My Mom Died Today

Mom's Hand_01Photography by D. Plasman

My mom died today. Hip surgery and resulting complications, including a weakened heart, proved too much. She was 90, though she didn’t look her age or necessarily act it. I thought (and was hoping) she would die this past Friday on my sister’s birthday (she died five years ago at the age of 62).

My mom was a reluctant member of a particular community of parents who know the grief of outliving a child. Himself a member of that society, the late William Sloane Coffin, who once preached from the pulpit of The Riverside Church in NYC, observed that when children bury their parent they lose a part of history; when parents bury a child they lose a piece of the future.

In the context of our faith tradition, we talked about many afterlife issues at her bedside. My mom was eager to re-unite with her husband and daughter, as well as her brother and three sisters and her own mom and dad who preceded her in death. She wanted to see again lifelong friends, members of her church, and people from the mobile home park in Florida who died before she did.

“All those heavenly gatherings will be amazing,” she said with anticipation. I agreed. When she confided in me that during a recent night a white-robed Jesus appeared four times, it never occurred to me to explain it away. I took no small comfort in knowing my mom was ready to die, and laughed with her when she said with unguarded impatience, as if waiting for a red light to turn green, “Oh c’mon! Why is this taking so long?”

I wish I knew more about the particulars of what happens after death. Many books—some bestsellers—have been written on the subject. A few years ago, a dear church member shared with the congregation his coming-back-from-death experience and the details of the conversation he had with the angel Gabriel. It never occurred to me to doubt him.

In Luke 20, Jesus is blindsided by some resurrection skeptics who weave together an elaborate tale of a woman married to seven brothers. Hoping to make Jesus look stupid, they ask him, “In the so-called resurrection, whose wife will she be?” I imagine Jesus thinking to himself as he rolls his eyes, “Oh for God’s sake, is this what occupies your time?”

The fact that Jesus goes on to downplay the importance of marriage in the next life and makes a passing reference that we will become like angels is, at best, a sketchy depiction devoid of any specifics of what a post-earthly existence will look like.

My own view on the topic is a borrowed one. When the late theologian, Marcus Borg, was asked what he believed about the resurrection and heaven, he admitted he was an agnostic—that is to say, he didn’t know. But this he did know, in death—as in life—he would be embraced by the God who transforms all things.

That’s good enough for me.



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  1. Rob Williams February 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your loss with us, Dan. I pray God’s comfort and peace surround and sustain you and your family. As one of those parents who have lost a child, I was particularly moved by your quoting William Sloane Coffin. I knew of the death of his son, but don’t remember ever seeing this quote before. Nora and I feel deeply and acutely that “loss of a piece of the future.” You have given us words for it now. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous February 21, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

    Thanks, Dan.

  3. Marie Cobb February 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    So sorry to hear of your Mother’s death. my sympathy for you and your family. No matter how prepared we think we are for a loved ones death, it is still a shock to our system when they die. Saying a prayer for all of you.

  4. Heidi Mann February 21, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    Oh, Dan– I’m so sorry for your loss. Joy-filled for your mom’s sake, but sharing in the sorrow you know as one left behind. My thoughts and prayers will be with you as you prepare to celebrate her earthly life and her new life through the Service of Christian Burial.

  5. Dave Kidd February 21, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    Well,Dan; no matter how you cut it, this is the end of an era for you and there is a lot of sadness, and we want you to know that we care, and that we love you and Jody.

    This afternoon I happened to see for the first time the exquisite collection of your photos of crosses, that have been hung in the Atrium of Edgewood Church, E. Lansing. Your Mom must have been proud and grateful to have borne and raise such a sensitive son!

    Ada joins me in affection for you both, Dave Kidd

  6. Dick Dunn February 21, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    Thanks for this profound sharing of you, friend.


  7. Susan Molstad February 21, 2015 at 8:16 pm #

    My thoughts are with you on this sad and yet joyous day. My mom died at 92 following a second hip surgery..and today was her birthday. Such are the connections in this short but wonderful circle of life. Love to you and your family.

  8. Marge February 21, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

    You have my complete and sincere sympathy. I have no words to console you, other than I care for you deeply.

  9. Dennis February 21, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    Dan, thank you for sharing so beautifully your loss of history. We love you and cherish each opportunity to hear from you. This profound opportunity, no exception.

    Dennis and Carole Keefe

  10. Shelli Otten February 21, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

    Dan, Bill and I are thinking of you tonight. Your mom sounds like she was so full of spirit. What a blessing to you, and thank you for the thoughtful blog.

  11. Pat Even February 22, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    no matter how much time you have to prepare for this day of separation we are never prepared enough. Peace and love to you and your family.

  12. Kevin Dean February 22, 2015 at 7:24 am #

    Dan, I’m sorry for your loss, and praying for you in this time of grieving and change, and with your mother as she celebrates a joyous reunion with those who went before her. Thank you for your reflections here, as always.

  13. Wayne Bowerman February 22, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    Thanks Dan for sharing this heartfelt and honest reflection. I too deeply appreciate Borg’s thoughts on the “afterlife.” Peace be with you in your time of grief, processing and transitioning.

  14. Jackie Himelright February 22, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    I had similar conversations with my mother before she died a month ago. May love and hope sustain you as you grieve.

  15. Rob Hirsch February 22, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    Rev. Daniel,
    A note to send the results from the Hirsch family from the First Congregational church, of Rochester. We are very sorry for the loss of your Mom. We have lost both our parents, and we know the feeling of losing our parents. I will add in my prayers with her in my morning prayers.
    We hope you gather your sorrows and remember your Mom as the wonderful person she was for you and your family.
    Respectfully… The Hirsch family from Rochester!

  16. Doug Mulvaney February 22, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    Very sorry to hear about your mom ‘s passing . Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  17. Lou Bury February 23, 2015 at 11:44 am #


    So sorry for the loss of your Mom. I remember meeting her many years ago and remember her as a pretty special lady. I’m sure she’ll be missed. Your post is a lovely tribute to her and the God in whose embrace she now rests.

  18. Marv Dunn February 24, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dan. I am sorry to hear of your loss. Your description of your mom fits my mom well. She is 94, and also has a very weak heart but does not act or look her age. I will be walking down a similar path to yours, probably sooner than I’d like. Your thoughts are helpful. Death does hold lots of questions for me.

  19. Betty Aussicker Hurd February 25, 2015 at 8:43 am #

    Dan, I feel your loss and know time helps with the grief, but the loss remains. My Mother always referred to your Mother fondly and had wonderful memories of her. Thank you for the way you have expressing difficult thoughts and ideas in your blog, especially now.
    Betty Aussicker Hurd

  20. Marilyn Dunn February 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    I am so sorry to hear about your Mom, but confident that she is in God’s company which I am sure gives you great comfort. My love and prayers with you and Jody and the rest of your family.