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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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.

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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!

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Both photos are of Mom with my baby brother.

Are You Happy?

I was feeding my mom a meal the other day and I asked her, “Mama, are you happy?”

She turned her head to face me and looked me directly in the eyes and then abruptly and very loudly shouted, “NO-OOO!”

I couldn’t help laughing in the moment, at her bold, startling reaction. But now I feel like shouting the same thing. Though we’ve had some sweet blessings lately, it has been a very stressful time. And we don’t see anything changing for the better soon. In fact we mostly see dark clouds that hint at worse things to come.

And if anyone asked me right now if I was happy, and if I answered them frankly, I would want to shout with Mama, “NO-OOO!”

No, I’m not happy. This is such a hard time. I feel like life is heavy right now, and news from many directions is depressing. I know I have so much to be grateful for, but life is changing, and more sacrifices are required. And I’m so tired.

I know I have more help than so many people. And I feel guilty complaining. And I wonder where my faith is. And I ask God what He is teaching me.

I open up my Bible and read…

I pour our my complaint before Him; I declare Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. (Psalm 142:2-3, NKJV)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. (Psalm 147:3-5, NKJV)

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy. (Psalm 147:11, NKJV)

And I find comfort. Because I have a Lord I can pour out my complaints and troubles to. He knows when I’m overwhelmed. He knows the paths I’m on and the ones to come, and He will be there with me. Guiding me. Guiding us.

We have a Lord that is compassionate and heals the brokenhearted. A God so mighty that He knows the name of each star He created, and the name of each wounded servant of His on earth. And He binds our wounds.

And as we look to Him with trust and hope, He is pleased that we are depending on Him. He is pleased when we hope in Him for mercy and grace for each day. He is pleased when we realize we can not get through this on our own, but have faith that He is with us and that He will preserve us and keep us and sustain us.

And someday when this hard time is over, because we know this too shall pass, we will be stronger for having lived through it. And we can declare His truth and love with greater boldness for having been held up by it in the storms.

Earlier today my daughter showed me a video she had made of Mama some time back. She asked Mom, “Are you happy?”

And with a very grouchy voice and tone, Mom had shouted, “Yes, I’m happy!”

Annie asked again, “Grandma, are you happy?”

And with a slightly less grim tone Mama shouted, “I’m happy…all the day!”

I can’t honestly say that I’m happy all the day. This is a tough time of life. But I KNOW that Jesus is with me all the day. And I know that He won’t leave me. And I know that He will give grace and mercy enough for each moment as I hope in Him.

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Mama’s Changing Faces and God’s Unfailing Graces

Dementia seems so arbitrary. After watching it progress in Mama’s life over ten years now, I’m surprised that it can still surprise me.

And yet it does.

Monday was Mama’s birthday. I brought her homemade cake and lit candles and we sang to her. I got no reaction. Not a word. Not even a raised eyebrow or a hint of a smile.

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Later in the evening, my daughter said, “Grandma, it’s your birthday.”

And Mama calmly answered, “I know.”

A few days later, Mama had massage therapy and music therapy at the same time. I usually just watch Dad’s face as he takes joy in the music, because Mama usually sleeps through it all. But this time Mama looked right at Dad, while Becky sang Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and Mama smiled!

Becky told Dad, who can’t see Mama because of his blindness, that Mom was smiling at him. And oh how his chin quivered and his eyes misted and then how my eyes watered. And Mama stayed alert and awake for the rest of the music and looked cheerful and smiled and seemed to join in with the pleasure of the day.

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Today, the hospice nurse practitioner came to see if Mama still qualifies for services. And though Mom is typically quiet and mellow in the morning these days, today she was agitated and yelling. But the nurse practitioner mentioned how nice she looked. And our regular hospice nurse, Terri, said, “I think pink is her color.” I agreed, thinking Mama looked so pretty in her pink dress with her white hair brushed back from her face.

After the nurses left, I told Mama, “You’re so pretty.”

And she answered, “Yeah, I try.”

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And I think how much her reactions fluctuate. And how startling it can be that though Mom doesn’t know her own name anymore, she can still quickly reply with fitting or witty words at times. Even though other times she says nothing at all.

Dementia still surprises me. Mama uses the word crazy often. She said something about it today and a caregiver asked, “Do you think I’m crazy?”

And Mama calmly replied, “Probably not.”

Dementia is a wild ride with sharp curves and sweet mountain highs and gloomy valley lows. And the thing that keeps me from just crashing is God’s grace.

I was in one of those gloomy valley’s this week and shared some concerns with our understanding nurse, Terri. I told her, “Life is hard. And then it gets harder. At least the end of the story is good though. At least we have heaven.”

And she spoke words of wisdom, learned perhaps through her own valley times.  I wish I’d written down her words, so this isn’t a perfect quote, but basically she said, “God gives us grace each day. Sometimes He seems stingy or slow, but He gives us grace enough.” She spoke with a smile and with the gentle authority of someone who knows she speaks truth. And her words sung courage to my heart.

And I know she is right.

Dementia is arbitrary. The surprises keep coming. We never know what the next day, next hour, or next minute may startle us with. Maybe it will make us laugh. Or maybe it will make us weep. Often it will be heartbreaking. Sometimes breathtaking.

But this we can know. God is with His children. All who trust in Jesus and follow Him can know that He will give grace. Grace enough. For every day. Always.

And the end of the story will be amazing!

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)

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What a Friend we Have in Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear…

I was in tears. Becky, the music therapist, came again today. Dad requested more hymns this time. And hearing Becky sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace was balm to my soul.

Because it’s been a tough week. A few days ago I had called 911 for my mother-in-law with fears that she was having a stroke. Thankfully she wasn’t, and she’s doing well now. But she spent a night in the hospital with all the anxiety that surrounds that.

We’ve had other stresses I won’t share here, except to say caregiving can strain relationships. And life doesn’t stop because you are caregiving or since someone you love is in hospice. It keeps flowing on, and problems and conflicts and emotions keep crashing like waves, threatening sometimes to flood your heart and pull you down under.

But something about hearing the strum of a guitar, and a lovely voice singing, O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer, becomes a life raft to collapse on in the storm.

I looked at Mama reclining in her chair, as Becky sang. Mama looked so pale and still. She seems more quiet this week and I’m afraid maybe I really am losing her. Because even though she’s in hospice care, there’s a big part of me that’s in denial. I’ve heard of people living two years in hospice care and I’ve been counting on that all along. At least two years.

But when I see her eating less. And talking less. And moving less– it’s harder. And more fearful. I looked at her today and made sure she was breathing. I remembered how, a few years ago, Dad had called me to come help because Mama had fallen. When I’d walked into the living room Mama was lying on the floor on her side singing, What a Friend we Have in Jesus. And I thought, at the time, what a perfect song to sing when you’re stuck on the floor and waiting for help.

And I wished Mama could join in and sing with us again. But she just rested, pale and quiet. And I blinked back tears.

Dad told Becky that he had altered some of the words to You Are My Sunshine. Instead he sings:

You are my sweetheart, my only sweetheart. You make me happy when days are gray. You never know dear, how much I love you. Won’t you be my sweetheart today.

So Becky sang the song Dad’s way. And Dad’s chin quivered. And my eyes watered. And Mama opened her eyes. So Becky sang it again.

It’s been a tough week. It’s been a hard day. But I’m thankful for the support of our hospice team as they surround us and hold us up with love and caring hearts and hands-on help.

And I’m thankful for the gift of music and the comfort it shines on us, like sunshine breaking through a storm cloud. It’s still raining, and yet somehow we are warmed and cheered in a ray of sunlight at the same time.

And most of all I’m thankful that we truly do have a friend in Jesus. And He does bear my sins and griefs. And I can go to Him in prayer and pour out my heart to Him and know that He is carrying me, and Mama and Dad and my family. We are in His strong arms. We can trust Him always.

Jesus won’t drop us. He won’t let go. He can calm the storm or He can walk on the waves. I can rest in Him and know that He is faithful and good always. What a friend we have!

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