Shortly after Mom died, one year ago today, I promised I would share in this space some of the beautiful ways God worked during the final weeks of her life. Well, now I’m finally making good on that promise. I had the privilege of speaking at the beginning and the end of Mom’s memorial service. What you’re about to read is mostly copied from the thoughts I shared that day. It blessed me to re-read these memories today, and I hope this glimpse into our journey will bless you as well.
From the introduction:
It was probably twenty or twenty-five years ago that Mom heard about a lady who had planned her own funeral before she died. If you knew my Mom well, you won’t be surprised to hear that she loved the idea of wielding artistic control over her own grand finale. So she started a file. And whenever she heard or remembered something she wanted included at her funeral, she added it to the file.
We’re going to honor her wishes today. All the Bible verses you will hear and the two hymns that will be sung were specifically chosen by Patsy. You will also hear lots of stories and a few other songs that she didn’t choose. We as her family members put those in — partly because she’s not here to stop us, but mostly because we love her and these things remind us of her.
Some of you might listen to these stories and observe the obvious love and closeness of our family — you might consider all the talents Patsy possessed, the tender faithfulness of her devoted husband, and all the many, many blessings that were poured out on her in the course of her beautiful life — and you might go away thinking, “What a lucky lady she was!” And yet. Not one of us would listen to a gorgeous symphony and walk away saying, “How lucky that all those notes came together in such a wonderful way!” No. We would leave the concert hall filled with admiration for the musicians, yes, but with an even greater awe and gratitude toward the composer whose heart first dreamed the music and whose mind crafted such a magnificent work of art. We wouldn’t have to see the composer to know he exists and to recognize his presence in the music.
As you listen to the beautiful music of Patsy’s life, our prayer today is that you will recognize the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows. The Almighty Composer is here, even if we can’t see Him.
And with that thought, I give you the first of Patsy’s chosen Bible verses, Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
Let the celebration begin.
And from the closing:
During the summer of 2010 two things became inescapably evident. One was that Mom had some form of dementia and it was getting worse. The other was that something was causing extreme pain in her right leg. Soon we had answers on both accounts. Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Today we’re celebrating Patsy and the beautiful gifts, talents, and relationships that enriched and defined her life. But if we chose to ignore the last three difficult years, we would also miss some of the sweetest mercies she and our family ever received. Because the truth is, no life is all parties and laughter, and that’s ultimately a good thing. There are gifts we receive in the hardest seasons of life that can’t be given any other way, and it’s usually in those times that God’s strong hand of love is no longer hidden in the shadows, but rather, is plainly seen — comforting, upholding, and providing what we may not have even known we needed. Mom’s final years were hard on her and on all of us who love her and suffered with her. They were hard, but they were also richly blessed with beautiful gifts, big and small. It would take far too long to detail every mercy, but I want to take a few minutes now to share some of the bigger gifts with you.
Throughout Mom’s illness my father was the picture of patience, devotion, and tenderness. One by one he let go of his freedoms to take care of Mom, and he did it without complaint or bitterness. But anyone who has been a primary caregiver knows that after a while, the walls begin to close in. As Mom got worse, Dad became a prisoner in his own home. He was determined to keep her there, but he also knew he needed to protect his health and sanity, for her sake as well as his own. And that’s when the first big gift was given.
I wish I could take the time to unfold the series of events that led to Luke and Sarah moving in with my parents, but I will only say that there was no mistaking God’s strong hand of love in every detail. Not that things suddenly became easy for anyone. Mom still had cancer and Alzheimer’s. She was confused and at times unpleasant, and trying to meet her needs was often very stressful, but now there was community to share the load, and with that community came love, laughter, music, and prayer. Several months after they moved in, Naomi was born, bringing new life and unspeakable joy into the home.
It was still very hard. It was also very beautiful. But it couldn’t go on that way forever. Mom finished her cancer treatments and started regaining her strength, but her confusion got worse. Naomi grew and was underfoot, and the time came when Luke and Sarah felt it would be best for everyone if they moved out.
And then the next big gift was given. A house across the street became available, and George, Jacob, and I moved to Dallas. Luke and Sarah bought a house five minutes down the road, and now we had four generations living in close community. Lois also joined us for two months during the summer of 2012, and other family members visited as often as they could.
We settled into workable routines, but new challenges kept arising and many new decisions had to be made. We’d never walked this particular path before. How does one know which home health care provider to choose? And what do we do when Mom is angry and lashes out and refuses to let anyone touch her? As some of you know all too well from your own experience, the constantly changing unknown is an intimidating place to be, and the knowledge that your loved one isn’t going to get better but continually worse and worse makes it even heavier. We tried a few things that didn’t go too well, and I admit we were getting tired and frustrated, and then?
Another big gift was given. A young woman I know heard about our situation and sent me a Facebook message. She told me about her mom, Angela, who lives in Dallas, is an RN certified in elder care, and owns a company that exists specifically for the purpose of helping families like ours make a care-giving plan.
We contacted Angela, and she walked us through figuring out what Mom needed and where to find it. She also educated us on what to expect down the road. She asked good questions and empowered us to make informed decisions, and when Mom started sleeping a lot more and eating a lot less, she suggested that there was probably something other than Alzheimer’s going on. She arranged some tests and then a doctor’s appointment.
That’s when we found out Mom’s cancer was back. Her doctor recommended hospice. And Angela walked us through that process as well.
And that brings me to the last two weeks of Mom’s life. We didn’t know it was the last two weeks, but we knew she didn’t have long.
Even before we discovered that Mom’s cancer was back and her prognosis was only a couple of months, Lois had planned to spend her spring break in Dallas. She arrived on April 12th and spent the week helping with Mom’s care. She got to lie down beside her on the bed and hold her hand and say everything she wanted to say to her. While Lois was in town, Sharon, Glen, Nathan, Meghan, Brandon, and Molly also came over, and we all gathered around Mom in the kitchen and sang some of her favorite songs. Knowing this would be her last good-bye, Lois left on April 21st.
On April 22nd, Grace and Curtis and their children arrived, and on the 23rd, Mom sat up in her wheel chair in the living room to listen as they sang some of the Brazilian jazz songs she loves. She commented and clapped after each song, and smiled with delight whenever she looked at baby Malia.
That was the last day Patsy was able to speak or get out of bed.
Friday, April 26, a bunch of family came to town for Harper’s 3rd birthday party. Jimmy, who had been in Taiwan on business, flew directly into Dallas to attend the party and then spend the weekend with Mom and Dad. Deb drove up from Austin and met him here.
Saturday afternoon, Angela stopped by Mom and Dad’s house because she was in the neighborhood, and after checking on Mom, she sat down with me, Dad, and Jimmy and gently explained that Mom probably had only a few days. She mentioned some specific bodily reactions to watch for, and also told us exactly how things would unfold with hospice once Mom died. Later the same day the three of us were taking care of Mom and noticed some of the symptoms Angela had described.
I’d already begun looking through Mom’s funeral file in preparation for writing her obituary and planning this service. Saturday afternoon I pulled out the typed pages containing the scriptures and hymns you’ve heard today, and that evening, Sharon and I sat on the bed with Mom. We read the verses and sang the hymns. We told her what a good Mom she had been to us, and how much we loved her. She couldn’t speak, but she reached out for our hands. We told her that we knew she was dying and that Dad knew she was dying, and that she didn’t have to hold on for him or for us. We reminded her that Christ had died on the cross to provide her a way to heaven. If she was ready, she could let go.
When I walked across the street to go home that night, I had the strong sense that my father was about to have his last conversation with my mother, and I prayed for him, that he would be able to say everything he wanted to say to her.
The next morning I attended the early service at our church and then drove straight to their house. When I arrived around 10:30, Jim and Deb were there with Dad, and the three of them were having breakfast in the dining room. Before Dad even spoke, I knew what he was going to say. Mom was gone.
And this was another big gift. He hadn’t had to face this moment alone.
While we waited for hospice to arrive, I slipped into their room. Mom had died in her sleep. Her eyes were closed, and the look on her face was relaxed and serene. For the past year and a half, I’d had a front row seat at this final movement in her life’s symphony. I’d walked with her through the valley of the shadow of death, and now she’d reached the other side. I wasn’t sure what to expect in that moment — wasn’t sure what I should be feeling or thinking. What I did feel was the quiet, calming presence of God, and what I found myself thinking was not about my loss or Dad’s loss or all the suffering and pain Mom had endured, but rather the faithfulness, mercies, and goodness of God throughout the past three years, His grace in offering her the free gift of salvation, and His kindness in allowing so many of her loved ones the opportunity to say good-bye.
And in that moment, the natural response was worship. I bowed my head and commended her soul to the Lord. Then I lifted my hands and sang the song you’re about to hear now.
At this point in the service, all of my mother’s grandchildren and their spouses sang “Restoration” accompanied by me on the piano, Nathan on the guitar, and Luke on the cajon. In the video below, we only had about half the grandchildren, but we tried our best to reproduce the moment.
Mourning into dancing, weeping into laughing, sadness into joy. He really does make all things new.
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I realize this is long for a blog post. This one is mostly for posterity
and, of course, for anyone else who wants to join us in remembering Mom.
Thank you for your patience, friends.