April 22, 2013: I walk in the front door like I always do, computer in hand, expecting Mom to be asleep and planning to get some work done while Dad goes to the gym and the store. But he isn’t sitting at the kitchen table as usual.
I hear him call my name, follow the sound of his voice, and find them both sitting on the edge of their bed. “Mom heard you come in and wanted to see you,” he says.
She swallows a mouthful of Ensure with effort, then looks into my eyes and smiles. Her face is drawn and sallow, but her smile manages to light her large green eyes. “Hi,” she barely whispers.
“Hi, Mom. How are you today?”
“Okay, I guess.” Her voice is raspy and weak.
There’s a small plastic bowl on the bed along with a half dozen used tissues, and I know they’ve spent the past few minutes trying to clear the phlegm from her throat. Her hand is shaking, so Dad holds the glass of Ensure steady and offers her another sip, but she refuses. He hands me the glass and I take it along with the bowl of spit. When I return, she’s trying to say something but can’t find the words — a new development with her. The past couple of days she’s been saying random things and asking nonsensical questions.
She’s obviously frustrated. Dad kisses her on the head and says, “You’re a sweet girl, and I love you.” His touch and voice are so tender I want to cry, but that’s the way he has always been. With her, with his children. His heart is a safe home.
She whispers, “I love you, too.” Then she tries again to find the words she couldn’t find before, but all she manages is, “I can’t (long pause) determine (long pause) what . . .” Her voice trails off, and she brushes at imaginary lint or crumbs or something on her pants. He kisses her again and helps her lie down, and I ask her if she wants me to stay or leave the room to let her rest.
“Please stay.” Her eyes have already closed and her breathing is even. I sit at the end of the bed and watch her, study her, try to take her in, and even though I see her every day, I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this.
My mother is dying. She’s lying on her side in a loose fetal position, and was it really that long ago that my infant form curled much the same way inside her womb? Was it really that long ago this fragile woman was young and beautiful and full of life, her strong, healthy body swollen with mine? I imagine her in labor, awaking in the night to feed me, holding me when I cried and comforting me with soft songs. She influenced my life in a thousand big and little ways, day adding to day, and year to year, and here we are.
I sit at the end of the bed and watch her, and the prayers rise of themselves — that the God of the universe who created this woman for His glory would come. That He would fill the room and her thoughts with His presence. That light would shine and darkness would tremble and that the God who welcomes sinners would take her frail body into His strong arms and carry her the rest of the way Home. Oh, Jesus, will you carry her Home?
Something startles her awake and she sees me. Surprise becomes pleasure and she says, “Jeanne?”
“Have you been sitting there all this time?”
“It hasn’t been very long. You asked me to stay and I like to be near you. I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too.” She pauses and then says, “Do you have any pah . . .”
“Do I have any what?”
“Do you have any pah . . .”
“Do you have any positives . . . for Christmas?”
I puzzle a bit, then say, “At Christmas I like to celebrate the birth of Jesus and spend time with the people I love.”
After another pause she says, “Well, do you have any ideas? For Christmas?”
No, I tell her. I haven’t been thinking about Christmas, because it’s still a long way off.
But I’m thinking about it now. Thinking about a silent night split wide by the cries of a woman in labor — about Almighty God coming to us as a helpless baby, entering this world the same way my mother did and I did and every other human being has. Coming to us on purpose to die in our place. I’m thinking about what it cost the holy God of heaven to offer us peace, and how we see and receive so little of all we’ve been given, distracted as we are with so many silly things.
And the song we sang in church yesterday — the one that wiped me out — it echoes in my thoughts again.
When we arrive at eternity’s shore, and death is just a memory, and tears are no more.
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Your bride will come together and we’ll sing,
* * *
May 1, 2013: That’s as far as I got on April 22. Then I saved the draft, and family arrived from out of town, and a busy week culminated in a weekend of celebration, and then early Sunday morning? She went. Peacefully, in her sleep. And I will write out all the mercies of those last two weeks, because they are many. I will write them here soon, for you and for me, and I will remember them, because they magnify the One whose strong hand of love is always, always hidden in the shadows.
Friends, I thank you for your prayers. May I ask that, as often as you think of us, you continue? Especially for my Daddy.
Jesus, I thank you for my mother’s life. That every day ordained for her was written in Your Book before there was one of them. I thank you for the cross. And I thank you for hope, and for peace, and that every breath is grace.
Jesus, You’re good. So very good.
And so very, very beautiful.
* * *
For those who are interested,
you can read my mom’s obituary here.