A high school junior’s tribute to her mother, Margrit Zimmerman, who even while dying of cancer pointed her children and many others to Jesus.
First of all, she was my mom. An awesome cook, she could do it all – dumplings, coffee cakes, bagels, pies, and chicken, and she used every opportunity to pass on the tricks of her trade to my sister and me. One of the last things she did was to peel apples for her famous apple crisp, and even though she had to do it sitting and couldn’t eat more than a mouthful, she glowed over the finished dessert. She could be deadly serious if we were disobedient or disrespectful, but she also loved to have fun, and never turned down an opportunity to dress up or dance. One of my favorite childhood memories is her singing us to sleep with a “candle dance,” twirling around our dark bedroom with a lighted candle to the rhythm of a lullaby.
Even after she was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, she did her best to keep her role as Mom, despite worsening pain, nausea, and fatigue. And she was never too tired to hike, at Ashokan, Mohonk, or the Wallkill Rail Trail. Until ten days before her death she was still getting up at 5:00 a.m. to get breakfast on the table and to see us off to school, no matter how weak or tired she felt. Almost to the very end, she was more concerned about those around her than herself, offering guests a drink or a chair even when she could barely open her eyes.
Besides being a wonderful mother, she was an expert nurse: warm, caring, conscientious, and quiet. Her favorite assignment was caring for mothers and babies, but she loved working in a daycare center almost as much.
Most important, she was a lifelong disciple of Jesus. When she felt that something was wrong, she didn’t hesitate to speak her mind—especially to her siblings, her nephews, and her many cousins. If it was a matter of loyalty to Jesus or something else she felt strongly about, she wouldn’t back down, but she was also quick to laugh, forgive, and comfort. She continually pointed us kids to Jesus, reminding us that if we made him our best friend, “everything would work out.” Full of laughter and love, she made a lasting impression on everyone she met. No one who worked with her could be sullen or silent for long; her infectious laughter, her radiant smile, and positive attitude melted the stoniest hearts.
Her faith was childlike and simple, and it was all about actions, not words. Her Bible, given to her by her grandfather J. Heinrich Arnold in 1980, was well-worn and heavily underlined. Just nine days before she died, she told my dad that she was overwhelmed with a feeling of “perfect, perfect peace” – and that she hoped we felt the same.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer at age forty-three in the summer of 2013. By the time she was hospitalized, she had already endured months of pain and vomiting, but I never heard her complain or draw attention to herself. Even after a month at Albany Medical Center, she never lost her optimistic attitude. And when she finally stopped chemotherapy after trying four different regimens, she faced death bravely and quietly. More than once, she told my dad that she was not afraid, and encouraged us to “hold on.”
How could she face death with such peace and joy? I am certain it was only because of her simple confidence in God, her clear conscience, and her knowledge that she had indeed fought the fight and run the race.
On Thursday, March 12, at 6:50 p.m., my mom was called home to Jesus. All five of us children and my dad were at her side, and as terrifying as her struggle was, we knew that God was with her and with us, because she radiated peace. She leaves a tremendous hole in our family, but her life and death are now moving hearts all over the world. Somehow, God is using her suffering to point us to the suffering of Jesus and to win souls for his kingdom.
I will never forget how beautiful she looked at the wake, in a blue dress with a garland of yellow roses and a bouquet in her hands. She was truly a “wise virgin” who was ready for the Wedding Feast, and who went to meet her Maker with joy (Matt. 25:1-13). Her life, suffering, and death will shake, challenge, and inspire me for the rest of my life.