My family is in the last season of Mom’s life. She’s slipping away, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. Memories are confused with the present and it can be a struggle to keep up, to be in her present, at times, years past.
It can be a frantic dance, between then and now, a hasty search in my memory to place my thoughts with hers in an attempt to meet her so she’s not suddenly and unexpectedly jostled into the present, leaving her embarrassed and off kilter. Family conversations swirl around her and sometimes the fog will clear and she struggles to comment, slurred words discordant, making sense in her mind while we catch one or three words and begin the guessing game of “Mom, do you mean …?” Depending on her level of strength or perseverance or will, she might help us understand but, more often than not, she’ll (impatiently) shrug and reply, “Oh, never mind.” Soft words of endearment or even a quick laugh and, “You’re okay, Mom. Don’t worry” will settle her for a while.
Her body seems to be in a race with her mind or is it the other way round? She’s sleeping more and more, her body prepping for the deep, long sleep but the joy to be found amidst the clabber is once her body gives out, she’ll be present with Jesus. That is my solace as I watch her take her leave.
On Sundays I try to fix the “Sunday lunch” of my childhood, meaning a meat and vegs plus dessert. Yesterday it was blackberry cobbler, one of her favorites. Frequently, she, or Daddy, will exclaim at the extravagance, (black berries being out of season), but yesterday neither said anything about the cost. When the bubbling hot dish was placed on the table she perked up. “OH! That’s beautiful!” she
exclaimed and held out her plate, then didn’t eat but picked at a forkful or two before stopping.
I’m a spy, watching her, trying to anticipate her needs and understand her words. At times successful, a lot of times not, I try to help her be content or as content as possible. These days are mercurial and flexible doesn’t begin to encompass the variety of emotions, stress, and love involved in a visit. Watching Daddy watch the love of his youth slip away is heartbreaking and his frustration is born of events and shared experiences I have only a small knowledge of. Then I remember, I have now known Mom only eighteen months less than Daddy and more than almost anyone else. My twenty-two years with Dave (sixteen of them married), pale beside their seventy-one years of marriage stacked on a year of courtship. They’ve weathered many a storm and battle but this is one they will both lose. This is one Daddy can’t fix and his maleness rails against the loss. It takes courage, on all sides, to endure this last battle and each of us, my brother, sister, Daddy and I are enjoined.
We’ve all seen Death, fought with Death and lost a loved one anyway but knowing that loved one conquered Death, through Jesus Christ, makes it bearable. The aftermath, that country of grief and mourning is simply another season to traverse in our own journey to the golden shore. The old hymns sustain us, at least they do me, and as Mom’s reality of heaven becomes more real to her than here and now, I prepare myself to slip into the front pew, hoping and praying to carry the mantle of Jesus as well as did she.
If you’ve taken care of someone you know how it can, at times, be totally frustrating. Life is always messy and at the end the messiness, combined with the sorrow of watching someone slip away combined with the added stress of everyday life can overwhelm. I’ve seen frustration bubble to my surface and pinched back words spoken in haste that could hurt us both. She can no longer help it but I can and I must, for both our sakes. Deep, restorative breaths allow the beauty of kindness to wash over both of us as the space of calm evens us out. Mom might not be able to, coherently, marry thoughts and words but her spirit is sensitive to the emotional air around her. Her remaining time needs to be gathered in, wrapping her, surrounding her with cozy comfort. In our own way, we all strive to work together toward that goal.
Life is reduced to the basics; the very basics of bodily needs so family pulls together. Everyday miracles while seemingly small are, in reality, huge. Getting dressed and out of p.j.’s is no longer a goal unless she asks and it’s only now I’ve realized a small basket, filled with lotion, a comb, mirror, etc. might be welcome at chairside. If you’ve dealt with a similar situation and have words of wisdom, don’t be shy…share! It’s been eleven years since Dave’s death and fourteen since his mom died so I’m a bit out of practice. Thankfully.
May I encourage you to remember someone who needs a word, a card, a phone call, a visit or all mentioned? Giving thanks means showing up and, if need be, those “extras” in life that consume, rather than console, must be put aside. Perhaps for a time, perhaps never to be picked up again, leaving room in life to breath and enjoy a precious moment.
As I’ve aged, I realize there’s less energy for me to do what I want so I focus on what I need and what I need is to be present for my parents. Some of you know I uprooted my life and moved lock, stock and animals when I was sixty-four. Dave’s death left me bereft and I still struggle, mightily, with grief. It was the beauty of kindness of friends I was moved hundreds of miles and re-settled thirty miles from parents and siblings perhaps for such a time as I’m now living.
We all have differences in our commonalities. We need the basics, as Maslow said, “food, shelter, clothing” and we want to love and be loved. Some have never known either while others feel unworthy of both. We all fight demons in our own heads and I’m reminded of one of Mom’s sayings, “The mind is the devil’s playground.” While that’s true, it’s also true you, me, each and everyone of us is worthy of love. The love that comes once in a lifetime, once in everyone’s lifetime. The love that’s worth living for and, most importantly, the love that was worth dying for. The love of Jesus for me, for you, for each and every one of us. The kind of love that says, “I love you, I forgive you and then…I don’t remember.”
Worthy? Not hardly. I’ve done some ugly and despicable things in my life that Lucifer brings to mind with annoying regularity but when I go to Jesus He says, “What things? Those were forgiven and the board was wiped clean. Now, focus on Me. On My love, mercy and grace because I don’t remember any ugly things.”
It’s true, what the preachers say. When you give your life to Jesus, you want what He wants. You want to live a life pleasing to Him. The dross is stripped away, layer by layer, and the ugly loses its hold. The healing is continual and the beauty of life I feel in every Sunrise, every Sunset and all the hours between. I’ve been writing since early watch and now dawn is peeking through the window. I’m not entirely sure what I’ve written makes sense or even if I should write it but I do know it’s part of my healing process. Part of dealing with Dave’s death and void he left and it’s helping me tend to and in saying goodbye, for now, to Mom. It helps bring clarity to my life right now. It helps remind me tenderness is the clarion call of today, to embrace courage in the midst of the beauty of kindness.