Mourning Mama

My precious mama was welcomed into heaven Monday morning. She passed on at home and in her own bed. My daughter, Annie, and I were with her when she breathed her last, and she left us with a gentle smile on her face looking more peaceful than I’ve seen her in years. We miss her already, but take comfort in picturing her surrounded by loved ones who have journeyed on ahead of her and in knowing she is in the presence of our Lord.

Meanwhile, I’m stumbling along here on earth, trying to adjust to life without her. I’m concerned about Daddy, suddenly in a much quieter home, without the coming and going of all who were caring for Mama.

People ask me how I am, and I think I’m doing better than I would expect. I asked my husband if this was all God’s grace or if I was still in shock. He said, “I think it’s the David factor.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know,” he said.  “David was praying and fasting that God would spare his son, but when his son died David got up off the ground and ate and was better.” (2 Samuel 12:15-23)

David’s servants were surprised and asked him about it. “And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.'” (Samuel 12:22-23, NKJV)

And it hit me how insightful Jeff was of my feelings. I have spent years praying and fretting over and caring for Mama. And the last week of her life had been so intense. I had slept with her all but one of the evenings. I had been with her most of each day. I had prayed and hoped and cried. I had called the nurses over and over and followed their instructions.

I had done all I knew to do for Mama and  had tried to make her comfortable. I hoped and prayed I had done it all right. I held her hand and sang to her. I read the Bible to her. I brushed her hair and rubbed her back. I cuddled with her and told her how much I loved her.

mama-in-bed

mama-and-annie

15337656_10211859460628508_7808597532983961028_nHospice kept warning me that we were losing her. But part of me was in denial. And I would keep finding reasons to hope.

And then she was gone.

I sent out the news. Family came over. Friends and relatives messaged and called. Annie and I changed Mama into her pink dress. She looked so beautiful. Papers were signed. I watched as Mama was rolled away from her home and left us for the last time. Oh sweet Mama.

And now I’m learning more about grief. Most of the time it feels like this weight on my heart. I feel close to tears more often than not, but am still functioning okay. My family is watching out for me and doing the cooking and shopping, in between meals kindly given us.

I’m trying to manage my responsibilities. Dad is my new caregiving concern. We are trying to make sure he’s getting enough company. He loved his sweetheart, as he called her, so much and seems so fragile now.

I sat down with my prayer list this morning. And I came to Mom’s name and puzzled over the fact that I didn’t need to pray for her anymore. She is with Jesus now. Everything is perfect for her. So I prayed through tears that Jesus would give her a hug for me and tell her how much I love her.

After lunch I thought I’d better make more progress on my delayed Christmas shopping. I looked at my list and saw Mom’s name and burst into tears. I know she will be having an amazing Christmas this year, but I was struck that I couldn’t give her anything on this earth again.

God understands all my feelings.

“I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.” (Psalm 35:14b, NKJV)

He knows there is a special mourning for our mothers.

But what a sweet comfort to know that Mama is with Jesus. And with her own mama and daddy and sister. She is seeing friends and grandparents. She is pain free and clear of mind. She is having the best Christmas ever.

And someday we will all be together again. And for eternity. Because of Jesus and all that Christmas means.

mom-and-christmas

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God is Here

It’s been a tough week. On Saturday we thought maybe God was taking Mama home to Him. She wouldn’t wake up no matter what we did. She was unresponsive. She was so cold. Her breathing was erratic, with long, scary gaps. I was sending messages to people asking for prayer. I was comforting my crying daughter and trying to stay calm myself.

But after many hours she did wake up! And she ate a very late supper. And we all exhaled a big breath and smiled. We hadn’t lost her. Not yet. We could savor some more cuddles. We could still hold her hand and feel her squeeze back in response once again.

The next day, Sunday morning, Mama told my daughter, “God is here.”

Annie answered, “Yes, He’s here.”

Mama said, “He is bigger.”

And we continue to take comfort in those precious words. Because even though Mama rarely seems to know who we are anymore, if at all, she knows that God is here. God is with her. God is with us. And He is bigger. Bigger than Alzheimer’s. Bigger than our pain and sorrow. Bigger than our stress and worries and fears.

God is bigger.

I’m so thankful Mama knows this. I’m so thankful God continues to teach us through the few words Mama says these days.

Other concerns and stresses weigh down on us too. Our prayer list is long. This is a challenging season of life as we oversee the care of three elderly parents, one who lives with us. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and cry and call out for help and prayer.

And I feel the comfort of God in kind words and offers from friends. In family members who step in and help. In devotional passages and Bible verses I read. Like one I read today…

“If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:18-19 (NKJV)

Yesterday I cuddled Mama before supper, “Mama, it’s me…Cheryl.” She repeated my name so clearly! I rarely hear her say my name and often it sounds slurred. But yesterday she said it clearly twice! “You said my name, Mama! Thank you!”

She answered, “Yes, Ma’am.” Which made me smile even more and gave a nod to her Southern upbringing. I’m grateful for this gift of hearing Mama say my name again. And especially for the pricelessness of hearing her speak of God’s presence.

God is here. He is bigger.

GOD is here. God IS here. God is HERE!

And He is bigger!

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Lessons in Aging

A couple years ago I had a day of lessons in aging…

Mom asked me twice how old I was. The first time I answered, “Fifty three.”
She said, “Oh my goodness!” I asked her how old she was. She tilted her head back and said, “H-mmm, let’s see…” And then she abruptly looked at me, startled and with wide opened eyes and said, “I don’t know!”
“Do you want me to tell you?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, suddenly unconcerned.

A few hours later she again randomly asked me old I was and I told her. This time she calmly replied, “Oh, fifty-three…okay.” So I asked her how old she was and she replied, “I don’t know.”
“Do you want me to tell you how old you are?”
Her eyes sparkled, as if I was letting her in on a great secret, and she replied, “Why don’t you!”
“You’re eighty years old,” I said.
“EIGHTY!” she exclaimed, in a loud shocked voice. “You’re CRAZY!!”

I was still visiting with Dad when an aunt called. She is in her eighties and lives in a house by herself in the country. Thankfully she has relatives that live close by. She told Dad that her brothers and sisters all call in and check up on each other every day or so.

Shortly after I got home another elderly relative called me. She is in her nineties and had gone to see “The Church Basement Ladies” with a group from her own church. Though not a weepy person, she said tears were streaming down her face as she watched this comedy—because it reminded her of her own mother who was always cooking big meals in their small town church basement. After the show she went home and got a phone call about her older sister being moved to hospice care.

It all makes me think how brave older people have to be. The longer they live the more people they have to miss and the more adjustments they must make.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why God planned families and children and grandchildren. And why God so often speaks of caring for the widows.

Growing old is shocking and crazy. Losing loved ones is brutal. But knowing you have family and friends loving you and checking in on you can make all the difference.

Today I read a quote from Mother Theresa, “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right where you are—in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools…You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see…”

I pray I will do a better job of caring for the lonely in my own world. Someday Jesus will call all who believe in Him Home and age will be meaningless in the glow of eternity. But meanwhile, the elderly are treasures that we are to tenderly cherish and care for. And in that tender caring there are special blessings found no where else.

God's Grace and Mom's Alzheimer's photo.

Until Then

This week I held my six month old granddaughter while my son offered her a spoon of her very first taste of solid food. She reacted with eagerness and grabbed hold of the spoon and all around the table her relatives delighted in her. And we laughed and smiled and took such joy in her first tastes of applesauce.

And then this afternoon, I sat close to my mama. And I offered her spoons of food because she doesn’t try to feed herself anymore. And Mama opened her mouth each time and she chewed the food as she stared blankly at me.  And my heart was heavy.

I tried talking to Mama, but she didn’t respond. I tried singing to Mama, but she didn’t seem interested. I told her I loved her many times. And she didn’t reply. And no matter what I did I couldn’t get her to smile.

And Mama shouted, “I hate you!”

And I answered, “Well, I love you.”

But Mama did reach out and pluck at my blouse. And she rubbed her fingers gently on my arm, as she usually does when I feed her. And that is about as connected as we get lately. So I savor those sweet touches.

But I long for her smile. And I wonder if I’ll ever hear her say my name or “I love you, too” on this earth again. And my heart crumbles.

And I’m reminded of the Bible verse I read last week, Psalm 35:14b (NKJV), “…I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.” And I take comfort in the thought that King David and God know that there is a special kind of mourning for one’s mother.

It bows you down. It’s heavy. It’s hard.

I remind myself often that the end of the story is good. Because Mama knew Jesus when her mind was healthy and trusted Him with her life. And so I have the certain hope that I will see Mama restored when we meet again in Heaven. And her smile will be more beautiful than ever. And she will know me and say my name and hug me close.

And we’ll never be bowed down heavy again.

And until then, I can look for the blessing moments. I can treasure the tender touches Mama gives me. I can thank God for the loving care givers Mama has and for my son and daughter who are so helpful to their grandparents.

Until then I can hide under the shelter of my Abba Father’s wings and pour out my heart to Him and know the comfort that only He gives.

Until then I can marvel over my beautiful granddaughter and enjoy every first with her.

Until then I can trust that God will give us grace for each day. And I can know that He is faithful and that His tender mercies surround us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Comfort of Balding Gray Heads

I went to a funeral yesterday, of an older cousin of my husband’s. And sitting in front of us, filling a couple pews, were about a dozen old men. And I found the backs of their balding, gray heads comforting.

They were the Casket Bearers and the Honorary Casket Bearers, aka Main Street Coffee Group. Many of them had hearing aids attached to their eye glasses, hiding behind their ears. They sat shoulder to shoulder in the pews in front of us, dressed up in their suits and sport coats.

And as the pastor spoke of their friend, I saw some of them nodding. And a few wiping at their eyes.

And the pastor shared that the man’s widow had said,  “He ate dinner with his family at home Thursday night. And by Friday morning he was eating a meal with the rest of his family.” And I pictured the joyous reunion with his parents and his brother.

And then this morning my dear 93 year old mother-in-law told my husband she thinks she has lived too long. Her memory is so bad and she has a hard time doing anything and she feels useless.

And my husband told me that he told her, “God numbers your days. If you are still here, He still has a purpose for you.  You can still sew. And you can still pray for people. That’s very important. Even if you can’t remember names, God knows. And even if you could do nothing… Think about your great-granddaughter (just months old) what can she do? But she is still precious and loved. And so are you.”

And I so loved that he said that.

And then my daughter came home from helping my parents. Mom is getting so difficult to get up and is struggling to walk and fights against standing up.  She said Dad is fearing that Mama will have to go to a nursing home and they won’t take good care of her and that he’ll be left at home alone.

And he told Annie that he’s praying a tornado will just take them both at the same time. Because he doesn’t want to live without her. And he can’t stand the thought of being in bed without her cuddling up to his back. He loves her so much.

And I cried.

And I wondered why life is so hard. And I thought about all the people I’m praying for and all the difficult challenges friends are dealing with.

Life can be so painful. And heartbreaking.

I have no answers to the “why questions” in my mind. All I can do is echo King Jehoshaphat’s prayer, when he heard a vast army was coming against him, “…we have no power against this…that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chronicles20:12, NKJV)

I don’t know what to do. But I can keep my eyes on Jesus. And I can listen for His promptings and do my best to follow them. I can pray for my hurting friends. I can serve Dad and Mama and try to give them moments of joy.

And I can know and trust that He is with us always, and we are not in this battle alone.

And I can’t help but remember the backs of the old men in front of me. And I wonder how many funerals they have been to. And how many friends and loved ones they’ve said good-bye to. And I think of them as soldiers marching on, showing me how to keep going.  I picture them meeting up on Main Street for coffee. I wonder if a chair sits empty, or if the circle gets tighter…

But I somehow know they are there. Drinking their coffee. Remembering their old friend. Laughing over a joke while they wipe away a tear. Carrying on.

And I picture their backs, and their balding gray heads, as they pay respect to their friend. And it is comforting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No One Cares

I sat down in a chair by Mom and started with greetings and small talk. Then Mom suddenly said, “No one cares.”
“Why do you think no one cares, Mom?”
She looked up at me, seeming surprised that I would ask. And then she said, “No one touches or talks.”

I hope it was just a momentary feeling of neglect that she had. Because I always try to take time to talk with her and hold her hand and give her hugs. And I know Dad does, too.

But my heart hurt that she would feel unloved for even a minute. And I wonder now how many people feel that way for days at a time. Or sadly, even longer.

And I think Mom’s explanation for feeling that no one cares, was poignant and full of simple wisdom. When no one touches us or talks to us it’s easy to feel that no one cares.

On the other hand, that doesn’t sound so hard to fix either. It’s not hard to pick up a phone and call someone who might be lonely. It’s not hard to offer a hug or a hand to hold either. We just need to be thoughtful and do it.

So, I told Mom I did care and that I loved her so much. And then I gave Mom her bath and ate lunch with her. Afterwards I sat by her on the love seat. We sang songs and laughed. We looked at family photos.

We played with her baby doll. We remembered people’s names together. I held her soft hand as much as I could. And she kept licking her finger and trying to rub freckles off my arm.

Oh sweet mama, I know your memories are fading away. But I pray you will never, ever forget how much we love you and care about you.

And I myself need to remember, at times when God feels distant and I doubt His care, that He is always loving me and providing for me and protecting me in ways I don’t even realize. And He loved us all so much He sent Jesus so our sins could be pardoned and we could have a relationship with Him forever.

And I pray that we all may”…have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT)

Lessons From the Trash Can and TP Roll

I unlock the door and let myself into Mom and Dad’s.  I hear Mom hollering from the bedroom and find that Dad has just finished helping her change.

I put away the things I had bought at Dad’s request, clean up a few plops and puddles, and then we sit down in the living room.  Mom is across the room and I say, “Hi Mama.  I love you.”

“You do?” she asks, as if she is seriously questioning my comment.

“Yes,” I answer.  “I really, really love you.”

“Okay,” she says, calmly accepting my love now.  “Do you want me to sit by you?”

“Yes, I do!”

“Okay.”  She gets us and shuffles over and plops down on the love seat a little crooked and with a thud.  “Shut up!” she yells.  She doesn’t mean it, that’s just the thing she says now days.  She looks at Dad, “Who is that?”

“That’s my daddy.”

“Oh, that’s your daddy.”

Then Dad starts talking to me.  He tells me he noticed the grate was off one of the burners on the gas stove. (He’s had the whole oven disconnected for years now, because Mom would play with the buttons and turn the burners on.)  He noticed the wastebasket was heavy and he’d found the grate in there.

And I think how odd and interesting that Mom would throw a stove grate away. She’s also thrown tools and clothes in the wastebasket and even her own precious baby doll. But she throws tissues and food on the floor.

We eat lunch together and then Dad has me call his sister, a favorite aunt of mine. We have a nice chat, and she asks about Mom and my brothers.  I tell her how my kids are graduating and getting married.  She asks how old I am and when I tell her fifty three she says, “Holy cow!”

And then she says, “You know from the time I was in my little house (when she first got married and had kids) to now when I’m in this assisted living home– feels like about two weeks.  Life goes that fast.”

As I was talking to Dad later, I told him what she said.  And he added, “Yep.  The older you get the faster life goes.” I remembered an analogy he’d told me years ago.  He said, “When you get older life goes faster, just like toilet paper at the end of a roll.”

It all makes me think that life is a gift and I want to be sure I’m living it to please the One who has given it to me. I want to throw out the garbage and the things that distract me from my purpose. And I want to make sure I hold firmly onto the meaningful, important things so that they don’t somehow slip away.

 

And as life whirls away faster and faster, I pray I’ll walk the path God has for me, holding His hand securely and faithfully loving the people He has put in my world until the end…when eternity with Jesus begins.