A Letter to Mama in Heaven

Oh Mama… are you watching from heaven? Your sweetheart, your husband of 61 years, isn’t doing very well. He got so sick. And he was refusing to go to the doctor. We were so scared. Then finally he agreed to go the emergency room. It was just in the nick of time. They said he would have died that night if he hadn’t gone to the hospital.

Yesterday he was moved to rehab. But he’s still so weak. He was strong for you, Mama. Just a few years ago he was still helping you walk down the hall. He was still cleaning you up and bringing you food and helping you eat.

He was still cuddling you and telling you how much he loved you. He was still singing “You are My Sweetheart” to the tune of “You are My Sunshine.” He was so strong, Mama.

Now he is weak. He has a hard time feeding himself. He has a hard time sitting up. He has a hard time being alive.

He told me last night he wished he had died when he got so sick. Then he could be with you again. Then he wouldn’t have to go through all this. Then he could be in Heaven with his sweetheart. He loves you so. He told me not to be selfish, wanting to keep him here.

I guess I am selfish, Mama. I’m not ready to have you both gone. His mind is still strong, even though his eyesight, and hearing and body have become so weak.

But he still knows me. And he knows the memories we’ve made over a lifetime together. The memories that melted away from you in your last years with us.

I know you will both be together someday again. I’m so thankful you both knew and trusted Jesus, so we have no doubts about this. I don’t fear Daddy passing. I’m just not ready for it yet. 

And maybe I don’t have to be. God numbers our days. He is in control. And Daddy was a strong man. If he’s willing to live he can get strong again, with God’s help.

I want more time with him, so I can make sure he knows how loved he is. For so many years we were focused on you, Mama. Daddy was too. We were all concentrating our energies on taking care of you. And I’m so glad we did. And we have many precious memories because of it.

But then you passed on and we’ve all been mourning you, Mama. And I still haven’t given Dad as much time as I’d wish, because I’ve been grieving and weak.

Now he needs me. And I want to bring him comfort and strength. And I want him to know how very loved he is. But this whole thing is so hard, Mama. It breaks my heart to see him suffering and weak and struggling.

Yet, I feel your love with us. Your sister has been calling from across the country, to check on Dad. And Uncle Walter too. And something about hearing their sweet southern accents brings you close, and it’s like a soft mama hug.

Their calls remind me of all the love you gave for years. I think of all the evenings you spent making long-distant phone calls, checking in on your people. And now they are checking in on us. And it almost feels like a call from you, Mama. The love you gave out so generously is returning to us. And it is a gentle comfort.

And so many people are praying for us, Mama. And God is sending tender mercies. He blesses us with something every day it seems… a card of encouragement, a home baked treat, a meal, flowers, some messages, help with caring for my mother-in-law, a friendly visit, kind doctors and nurses…

And God blessed me with the most amazing husband. When I was too emotionally and physically exhausted, Jeff had me stay home and spent the day at the hospital with Dad himself! He does so much to help!

I’m trying to notice the little daily mercies and thank God for them. They don’t solve the crisis, but they remind me of God’s presence and love. And since God is with us, and His grace holds us up, I know we will be okay.

Are you watching from Heaven, Mama? We are doing our best to take care of your sweetheart. Until he holds you in his arms again.

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Another Mother who Doesn’t Know my Name

It’s hard rearranging my time, schedule, home and life around someone who doesn’t know who I am anymore. But it’s even harder for my husband. Because it’s his mom who doesn’t remember us.

My 95 year old mother-in-law has lived with us for almost three years now. At first she didn’t remember our names, but she knew how we were related to her. Now we are “the people who run this place”.

But she has no memory that this place is her home now. When she sits with us in the living room, and her bedroom is out of sight, she wonders how she’s going to get home and if we will drive her. We tell her she lives here and she laughs and shakes her head with disbelief.

Her short-term memory has gotten so poor that we leave her supper dishes out in front of her until she goes to bed, because several times she hasn’t believed that she had supper. Once, when my daughters were caring for her, she insisted on three full meals, in the couple hours they were with her, because she kept forgetting that she’d just eaten and didn’t believe them when they told her she had.

We can’t leave her alone anymore, so my husband and I have lost the freedom of running off spontaneously on his days off. We need to plan ahead. We’re thankful we have family close by that are willing to help, but it’s still an adjustment.

Sometimes the emotions of being forgotten gets to my husband. Sometimes seeing a new decline in his once very intelligent mother, breaks his heart a little more. But I’m impressed how strong and steady and kind and patient he is. God gave me grace for my own mama, but I was still very emotional and often came home after caring for her in tears.

I love and care about my mother-in-law. I want to do the best we can for her. But caring for her doesn’t seize me emotionally like caring for my own mama did. Maybe I’m tougher for what I’ve already been through. Or maybe the attachment level just isn’t the same. Probably both. I don’t break down crying, but I don’t have the sweet joy moments either.

Just the littlest things would give me joy with, Mama. Like when she’d want to sit by me, or put her head on my shoulder. Or when she’d give little love taps to my arm or back. Or when she remembered anything. Even just my middle name. Like this night that I journaled about, five years ago…

I was visiting with Mama, sitting next to her and holding her hand, when she abruptly asked, “What do you want me to do?”
I answered with the first thing that popped into my head, “Be happy.”
“I am,” Mom said. And then added, “I did that.” And she looked at me expectantly, like now that she’d done that I should tell her what to do next.
“I love you, Mama.”
“I know,” Mom said matter of factly.
“Do you know who I am?”
“No,” she answered, with no hesitation or remorse.
“I’m Cheryl. Or Sherry. You can call me Sherry if you want.”
Mom was leaning over in her rocking chair, her head almost resting on the arm of her chair. She looked up at me and said, “Sherry…Sherry Lynn?”
And even though in days gone by, hearing my middle name often meant I was in trouble, now it meant that some part of Mama remembered my name. And I was happy, too.

Now I know Mama is truly happy, because she believed in Jesus and is with Him. And I know I will see her again someday! And she will know me and my whole name and all the precious memories we shared!

Meanwhile, God has given me another mother to love. Another mother who doesn’t know my name. But He gives grace for this, too.

 

“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)

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What Mama Said and I Say Too

The other day I had a mom moment. It brought me back in time. I’d asked my twenty three year old daughter, who was heading out on a date in zero degree weather, if she had gloves and a hat. She said, “It’s not that cold,” and gave me one of those “Oh, mom!” looks as she headed out the door. (With no visible gloves or hat in sight, I might add, though I took some comfort in the fact that she was wearing a scarf.)

I remember having those feelings myself. I remember how it annoyed me when my mom worried over me and cautioned me. I was fine. I knew what was best for me. Why was she so anxious about things?

I don’t remember when she stopped advising me. I don’t think I even realized how much I missed her gentle words of mama concern. Until I heard them again.

Now, years later, I still remember the day when Mama said two simple words to me, that left me choked up for hours…

I’d spent a couple hours at Mom and Dad’s that afternoon cleaning up messes, bathing Mom, and shampooing the carpet. It was tiring, but satisfying to see things get clean and to see Mama content and cuddling up next to Dad.

And then as I was getting ready to leave, Mama said two words that warmed my soul. She said something that I’d heard often when I was younger and never valued then. I thought it was just something my overly worried mother always said. Maybe something all mothers said.

But her words stood out that day, fresh and bright, because she hadn’t said them to me for years. And it felt like a moment back in time, with my mom caring and worrying over me and loving me so.

Because that day as I was going out the door, Mama said, Be careful.” And that simple message still brings tears to my eyes.

I miss the years I had that Mama love. That faithful devotion that I so easily took for granted when it was abundant. Her concern for me was overflowing. Her willingness to talk and care and listen was endless. Somehow I thought it could never run out. I wish I had cherished the Mama love more.

And I wish I had cherished Mom more when she knew me.

I wonder if this is a common wish. I wonder if my own sweet children will say the same someday…

Let me reassure them, if they ever do have such doubts. I know that you love me. I know that you’re busy and we don’t have as much time together as we’d like.

But know that my mama heart takes joy in seeing you productively working, serving in your church, growing in skills and abilities, spending time with friends, loving your wives and babies and living your lives. You are flying and I’m proudly watching from the nest.

Our time together these days is limited, but it’s always a blessing. I know you love me. And you know I love you.

And when you don’t have your mom with you anymore, remember that. And then take comfort in the truth that your Heavenly Father is the one parent you’ll always have near. He’s always there to listen and care. He’s always watching you. I hope He’s always proud.

But when you fall short, remember Jesus paid the price for our sins, and ask forgiveness. Trust Him and stay close to Him always. Then we can all know that we will be together again some day and for eternity.

Until that day, please be careful. And wear your hat and gloves. And call your mom when you can.

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Christmas Echoes

I was reading this morning in one of my all-time favorite devotionals, Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman, and was so touched by the words of a song printed there. I don’t recall reading it before, but maybe it just wasn’t meaningful to me when I did.

Now it reveals heart truth to me. And I realize again how every generation struggles through these changes. Every family will at some point have a Christmas that echoes with the memory of those no longer there.  For some of us, we are missing loved ones, even while they are still with us in body.

And whether we are missing our dear ones in spirit or in actuality, all of the traditions stir memories of more joyful days.

We are not alone. Every generation has been here before us. And many are struggling alongside us now. Jesus knows. He is our comfort. He brings “holy gladness still”.

And the story has a happy ending for all who believe in Him. One day all who trust in Jesus will be singing together again, and there will be no tears to hide…

Bells Across the Snow

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
    Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
    With its joy and with its pain?
There’s a minor in the carol,
    And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
    With the holly wreath to-night.
And the hush is never broken
    By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
    To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
    ‘Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
    With the carol and the song!
If we could but hear them singing
    As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
    Of the crown on each dear brow;
There would be no sigh to smother,
    No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
    To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
    This never more can be;
We cannot bring again the days
    Of our unshadowed glee.
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
    Sweet herald of good-will,
With holy songs of glory
    Brings holy gladness still.
For peace and hope may brighten,
    And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
    To the “bells across the snow.”

by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) Public Domain

 

My beautiful picture

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To Everything There is a Season

The Bible tells us that there is a time to be born, and a time to die. A year ago this very day, our family felt the ecstacy and grief of both.

As Mama’s youngest great-grandson was struggling to come into this world, Mama was struggling to leave it. I remember praying for my great-nephew’s birth, even as I sat vigil over Mama, holding her hand and agonizing over her labored breathing.

I told Mama the news when her great-grandson was born. She didn’t respond. I don’t think she could have. But I was relieved when she was still breathing after midnight. I didn’t want them to share the same day. I didn’t want the joy of birth shadowed by death. Somehow a few hours difference and separate numbers on the calendar made me feel better.

Mama lingered with us until seven the next morning. And then she left us quietly, with an incredibly peaceful look on her face and even a hint of a smile.

It’s strange to think it’s been a whole year since that evening of life and death. Mama’s great-grandson is toddling around on sturdy legs these days, charming everyone around him. Mama is even getting three more great-grandchildren this coming year, as her legacy grows.

And Mama’s youngest grandchild was born to my baby brother in July. James brings her to see Dad every week.

Dad can’t see little Emma’s face because of his blindness, but she holds onto his finger snuggly while he sings “Edelweiss” over and over to her. And he marvels over her soft little hand. He says it reminds him of Mama’s hands. Because they were so soft.

We all think about Mama and how much she adored babies. We wish she was here with us sharing these joys. But I don’t doubt that there are some babies in heaven who are getting some exceptional grandma loving.

And there is a peace, through the pain of all the grief, in knowing that Mama is in paradise with Jesus.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2,4. (NKJV)

It’s surprising how these times can intertwine. The tears and heaviness of missing and mourning mama mingle and mix with the warmth and joy of grandchildren and holidays and family.

His grace covers us. He knows we may weep, but He is with us. He holds us close in His love and reminds us of eternity with Him for all who believe in Jesus. He whispers tenderly and reassures me of His presence.

And I realize more clearly than before, that there are times when you weep and laugh in the same hour. In the same moment even. There are hours when you mourn as you dance.

This is the season we are in. And I know He will give grace.

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Praying for our First Thanksgiving Without Mom

Abba Father,

My heart is heavy. Something about holidays this first year since Mama went home to You is heartbreaking. I’m not sure why, because the last few years of her life she wasn’t participating with us anyway. And she hadn’t really known me for long before that.

But even though that was hard, I could still bring Mama a Thanksgiving meal. I could feed her mashed potatoes and gravy. I could hold her soft hand. I could hope for a sweet word from her. Sometimes she’d say something that made me laugh. Sometimes she’d thrill me by saying my name.

And I could know that when I left, Mama had Daddy and Daddy had Mama. And Dad would tell Mom over and over how much he loved her. And Mom would flutter tap his back for hours as they snuggled in bed together.

Oh Abba Father, I know Mama is with you now. I know she will have the best Thanksgiving ever. And I’m so grateful for that and for You and for eternity. But I don’t know how to prepare for Thanksgiving on earth, when all I want to do is cry. I have so many blessings to be thankful for. SO MANY! And I am grateful, Lord, I truly am.

And yet the emotions and the tears keep coming. How can I honor You through this, Abba? What do You want me to do?

Help me Lord, please, to:

  • keep my focus on You and Your faithfulness and presence
  • continually give thanks
  • love and enjoy the people and moments you bless me with today
  • be faithful in the responsibilities You’ve given me right now 
  • let go of stress, worry, and perfection and trust that Thanksgiving, with all its details, is in Your hands
  • appreciate my family and not drive them crazy prepping for the day

Thank You, Abba Father, that You are merciful and good and so faithful! Thank You that Your mercies surround us, Your compassions are new every morning, and that Your love never fails.

Tuck me closely under Your wings when the tears need to fall. And then lift me up on wings like eagles when I need to get the work done. Thank You for your tenderness and gentleness with me, Lord.

And Jesus, would You please give Mama a big hug for me? Tell her I miss her and love her so much. And tell her I’ll try to make Thanksgiving as sweet and warm and fun and delicious as she did for us, for so many years.

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Beauty for Ashes–Learning to Trust my Grief to Jesus

I’m getting those feelings again. I call it “feeling emotional”. I think it’s because of the season. This time last year I was debating even celebrating Thanksgiving, because Mama was doing so poorly. She passed on just a couple weeks later, on December 12th.

I was reading in Isaiah today, and I noticed in chapter 61, a description that fits these feelings well…”the spirit of heaviness.” It is a heaviness on my heart, a closeness to tears, a mourning.

It’s a time of missing Mom. Of realizing that last year was the last Thanksgiving we had together, after a lifetime of sharing the sweet joys of it. And this Christmas will be the second Christmas without her. But last year, the holiday came so quickly after her passing that there was still some numbness and shock as I wrapped gifts and prepared.

I wonder what this year will be like.

And I read this sixty first chapter of Isaiah over again. Especially the verses I have underlined. And they say that Jesus came to comfort and console all who mourn… to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…that He may be glorified.

I know that Jesus came to save us from our sins. He took the punishment for all that stands between us and God, so that all who believe in Him and trust in Him can be forgiven and live with Him forever. And I’m so grateful! Especially because I know I will see Mama again and spend eternity with her!

But He also came to comfort and console all those who mourn! He knows that mourning is heartbreaking. He knows us! And He cares and He loves us!

Maybe the comfort and joy is just knowing that this is not the end. That those who trust Him will have an eternity with Him. That believers who pass are instantly in His presence. And these are priceless comforts for sure!

But these verses say even more to me. They give me a picture of Jesus with His arms open wide. I see Him hugging me close with compassion. I sense Him whispering, I will be with you in this time of mourning. Trust Me. Run to Me. Weep on My shoulders. I will bring beauty out of these ashes. I will turn the weight of these emotions into praise. 

I remember how hard it was walking through Alzheimer’s with Mom. And how often I would tell myself, This is hard. But God will give me grace. And He did, even through the tears and pain.

And now Jesus is walking me through this season of mourning. I picture Him lifting my chin gently and looking into my eyes. I sense Him saying, I know this is hard. I understand. But I am with you. I will give you grace. I will never leave you.

And I believe Him.

It was just about this time last year, that Mama had a very bad night. We thought she was dying. We were crying and praying and calling hospice. And then she came out of it and seemed normal for her again. And we sighed and smiled with relief.

The next morning my daughter was taking care of her, when Mama said, “God is here.”

“Yes, Grandma. God is here.”

And Mom added, “He is bigger.”

Mom was barely talking at all at that point. And though she had a solid faith when her mind was strong, she was never one to speak often about God. So it especially stood out to us that she said this.

And we wondered if she’d seen an angel, or God even. Or if just the nearness of death had made His presence more real to her.

I’m not sure what she saw, if anything. But I know that it’s true. God is here. He is with us. And He is bigger.

He is bigger than Alzheimer’s. He is bigger than death. He is bigger than mourning and grief and the missing. He is bigger than emotions and heaviness and broken hearts.

I can give it all to Him. I can trust Him to somehow bring beauty out of the ashes and pain and grief of it all.

He’s not telling me to stop crying or to stop feeling what I’m feeling. He’s reminding me to trust Him with it all. To remember that He is near. To know that He is the God of all comfort and the Shepherd that restores my soul. He is with me through this valley of shadows.

And I recall the last hymn that Mama remembered how to sing. She sang it often, and a little “warbly” and out of tune…

...What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear…what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer…

Thank you for leaving me with that hymn, Mama. And thank You, Jesus, for being that Friend.

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