I woke up suddenly to the sound of a siren and much commotion downstairs. I ran into the hallway where I met up with Ellen, my younger sister. We both ran to see what was happening. My older brother was already at the bottom of the stairs. My parents were gone, but my aunt was there. She was trying to explain to us that my mother had to be taken to the hospital. We did not really understand. I was only nine at the time, and my sister was six.
The next day, our father tried to explain to us what had happened. My parents had been viewing pictures that my aunt had brought over to the house. My mother, who had been battling cancer, had passed out in my father’s arms. My father had given her mouth to mouth resuscitation and revived her.
No one was prepared to handle the next six months. My mother had been in and out of the hospital and was taking every drug possible. My sister and I would stay awake every night until my father came home. The first question that we would ask was, “When can we go and see mom?” As I look back on that question, I realize that it must have been very difficult for my father. My parents had agreed that my sister and I should not see my mother because she had lost most of her hair during the chemotherapy. My father did what he thought was best to keep our hopes up.
June 27 was the last day of school in 1978. I was ten and in fifth grade. School was to let out at 12:30 p.m. At noon, I was called down to the principal’s office. When I saw my sister there, we both got excited. We had convinced ourselves that our father was picking us up early so that we could go to the hospital to see our mother. We thought that we had been well-behaved and that this would be our reward. During those six months, we had tried so hard to be obedient children with the hope that maybe we could see our mother.
My father did in fact come to pick us up from school. Ellen and I must have made that event extremely difficult for my father. We had worked ourselves into such excitement. We kept asking him if we were going to go to the hospital to see our mother. My father’s first words were that we would discuss it in the car. We lived only five minutes from the school, and so the drive was short. As we approached the house, my father started to say words that would ring in my ears for years. “Well,” my father started, “I have to tell you something, and it is not good news…”
That was all that I needed to hear. I knew the rest. I did not even wait for the car to come to a stop. As we approached the driveway, I jumped out of the car and ran for the house.
When I entered the house, I was not expecting what I saw. There were people– people everywhere. Family and friends of my parents filled the house. I saw my thirteen-year-old brother Jay standing at the stairs. He started to come over to me, but I ran right past him to my room. No one came after me for a while. I guess they thought it would be better to give me time to settle down. Eventually, though, my little four-year-old cousin came into my room. He had been told that his aunt had gone away, and I guess that is the best way to explain it to someone so young. He just wanted to play. I did not realize that he did not understand what had happened. I started to pick things up and throw them at him, just barely missing him. My father entered the room quickly, and Ellen was right behind him.
I was in a frenzy, throwing anything close to me at the door where my cousin had previously been standing. My father realized that it was time for a talk. I used to keep a diary back then, and I remember clearly those words that I wrote in it on that day:
July 27, 1978 ‑‑ TODAY IS THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE !!!
TODAY IS THE DAY THAT MY MOTHER DIED !!!
My father tried so hard to comfort my sister and me. He had told us that she was better off this way. She had been sick for so long and suffering the whole time.
It is hard to comfort a ten-year-old child that has just lost his mother and never had the chance to really get to know her. I did not even get the chance to say goodbye. That hurt more than I could ever try to explain. I felt like I was responsible. I had thought that if I was really good that I would get the opportunity to see her, at least in the hospital. I was wrong.
The following year my father was remarried, July 21, 1979. I now had a new older brother and a new younger sister. This was a very big change for all of us. We were now a large family with a great deal of pain from both sides. In May of 1978, my stepmother had lost her husband due to a heart attack at a very young age. There were many new things that all of us had to deal with, and I guess we each did so in our own way. As far as emotionally coping, I can only speak for myself.
I can remember times late at night, crying out to God, asking why this had to happen. I did not understand. It was difficult for me, and I can remember times when I would get violently angry at other children at summer camp because they made jokes about people’s mothers. My mother! I would black out and not remember the fights themselves but only the aftermath. The same thing started to happen at school when people made mother jokes at me. This became quite a problem. My father took me for counseling. I guess it helped. It got it out of my mind.
I continued to grow as most children do, finding ways to fit in at school. Of course, to be “cool” you had to drink and smoke and try to be an adult. This was easy. My brother was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. He would have parties with his friends on the back porch. Jay always tried to look out for me, but I think that it might have been too much for him to handle. When he went off to college, my stepbrother became a senior. We would have big parties when Jay came home from college and my parents were out of the house.
After my sophomore year of high school, I had an opportunity to travel to California with a group of people my age. We flew out to Denver, Colorado, and then took a bus in a circle down to Mexico, up to Canada, and back to Denver. I had become friendly with the bus driver. His name was Chuck. We had traveled for several weeks and seen many great sights, and I thought that I was at the top of everything, as if nothing could ever go wrong. That was soon to change.
On July 21, 1984, we were in San Diego, California. A few days before, we had found out that we had all missed a manic that killed many people in a McDonalds’s that we left only half an hour before he had started shooting and killing many people.
Death was once again on my mind. As we sat a Chinese restaurant, I am not sure if Chuck noticed my concern, but I had noticed that Chuck was always talking about God. He and I had started a conversation about the fortune in a fortune cookie. I do not remember what the fortune said or, for that matter, much of the conversation. I do remember that we had talked for a while long enough to get to an ice cream shop outside of Chinatown.
The conversation must have lasted for about half an hour to an hour. We talked about a Man that I had never heard of before. Chuck had explained that this Man loved him very much— so much that He was willing to pay the price for things that Chuck had done wrong. Chuck told me that this Man was God in human form and His name was Jesus the Christ. I had been raised Jewish and had never heard this story before– or was it a story? When we finally got some ice cream, we were sitting on the front steps of the ice cream shop. I do remember telling him that it was nice that he had a nice story to believe in, but I would only believe in facts.
Then Chuck made a comment to me that would have normally enraged me, yet this time, I was extremely calm. Chuck challenged me in a way that no one had ever done before or since. Chuck asked a bold, clear, blunt question. “What if your mother had died just so that you would be here right now? Would it not be a shame if your mother died so that you could hear this message, and you let her die in vain?” The words kept ringing in my ear: Do NOT let her death be in vain! This is why I needed to question Chuck more about this God-Man named Jesus. Chuck proceeded to tell me about Jesus’ death for my sins.
I am a logical person, and so was Chuck. He started to show me in the Bible the prophecies and explain their fulfillments. I realized that it would be statistically impossible for anyone, no matter how hard he tried, to fake all of the Scriptures. Chuck’s talk of the resurrection only proved that Jesus was God and that it all could not be explained any other way (and I tried!).
Again, I do not remember all that we talked about on those steps in front of the ice cream shop, but all I can remember is that I realized at that time, for the first time, that I was a sinner. I knew that I was destined for hell if something did not change. I understood that Jesus’ death paid for my sins and that His resurrection proved His message and that He was God. I remember Chuck leading me in prayer as I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins.
For the first time in my life, I could say that I could really come to grips with the death of my mother. Six years had passed by before I could deal with her death. I am not sure where she is now, but I unfortunately have no reason to believe that she is in heaven.
I say this because Jesus’ resurrection did vindicate His message completely. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). One must believe that Jesus is who He said He is to obtain everlasting life. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Many people who have been raised knowing the life of Jesus know His famous words in John 3:16, but as a Jew on those steps in 1984, I heard it for the first time: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
In the years to come, I felt called to the ministry of being a fulltime pastor/teacher. I noticed a desire to teach and explain the Word of God to others. I long to see Christians understand the Lord and develop an ever-growing relationship with Him. I study my Bible to teach others in both one-on-one and group settings. I want them to know whom they serve.
Striving to make today an eternal day for the glory of God,
Andrew R. Rappaport