Looking for Blessings in the Shadow of Mourning

I’ve been ready to cry on and off all day. And it’s a little confusing.

Today is the birthday of one of my mama’s brothers. She had eight brothers and two sisters. Now four of her siblings are still with us on this earth. Uncle Don lives in the deep south, where Mama was raised. I haven’t seen him for probably nine years, separated as we are by over a thousand miles. We don’t talk on the phone. And though I send Christmas cards most years, he never does.

But I’ve always been so fond of him. He is such a sweet man, tall and thin and cheerful. He has such a soothing southern accent and has always been so gentle and kind. And today, I can’t think about him without choking up. And I’m trying to figure out why. I have shed tears often enough for aunts and uncles who have passed on. But he is living, and healthy as far as I know, so this is new territory for me.

I’m guessing it’s another shadow of mourning. Because I can’t picture Uncle Don without also seeing Mom, younger and full of life and smiling and laughing. She so loved her family. She would visit whenever she got the chance, even if it meant sleeping in a leaky tent to get there. And she would call them, before free long distance was ever an option.

But now Mama is gone. One aunt and uncle came to her memorial service, but the others couldn’t. And they are so far away. I wonder if I’ll see them again this side of heaven. And I guess a part of me feels like if I could hug them, I would be hugging Mama again. And I type this through tears I don’t quite understand.

I tried calling Uncle Don to say happy birthday. I thought Mama would like that. But he didn’t answer and didn’t have voice mail set up either. It’s probably just as well because I think I would have burst into tears and he would have wondered what crazy woman was on the phone with him.

Oh, this road of grieving is full of surprises. I’m thankful I’m not walking it alone. I have family and friends who care and who listen. And Jesus is with me, too. And He is the one who said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NKJV).

I find comfort in His Word and in prayer. I find comfort in spending time with His people and in reading the messages and cards people have sent me. I have comfort in knowing that Mama is with Him now and that I will see her again and for always.

I have comfort in knowing that Mama has loving siblings that miss her here on earth, and others that are keeping her company in Heaven.

And I take comfort in knowing that Jesus, too, wept. And that He never said, “Don’t mourn.” But He did say that I’ll find blessing and comfort when I do.

louisiana-2

Advertisements

The Best Gift this Year

I thought we had finished opening presents. We were just hanging out and cooing over grandchildren and nibbling cookies, when my baby brother, James, and his wife Beth, handed me a card. I opened it and read Merry Christmas or something like that. They kept looking at me like I should react more. Someone said, “You have to look under that piece of wrapping paper taped there.”

I lifted the flap and saw a picture of a pregnancy ultrasound and screamed with delight! More family crowded in the dining room at the sound of my screams and the rejoicing spread! I hugged Beth and James and told them I get some credit for this baby because I’ve been praying– pretty much daily for a couple years.

And then I cried. Tears of joy. And tears of sorrow– wishing Mom was here to know she had another grandchild on the way. A grandchild that can grow up surrounded by her great-grandchildren! And then I was comforted with the thought, Mama’s legacy lives on.

A part of her is with us in each baby. In each life. And I’m confident that Mama is joining in our rejoicing from heaven. And, besides the reality of Jesus and all that Christmas means, it was the best gift this Christmas!

A few days later my sister-in-law told me that Mama was the first one to hear this exciting news. James told her right after he found out. I wonder how much of it she comprehended at the time. And I picture her delighting with her own Mama over the news now!

mom-and-james

Both photos are of Mom with my baby brother.

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

A Mother’s Touch

I tucked Mama into bed for her nap today, after lunch, and climbed in next to her for a little cuddle. And then Mama said, “You’re ‘purdy’.”  And my heart was warmed.

And I chuckled to myself and thought, Oh, if only she’d said that to my face instead of my back. 

“Thank you, Mama. You’re pretty, too,” I said. I wanted to face her, but she usually gets agitated when I do that. So, I kept my back to her.

And she patted my back and rubbed my arm. I sang, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”– one of the last hymns she still sang herself up to a year or so ago.

The fan on the nightstand blew a gentle breeze over us. And Mama’s soft touches and flutter taps were sweet on my back.

From where I was, my head on Daddy’s pillow, I could see an old photo of Mama framed in gold on the wall above his dresser. Mama was young and healthy and gorgeous.

 

The photo was taken before Mama married Daddy. Before she gave birth to four children and raised them. Before all the meals she cooked for her family. Before all the dresses she sewed for her little girl. Before all the laundry she washed and groceries she shopped for and fevers and scrapes she worried over. Before all the Christmases and birthdays and holidays she made so special for us.

The photo was taken before Mama invested her life into loving us all so well.

I turned over to face Mom. I combed her white hair with my fingers. I held her wrinkled face between my hands. “You are beautiful, Mama. You are so beautiful.You have been a wonderful mom to us all. I wish I’d been a better daughter to you.” And my eyes filled.

I wanted to climb into her arms. I wanted to be her little girl again. I wanted to have her warm hug envelope me and have her stroke away the fears and hurts and hear her say, “It will all be okay, honey.”

But she started hollering, because my closeness was agitating her. So I rolled back over and she calmed down. And she patted my back again, with her arthritic hands. And she pulled on my shirt here and there. And her fingers flutter tapped my arm.

But I felt the gentle touches…such tender wisps of mothering. And I smiled.

10488171_701374999933733_2396007376847556359_n[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have Faith

Being a caregiver has taught me, among many other lessons, that God has a sense of humor. And He often sends me a smile when I need one.

And I’ve needed them a lot lately. Because caregiving is hard. It’s stressful. It can be grueling.

The last few weeks have been especially tough. My daughter, Annie, and I feel the weight of Mama’s care and all the decisions and work and pressure that surround that. And my Dad has strong opinions and is grieving as he is slowly losing his beloved wife.

And sometimes the stress of it all clashes loudly and we say things we don’t mean and emotions pour out in strong words and flowing tears. And I cry out to God, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon You!”

And then we pray. And we apologize. And God speaks wisdom through my husband. Calming wisdom.  And we are learning to walk in that wisdom, but stumbling along on the way.

As new challenges come up we have begun to tell each other, “It will be okay.” And “Have faith in God.” And we look for the next wise step to take.

Yesterday, we were having another challenge. Our caregiving agency had assigned a brand new caregiver without giving her any training with Mom yet. They usually have a new person shadow an experienced caregiver first. Thankfully, Annie was available to be over with Mom at the same time, or it just wouldn’t have worked.

Anyway, the good news is that according to Annie, the new caregiver has great potential! And when she was introducing herself to Dad, who is hard of hearing, Dad said, “Fay? Your name is Fay?”

And she answered, “No. Faith. Like faith in God.”

How Different Would Life Look if Everyone Did Their Part

Sometimes life is heavy. And though I cherish time with my Mama, I wonder if I’m really doing what God has called me to do.

I was reading today in Acts 13:2 and God clearly called out Barnabas and Saul and told the church to separate them to Him and send them off on mission work.

And sometimes I envy that a bit. Because my mission doesn’t feel very adventurous and I’m just trying to figure out what ways to serve in my church and how to find time to bring a meal to a new mom as I juggle helping care for my mother with Alzheimer’s and my mother-in-law with dementia.

And it’s not very glamorous. Or exciting. And often it is just plain hard work.

I was praying about it the other day and I randomly opened my Bible and it “happened” to open to I Timothy 5. And I read, “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable to God.”

And then in verse eight, of the same chapter, I read, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Wow! These are strong words! From God’s Word.

God IS calling me to care for my mother and mother-in-law. This is a responsibility He has given me, and really all believers.

It may look different for everyone. Some people live far from family. But that doesn’t excuse Christ-followers from making provision for parents and grandparents who need help.

It is our God-given job. And everyone can do their part, even if those parts look quite different from one another.

And it makes me wonder.

I wonder how loved and cherished aging parents would feel if each of their children and grandchildren did everything they could to meet the needs of their elders.

I wonder how many phone calls and meals would be shared. I wonder how many spirits would be lifted with cards, flowers, letters and gifts. I wonder how many songs would be sung together and ring cheer into hearts.

I wonder how clean houses would be and how lovely yards and gardens would be. I wonder how many errands would be cheerfully run and how many repairs would be promptly finished.

I wonder how many stories of the old days would be shared. And how many home-cooked goodies would be relished. I wonder how many puzzles and games would be enjoyed together and how much laughter would fill the rooms.

I wonder how many prayers would be lifted up together to our Lord. And how many wrinkled hands would be held tenderly by younger hands.

I wonder how excellent personal cares would be, and how comfortable and well fed every bed or wheel-chair-bound person would be.

I wonder how many loving hugs would bring tears. And how many conversations would build up faith and courage.

I wonder how many blessings would be poured down from Heaven.

If everyone did their part.

Because God is watching. And He sees the sacrificial love given by some.

And He sees the neglect and loneliness and unmet needs that wouldn’t have to be there. If everyone did their part.

Sometimes I struggle with my own attitudes and feel like it’s all too much. But this is the mission in my life right now. And I know I don’t do all I could do. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will direct me and help me so that I’ll make better use of my time for His purposes, in this season of precious ministry.

Because life isn’t all about personal pleasure or comfort, though God often blesses us with both. Life is about loving God and others. And that is where the real joy and fulfillment is anyway.

It reminds me of 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…”

Sometimes life is heavy. But I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I’m thankful for the grace and strength and blessings He gives for this mission.

 

 

 

Be Happy

I tried to talk to Mama as I fed her the Easter dinner I’d brought over. But she’d mostly either holler or speak gibberish.

It reminded me of the time we’d just had with my six-month old granddaughter. She seemed to have whole conversations with my husband as she stood in his lap and very expressively spoke garbled words.

And Mama would do that, too. She’d look at me and speak. Often I could tell she was asking questions, but I couldn’t decipher enough of the words to guess at what she meant.

Except for a few exceptions. “I hate you!” still came out clearly. I answered Mama, “But I love you. Do you love me?”

“No,” she answered.

And yet we had a couple sweet moments. My daughter and husband came over to help me get Mom up from her nap, because her walking is so bad these days. My daughter and I changed her and got her in a fresh dress. Then my husband came in and helped us get her into the wheel chair.

As I was rolling her out of the bedroom Mama said, “Thank you.” Which is pretty much unheard of these days.

I was so pleased and said, “Mom, that’s so nice that you said thank you!”

“Yes, it is,” Mama answered. And I chuckled.

And then later, as I was cleaning up the dishes, after Mama’s meal, she said, “Be happy. Be happy.”

And that made me smile.

Alzheimer’s is such a tough road. There is so much to be burdened and sad and stressed about.

But today I can rejoice that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, and because of that all who believe can be forgiven and have a relationship with God and eternity with Him in heaven.

And today I can take joy in the time I had with my children and granddaughter. And I can smile because Mama said thank you.

Today I can be happy, because my mama told me to be. And those sweet words bring tears to my eyes. Happy tears.

I hope you have some today, too.

He is risen!