gathered around her bed. Although she had been in a coma for three days, just before she died she sat up in bed and stared intently at something. She raised her arms and with a big smile said, “Jesus, you’re coming to get me!” Then she died. My wife can’t tell this story without her eyes getting moist.

If ever someone was ready to die, I believe it was Ann Newcombe.

When I think of her death, I’m reminded of the beautiful poem by the 20th century African-American writer James Weldon Johnson, “Go, Down, Death,” which starts this way:

Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart broken husband—weep no more;
Grief stricken son—weep no more;
Left lonesome daughter—weep no more;
She’s only just gone home.