March 20, 2020.
That’s the day Mom died.
I’ve written dozens of blogs since then … all in my head. A hundred … at least … different themes jockeying to be the first to make it out of frizzled emotions onto the page. But there was the one that had to be written first … the one that might tap into closure.
My last blog about Mom was written during the period of her rapid decline … an experience that felt like someone had wrapped a blanket full of tiny shards of glass around my heart and then squeezed it. I wrote just a few days before she left us letting all the rawness ooze to the page. I’ve reached for closure many times since then … but I’m starting to awaken to what others have tried to describe about losing your mother … you never really find closure.
A parent’s impact – negative or positive – doesn’t have a final chapter.
So I seek a rest stop for all the emotions that have ebbed and flowed.
I still feel the rawness.
I gravitate towards quiet.
I hunker away from the discourse of our world right now … it makes me wither inside to listen to all the bickering … I just want to shout … Shut up and stop tearing each other up … we have so little time to love.
It was the suffering. I watched Mom suffer emotionally at the onset of her Lewey Body dementia. There were so many days, especially early on, when I sat by her bed and listened to her confusion and distress, and I cried out in my heart, Father, do you really mean this for her? Why does she have to go through this anguish?
But … it seems that a bigger plan than an end to the suffering at hand was in play. That season wasn’t the final word. Yes, there were some more awful days ahead, but also good days … days I didn’t expect any more. They were amazing, sparkle-and-unicorn kind of days – where miraculous things happened. Mom got to be Mom … bossing us around, making plans for the future, wanting us to make sure others were taken care of, and of course, she was witty as ever.
There was even the adventure, where she made my husband stop the car and rescue a wooden frame from a fallen building that was about to crush it. She seemed unaware of her surroundings when we brought her home for visits on the rare days that she felt up to it. But she was aware. And she had been scheming for weeks on how to rescue that frame. She just needed the right person who would go along with her plans, which has always been my generous husband.
We’d gotten used to this, these highs that made every low worth it just to have her with us. Maybe we could adjust to the bittersweetness of this new “normal”.
But then Mom fell. The horribly broken hip was more than her body and mind could withstand. She declined so rapidly, so painfully. God, did you really mean for her to go through this … so much pain … so, so, so much suffering.
I felt You with us … hours and hours of me standing over her bed, pacing the room in that serene hospice house, a late snow falling outside … me, singing in my tone deaf voice … “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling … calling to you and to me … calling, o sinner, come home … you who are weary, come home.“
I read to her, Psalm 91, Psalm 23 & 24, Psalm 73, the letter to the Colossians, Ephesians Ch. 1 and Ch. 3 … John Chapter 15 … the beatitudes.
I told her again and again, that I loved her … that we would all be okay … it was okay to leave us … that she could be with Jesus now and that the greatest and truest adventure was about to begin … that she no longer had to focus on those lifelong struggles of feeling that she wasn’t enough … the fears that tried to swallow her whole … all that junk was about to have its last words.
I played the country gospel songs that she had loved over the years and let the deep, soothing voices of Johnny Cash and Alan Jackson soak into our sadness.
I listened to raspy, choking breaths and finally couldn’t take it any more. After five nights, I told my brother I couldn’t stay through another one.
“I’ll check on her,” he said. He showed up after a long day of work and planned to just stay an hour. “We’ll watch her through the night,” the staff said.
I was reluctant to leave; the staff had been saying for days that death was imminent.
“You know,” one of the nurses said, “I’ve found that Moms are often so different than Dads. The men seem to welcome everyone gathered around the bed until the very last moments. Moms though, so many times, I’ve watched them wait for everyone to leave … it’s like their one last way of taking care of everyone … making sure they’re not worried about her. She’ll leave the way that best suits her.”
I didn’t know what was best … if I should risk her being by herself … but the nurse’s words comforted me, so I left, trusting that Mom was okay.
I wouldn’t know until the next morning, but my brother decided on a whim to stay that night. I found him sitting there the next morning … a certain level of peace that I’ve never really seen on him before. In all this suffering, Mom and her firstborn had this sliver of time together. Who I am I to argue with You, God. This was golden, and that maybe this connection with another of her children is what she had been hanging on for.
She was in so much pain they had to keep her on high levels of morphine. She drifted far from us, except when a retired pastor happened in to our room. He was just there as a hospice volunteer and not as a chaplain, but after hearing of Mom’s background and faith journey, he asked if he could pray for her. She didn’t even seem to know he was there until then.
“Yes,” she whispered to answer his quest for permission.
When he came to the Lord’s prayer, she opened her eyes and recited it with him, closing her eyes at “Amen.”
She came back to us a few days later, when my brother’s family and I gathered in her room. Because of the growing worries about the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided that my step dad shouldn’t risk coming in person. Likewise, my daughters had to make excruciating decisions … one lives out of state and one in the state’s Covid hot spot. It was rumored that “Stay at Home” orders were going to be issued any day.
They worried that they might bring COVID with them or that they would be stuck and not be able to return to their homes.
We all decided that it was best for them to stay put.
So that Sunday, we gathered in her room and the good byes came … some on the phone … some in person.
She talked … feebly … eyes barely open.
“I love you,” she said to each family member.
Mom did not say those words often … she felt them … she showed them … she didn’t like important words to be cheaply thrown about …
So she gave us silver and gold that day.
Whispered I love yous decorated the moment.
Mom left us on the first day of spring. I think that’s what she was waiting for … she always hated winter.
Almost four months have slipped by, and we’ll finally be gathering with family to say one more good bye and to celebrate a beautiful soul.
We’ll laugh ( a lot … she was witty to no end).
We’ll cry …
And we’ll hope.
And we’ll anticipate the exchange, where Jesus held out a nail-scarred hand to squash the pain of life’s inadequacies.
Then He offered her His other hand, guiding her in to a new adventure …
A heavenly adventure we hardly dare consider while still bound to the broken side of eternity.