Mama’s Legacy

Four months ago today Mama had her last night on this earth. She was taking long gaps between breaths. Scary long ones. It seemed like she was taking her last breath a hundred times over. I remember shaking her arm and pleading with her to breathe. “Breathe, Mama, please breathe!” I felt like I was holding my own breath waiting for the next gasp to come.

I was crying and praying and calling for family to come over and be with us. And through it all I was somehow also praying for my nephew and his wife. Because I had gotten the message that they were at the hospital, in labor, struggling through the birthing pains of their firstborn.

Then I got the news. They had a healthy baby boy! I leaned close to Mama and said, ” You have another great-grandson, Mom! Simon has been born!” And I smiled through tears and prayed that Mama would make it past midnight, so she didn’t pass on his birthday.

And then, after hours of agonizing breaths, she started breathing regularly again. Only now there was a gurgling sound. And that was even scarier, in a different way. My husband called the hospice nurse, who got there about midnight. She confirmed that Mama was passing. It could be hours. “Make the most of this time,” the nurse said. “Talk to her.”

And I remember thinking, I’ve been making the most of this time for years now. I’ve spoken my apologies. I’ve expressed my love and gratitude. I’ve sung and read the Bible and told her stories of my life and hers. I’ve spoken to her about heaven and how beautiful it will be and who she will see there. I’ve reminded her that Jesus saved us and we trust in Him and we’ll all be together again.

I was thankful I’d said it all over and over again through the years of dementia. I only wish I’d said more of it while her mind was still strong. But I had taken the time to say every word I could think to say, every word I had needed to say, over and over again through the years. And now as Mama lay dying, I was at peace about that.

She never opened her eyes that night. I don’t know if she heard anything or not. But I played a CD of hymns and I held her hand and I told her I loved her, again and again. And I cuddled up next to her on the bed.

In the morning, as my daughter and I were giving her medications and repositioning her, we suddenly noticed she had passed somewhere in the process. The hospice nurse later told me this was very common. We cried. We sat on either side of Daddy and told him and we all held onto each other and wept.

I went to look in on Mama again, and I noticed a gentle smile on her face– so slight. And she looked so incredibly peaceful. It brought me such a comfort to see a peace I hadn’t seen for years– if ever. My daughter, and others, marveled at it, too.

And now we’ve been adjusting to life without Mama for the last four months. Last night I was babysitting my youngest granddaughter. I can’t see anything in her that resembles my mom, and yet she wouldn’t be here if Mom never had been. My sweet granddaughter is part of Mama’s legacy.

And then it dawned on me that God gave each of my brothers and I precious gifts, the same year he took Mama Home. He gave me my first biological grandchild in April. He gave my older brother his fifth grandchild in October. He gave my younger brother his first grandchild, as Mama was slipping away. And He gave my baby brother the news that he will be a first time daddy this July!

Mama, your love lives on! Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren are beautiful and strong! And I can’t wait to meet your newest grandchild this summer! Thank you for passing on a heritage of faith and love that is rich and warm and deep. Your heart beats on in the legacy you have left behind.

We will do our best to tell your great-grandchildren about you, Mama. And we will pass on the family recipes and songs and stories. And most importantly we will teach them about Jesus, and share the faith you shared with us. And someday, because of His tender mercies and our faith in Him, we will be together again.

My beautiful picture

My sweet mama with my baby brother

 

 

 

Mourning Mercies

The other day I went to Culver’s to pick up lunch. At the drive thru window I saw a young African American man that has worked there for many years. He gave me a bright smile and asked, “How are you?”

“Im fine,” I said, as I smiled and handed him some cash.

“How’s your mom and dad?”

“Mom passed away,” I said. He looked sad as he took my money and turned to the cash register. “Mom passed away, ” I repeated, and I tried to smile a bit, to show him it was okay to ask. And that I was okay. He nodded sadly as he handed me my change, and drink.

I pulled ahead to wait for my order. And the heaviness of mourning came over me. My thoughts flashed back to the past, when Mom was still able to get out, and every Tuesday I took her and Dad to Culver’s, and Dad bought us all lunch. I remembered sitting in the booth across from them, as they sat shoulder to shoulder. I thought of the managers who got to know us because of our frequent visits, and who were so friendly and kind.

I remembered how whenever Mom got up to use the restroom, or when it was time to leave, if there were any little children or babies around she would stop to talk to them. And I would wonder what the parents thought, as they smiled. Sometimes Mama would point her cane right at a little one’s face to tease them. Then I would apologize for Mama and draw her away.

There was something sweet about sitting in a booth with Mom and Dad. I’d run to refill their sodas. I’d order frozen custard cones when we were done with our meals.

Eventually it became too hard to take Mom out. I’d bring food home instead. And the managers and some of the staff at Culver’s would ask how Mom and Dad were doing. It was nice that they were known and thought of fondly.

Because so many of the people who have offered sympathy to me over the past few months never knew my mama. I’m so grateful for the love and concern they’ve expressed to me over my loss. I know it’s heartfelt and real.

But there is a special comfort in hearing from those who actually knew my precious Mama. Most of her friends have already passed on or moved away, and our extended family all live far away. When a former neighbor, who had moved out of state decades ago, heard about Mom’s death she sent a sympathy card. She shared memories and kind words about Mom that touched my heart. And I felt compelled to send her a program from the memorial service and a copy of the eulogy I had written.

I feel drawn to those who knew Mama, especially those of her own generation, when she was full of life and health. Like somehow if I connect with them I’m closer to Mom again.

But Mom’s best friends went Home  before her. And I picture them now welcoming her in heaven with hearty hugs and big smiles. I can see them sitting around a table, shoulder to shoulder, sipping tea and sharing stories and laughing.

And so I can smile, even though it’s often through tears these days. And I’m thankful for the friendly young man who asked about Mom and Dad at Culver’s. Even though he didn’t know what to say, I could tell he cared.

And there is a gentle mercy in knowing Mama is remembered.

 

 

 

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.

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Finding the Riches in Mourning

It has been a little over a month since my Mama passed on to the presence of Jesus. I continue to learn about grieving. And about how tears can flood your eyes because of the littlest memory. Or because of nothing at all. It’s an emotional time.

I was at a group last week for church. A woman I believe is older than me, talked about her mother. And I confess, I fought a little jealousy that she still had her mom. And I got a card from a friend’s mom, who is in her nineties, and still able to think clearly and give advice and help to her daughter. She wrote such an eloquent note on the card. It made me wonder what it would be like to be my age and still have a mama’s wisdom and guidance. I marveled at how rich my friend is to be so blessed.

The thought hits me sometimes that I don’t have a mom anymore. And I feel instantly sad and lonely and lost. But then I remind myself, I still do have a mother. She’s just in her true Home now. She’s healed and well and in the presence of Jesus. And I will see her again, and for eternity!

It helped me to read this part of a sermon,  “Fallen Asleep” Sermon #2659, January 29, 1882, by Charles Spurgeon, from the book We Shall See God by Randy Alcorn:

Did you ever notice, concerning Job’s children, that when God gave him twice as much substance as he had before, he gave him only the same number of children as he formerly had? The Lord gave him twice as much gold and twice as much of all sorts of property, but he only gave him the exact number of children he had before. Why did he not give the patriarch double the number of children as well as twice the number of cattle? Why, because God regarded his children who had died as being Job’s still.

They were dead to Job’s eye, but they were visible to Job’s faith. God numbered them still as part of Job’s family, and if you carefully count up how many children Job had, you will find that he had twice as many in the end as he had in the beginning. In the same way, consider your friends who are asleep in Christ as still yours — not a single one is lost.

Mama is not lost. She is still mine. I still have a mother. I always will.

And my Dad is still here on earth with me. Though I’ve mostly been concerned about him and trying to take care of him, today he called me. And he asked me how I was and how I’d slept and what was going on. When I told him I was tired, he told me to go take a nap. And as I hung up the phone, I realized…I’m rich, too.

rose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back Home

We were watching an old Dick Van Dyke Show the other night, when I just started crying. Grieving is like that. It catches you by surprise.

The character Sally was doing a song and dance at a show for inmates at a prison.  She sang Cotton Fields, by Huddie Ledbetter…

     When I was a little bitty baby my Mama would rock me in the cradle, in those old cotton fields back home…

     It doesn’t seem like a tear-jerker. But my mama was raised in Louisiana and her daddy grew cotton. And picking that cotton was one of the last childhood memories to leave her.
     Mom also told a story over and over, about how her own Mama would put the baby of the family (Mama was the third of eleven children) on a big gunny sack that was tied around her waist. And she would pull her baby along near her while she filled the sack with cotton. This was the last story I remember hearing from Mama about her childhood. The story that stuck and held firm through the decay of dementia.
     Years later, when she didn’t tell the story anymore, I’d ask her if she picked cotton when she was young.
     “Oh-h, YES!” she’d answer, with no doubts. Until eventually even that memory melted away.
     Anyway, so there I was watching a sit-com with an upbeat song and dance, crying away. When I calmed down I called my dad to check in with him. He was doing well that night, so I told him about the song and how it made me cry, choking up again as I did.
     Dad said, “Well, she hasn’t picked cotton for many, many years.” And then he added, “I’m sitting here thinking about all the things my sweetheart is enjoying in heaven, and it makes me happy.”
     I don’t want to imply here that my dad isn’t having his own emotional times, because he is. But I caught him in a good hour. And his words soothed my soul.
     It’s okay for those of us left behind to cry. And we will. Often. But what a precious comfort to picture the truth of heaven and the indescribable joys that Mama is relishing there.
     She’s not in those old cotton fields back home. Mama is Home with Jesus.
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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