Daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother--all define me, but especially an imperfect follower of my Lord, Jesus Christ. Trying to walk the path as a daughter of the King, needing lots of grace along the way.
Mom has passed into eternity. My daughter and I were on either side of her as she took her last breaths. Through tears I read the 23rd Psalm, and we prayed for her. We were both overwhelmed with the struggle we witnessed as she shed her mortal body and her soul ascended to God. Afterwards, alone in the house, we freely wept and clung to each other.
Suddenly I’ve been flung free from orbiting my mother and feel as if I am tumbling through empty space. Since my father passed away 2 years ago, the elliptical path I traveled around Mom grew increasingly tighter as her health declined. What began as weekly visits to take care of her finances and run errands for her became entrance into her very atmosphere as I cared for her body. I could hardly bear to leave her side the last 24 hours of her life.
She is reunited with Dad, her parents and many others, but that pales in comparison with being in the presence of God! I am comforted by this knowledge, but can I be honest and say I am still reeling? I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve lost my purpose.
We celebrated her life this week at the church my brother pastors and where she was a member before she moved in with us. My daughter, my brothers, and I shared about her life and what she meant to us. It was a celebration of her life and her love for others, but most importantly we sought to honor her faith in Jesus Christ. It defined everything about her; and anyone who knew her recognized her devotion to Christ transcended all else. As my brother said in his eulogy, it was because she loved Jesus more than anyone or anything else that she could love others so well.
After the service we traveled 90 miles to lay Mom to rest beside my father at the church he grew up attending and where many of his relatives are buried. My parents bought their double headstone decades ago in anticipation of this final journey. It felt surreal to be there again only 2 years after bringing my father there. Many of the same people were in attendance. We had the same lunch, catered by the same restaurant. Only this time, there was a finality as we bid farewell to our parents.
They are no longer with us, but a new generation has already sprung forth. Just this year my mother welcomed 3 great-grandchildren with another one due before the year is over. Each of my brothers and I will have grandchildren to cherish and enjoy. And life will go on, new chapters are beginning, new journeys started.
Grief and joy are intertwined in my heart as I contemplate the loss of my mother and the expectancy of a first grandchild. I am still walking in the darkness of my grief, but each day I see a little more of the dawn ahead. As the Psalmist said, “I believe I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
I recently heard a message in church about being known. The speaker suggested we are known by our stories. It’s something I hadn’t thought about in those terms, but it’s so true the way we get to know one another is by sharing our history. Sometimes it’s only in part as with an acquaintance, other times in greater depth as with a close friend. Then there’s the intimate history when another person is an integral part of our story, such as a spouse.
As I reflected on the message I was saddened to think how Mom has lost her stories. She can no longer remember the stories of her life, her faith, her family. It is up to those she will leave behind to preserve and to pass on her history.
Olive Frances Frizzell graduated from high school in Charlotte, NC, went to Mars Hill College for a couple years and then on to Medical College of Virginia–or MCV as it was known then–to pursue her nursing degree. Shortly before she graduated, she had an internship in public health nursing for several months. She was assigned to the Health Department in West Point, VA where my father, William Leo Jackson, known as Bill, was a sanitarian. When she walked into the office for the first time, my father called her “Miss Frizzle.” She quickly corrected his pronunciation and just about as quickly became infatuated with the handsome, young sanitarian.
One of the stories Mom liked to tell about their budding romance was a time Dad was taking her on his rounds and they stopped for lunch. When Dad wasn’t looking, Mom dumped salt in his tea. I never heard Dad’s side of the story, but Mom always smiled mischievously when she described how she tried to get his attention. They had a whirlwind courtship–meeting in April, getting engaged in August, and marrying in November.
Mom became a stay-at-home mother once I was born. The next baby, a son, arrived when I was only 14 months old. I think Mom must have had her hands full with the two of us, but from the way she always told it, she was very happy and enjoyed motherhood. She had a miscarriage when my brother and I were still toddlers. My brother and I had come down with the mumps and Mom caught it, too. She was about 3 months along when she lost that baby at home. The youngest of their children, another son, was born when I was 7 years old. Amazingly, my brothers share the same birthday, 6 years apart. Many years later, Mom confided in me the youngest was a surprise, but one she was overjoyed to receive.
Mom became a Christian when she was child. She grew up in a Baptist church and probably had the usual conversion experience of Baptist-raised children. If she ever told me the details of her salvation, I don’t remember. But what I do remember is when she began to pine for more of God in her life. Going to church, teaching a Sunday school class, reading her Bible was not enough any more. She was longing for an intimacy and closeness to her Savior she had yet to experience. She took the Bible at face value and asked for more of His Holy Spirit. She was not denied. Suddenly, when I was 15 all Mom could talk about was Jesus.
Our family went to church every Sunday. We sometimes had family devotions. All of us believed, but each of us thought Mom was taking this a little too far. She started a Bible study in our home. New friends appeared who were just as hungry as she was for more of Jesus. She wanted to pray about everything. We secretly called her a “Jesus nut” and hoped she would get back to normal in short order. But it was not to be. Mom had been tampered with, and her faith and prayer life took on a vibrancy and power that impacted family and friends alike. It was her example that taught me about the power of a mother’s prayers.
My favorite memory of her renewed and empowered relationship with God was seeing for myself a remarkable answer to prayer. Mom had a large mole on her face. It was probably at least 1/2 inch in diameter. She was not a vain person and it didn’t particularly bother her, but it seemed to bother other people, especially children. So she began to pray, without telling anyone else, that God would remove that mole.
One night at the dinner table I noticed a difference in the shape of her mole. It was no longer round, but was in the shape of a cross. I pointed it out to the rest of the family and we all concurred that Mom had a cross on her face. She then told us how she had been praying God would remove the mole. Over the next couple weeks her mole got smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether. That episode made a huge impression on me. When I became a believer 4 years later as a sophomore in college, it gave me faith to pray some outrageous prayers of my own.
The summer before my sophomore year of college, I was in a faith crisis. I had a summer job and every morning Mom would come upstairs when I woke up and pray with me before I even got out of bed. I remember one morning telling her I didn’t want to hear about God anymore. She didn’t react in the slightest to my declaration, but I am confident she redoubled her prayer efforts on my behalf. It was less than 2 months later, that I committed my life to Christ. I discovered the letter I wrote to her about my encounter with Christ when we moved her in with us. She had kept it all these years.
Mom was a prayer warrior and a faith sharer. She prayed all of us into the kingdom–my father included. Her faith legacy includes not only her husband and children, but as her faith carried forward in her offspring, my husband was saved, grandchildren were saved, and countless others have come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior as the result of her witness and intercession on their behalf.
I look forward to the day when it will be revealed how many lives she impacted for the kingdom. My mother, a quiet, unassuming woman with a faith as big as a mountain has a crown of jewels waiting for her. It will be a sight to behold.
My mother set a beautiful example for me as a godly woman in all her roles: wife, mother, friend. I am blessed beyond measure to have been able to call her not only my mother, but also one of my closest confidants. What a good listener she has always been. She rarely gave me advice, but the few times she did, I listened. The wisdom she imparted carried a weight all the more forceful for it’s infrequency. After I left home there were many women, often younger, many times single, who came into Mom’s life. She was a friend and mother to them–offering a listening ear, Godly wisdom, but most of all love and a commitment to pray for those who called her friend.
The image I will always carry of my mother is one of her smiling lovingly, an aura of peace and joy emanating from her. She made me and others who knew her want to be around her. She was known for her love for family and friend alike. She knew how to pray and taught me how to approach the throne of God as I listened to her when we prayed together. I thank God everyday for blessing me with such a mother. And how thankful I am, that I will not have to say good-bye to her when she departs this earth. I know I will see her again.
Some days I find myself thinking: How long can I do this? How long can I watch my mother shrink away both mentally and physically? But that makes it all about me. This is not about me. It’s about my mother. It’s about relying on God for strength and grace to take care of someone very dear to me and even more dear to Him; trusting the One who knows, who cares, who sees the end from the beginning.
Recently Mom has been awake when I check on her around 5:30 a.m. I have no idea how long she’s been lying there, eyes open, still as a rag doll. I ask her if she’s been awake long, just to say something. The other day she looked at me in such a strange way and asked me why I hadn’t told her I would be coming to visit. She thought I was her mother. I stepped into her reality and apologized. I stroked her face and told her how glad I was to see her. Another morning she asked where her husband was. She told me he had gone to buy a crib for their baby. I imagine the labyrinth of her memories. In some way she is walking through that maze and a far away memory is triggered. And she believes it belongs to the present. It’s a mystery.
Mom has not been able to drink water since her stroke. She would take a sip and hold it in her mouth and eventually have to spit it out. Thickened liquids were no easier for her. I went to bed one night feeling crushed with guilt I was putting my mother into a state of dehydration. I lay in bed praying for wisdom. And then I got a picture of ice chips. The next morning I took some ice cubes, wrapped them in a towel and hammered them to bits. I took them into Mom and was able to feed her a small cup of ice chips one tiny spoonful at a time. I have to watch her as she crunches them, waiting for the swallow before I offer her more. Sometimes the swallow takes a long time. I’ve discovered if I bring the empty spoon to her mouth it will trigger her to swallow.
It’s challenging to find something Mom is able and willing to eat. She’s had a lot of ice cream in the past few weeks but I’m always trying other things I think might be more nourishing. When she first came home she could eat broccoli cheddar soup. The broccoli started becoming difficult to get down so I pureed it. When even the tiny pureed bits of broccoli wouldn’t go down, I strained it. But now she can’t even swallow that. I tried yogurt with mashed banana, honey and protein powder. She made faces when I tried to feed her that. Most recently I have frozen the yogurt concoction and even added a little coconut oil to boost the calories. Right now she is willing to eat it it like that, but as soon as it gets a little melted she refuses it. Each day is different in terms of what she can swallow and I just have to try different foods, different strategies. At least she has been able to take the ice chips consistently and I offer them to her frequently.
I don’t think my mother is suffering–she is not in pain, she does not know she is dying, she seems comfortable, although it’s hard for me to imagine. She doesn’t even know she is spending the day lying in bed because she will often tell me she’s been out when I come in to spend time with her. But even if she isn’t suffering, my family and I are as we watch my mother linger and drift towards eternity. It is painful to see her body get smaller and smaller as the days go by, her face becoming so pinched it’s hard to recognize her.
Since she can no longer be moved to her recliner in the family room where she enjoyed looking out the picture window, we set up a bird feeder right outside the window in her bedroom. This afternoon a small host of sparrows stopped by to entertain her. She listens to one of 2 Pandora music stations I set up for her. One is Piano Hymns and the other is Big Band Radio. I think the familiarity comforts her. One brings a reflective, peaceful atmosphere, the other is strangely festive.
Life in our home seems surreal. There is a softness, a quietness, a sadness that permeates the house. The days seem small and collapsed on themselves. Part of me wants this to end, wants God to take her home where she will be whole and complete, reunited with loved ones, and most importantly, rejoicing in the Savior she has worshipped and served so faithfully. And part of me is quite reluctant to let her go. I’m grateful the decision is not in my hands. Father, give us grace to rest in You, peace to trust Your ways.
Rocky the boxer is gone. The lively clown who came into our lives 15 months ago and made us laugh, brought us comfort, and provided the kind of companionship only a beloved dog can bring has died. In all my imaginings of this summer with my mother in hospice care here in our home, never did I consider Rocky would depart from us.
I’ve described how Rocky came into our lives. He was truly a gift from God that bounded into our hearts. It didn’t take long for us to become part of his pack. And for some reason he became especially attached to me. He followed me around the house wherever I went. If I went downstairs to do laundry he was right behind me. He would find a place to get comfortable, usually his crate, and settle down until I went back upstairs when he would follow me back up. If I went outside to check the mail or work in the yard, Rocky insisted on tagging along. When I showered in the morning, he expressed his displeasure at my unavailability by going into my bedroom and emptying my waste basket. When I emerged he would be sitting close to the door, waiting for me, looking as innocent as he could muster.
He seemed to have a different kind of relationship with each of us. He would rough house with my son, lay down and put his head in my daughter’s lap, sit at my mother’s feet, ignoring her politely. When my husband came home from work, Rocky announced it by loudly barking. He would start his chortle when he heard the car pull in and bark until my husband came in the door. Rocky would run to me and bark some more as if to make sure I knew hubby was home. When I went to greet my husband with a hug and kiss, Rocky would try to wedge himself between us and bark even louder. We could never figure out if he was jealous, trying to protect me or what.
Sometimes my husband and I would hold hands while sitting next to each other watching TV. Rocky would come over and nose his way between us trying to get us to quit touching each other. Eventually Rocky got used to that but he never liked to see us hug and kiss.
During dinnertime he would settle down in the other room where he could observe us. He was ever watchful and ready for the call that we were finished. My husband would give him a look and an invitation, and he would trot into the kitchen to be hand fed some ice cubes and then have a little snack in his bowl. It didn’t matter that he had already eaten, he felt entitled to a little something more. It only took a small handful of dog food to satisfy his need. And then it was playtime. He would find his toy and bring it over, waiting to see which of us would chase him around for it.
He loved to run around the yard when we were out there. He would leap and bound around like a puppy. Once he hurt his knee and limped for a long time. We took him to the vet for laser treatments and gave him a special supplement that helped, but after that we didn’t encourage him to use the yard like a race track. As long as he didn’t overdo it his knee didn’t seem to bother him. But he was hard to keep down when he was in an exuberant mood.
With his pushed in face and droopy jowls, he could look fierce to those who didn’t know him. Many times he scared someone who came to our door by barking “ferociously.” Little did they know all he was saying was, “Hey, hey, who are you and do you want to be friends?” As mean and grumpy as he could look with that boxer mug, when he opened his mouth it looked like he was smiling.
One of the things he loved the most was a car ride. We didn’t usually have a collar on him but when we took him somewhere in the car we would snap his collar on and grab the leash. Then he knew he was about to go for a ride and could hardly be contained before we could get out the door. He would circle around and around the car looking for his opening. He was not about to get left behind. Sometimes he would even jump into a visitor’s car in the off chance he could sneak in an unexpected ride.
For those who have never owned a pet it’s hard to explain the attachment we felt towards Rocky. But it’s very simple really. He was a gentleman dog who loved us with abandon. How could we resist him?
On Sunday morning we found him collapsed in my daughter’s bathroom in the basement. He had an accident on the floor–which had never happened before. He could not get up on his own so my husband and I worked a beach towel under him and carried him upstairs–each of us holding one end of the towel and Rocky lying limply in the middle. We laid him on his bed and spent the day watching him, cleaning up vomit and carrying him outside to relieve himself periodically. He could barely lift his head and when we took him outside we had to set him on his feet.
The next day my daughter and I took him to the vet, carrying him on the towel as we had done the day before. When the assistant weighed him I was shocked to see he had lost 10 lbs. since his last visit 2 months ago. The vet gave him fluids and anti-nausea medication and told us he was a very sick dog. She took blood and told us to call the next morning for the results. We spent the rest of the day taking turns sitting with him outside in the shade. His condition did not improve and he became increasingly more incontinent.
The next morning his bedding was soaked with urine. I made the call to the vet and heard the words I feared to receive but already knew were coming. Rocky was not going to recover. I had to make the decision to end his suffering. My daughter, son and his wife went with me to take Rocky to the vet. We stood around him, petting and scratching him in the way he always loved, talking softly to him, telling him how much he meant to us. Without embarrassment, tears streamed down our faces as we said good bye to our dear companion. We watched the life drain out of his body, the spark disappear from his eyes.
The intensity of my grief has caught me by surprise and perhaps even alarmed my family a bit. It’s almost a physical pain and it comes over me unexpectedly when I walk outside and realize Rocky will not be joining me; when I pass his crate on my way to the laundry room; when I see his supplement in the cabinet. I think it’s all related to the on-going mourning I have been experiencing with Mom. With Rocky it all happened in 3 days–but I’m watching something very similar play out in my mother over a much longer period of time.
Mom was the reason we got Rocky in the first place–to be a companion for her. She loved him as much as any of us did. Rocky thought he was higher in the pecking order than she was and acted accordingly, but Mom never noticed. As long as he was lying at her feet she was happy and always referred to him as her dog.
Even though her memory and cognitive skills are quite impaired I told her Rocky had gotten very sick and was no longer with us. We cried together. Later, after she had woken up from a nap, however, she asked where Rocky was–no memory of our previous conversation. I decided to live in her reality and said, “He’s out playing, you’ll see him soon.”
Although my theology doesn’t necessarily support the idea of pets going to heaven, I like to think Rocky might be there. I envision him greeting my mother there one day, realizing at last she surpasses him in the pecking order. May he beg her forgiveness!
I’ve asked God why He would take Rocky away so soon after bringing him into our lives. It’s hard to understand, hard to accept his passing. I told Him today I still needed Rocky. And I heard a quiet voice in my heart say, “No, you need more of Me.” And of course it’s true. Rocky was a wonderful companion, a special gift from God. But it’s not the gift that will get us through this challenging time with Mom or anything else in life, it’s the Giver. Let me learn to rely on Him and Him alone.
Mom has been home in hospice care for almost 2 weeks. We are determined to keep her here until God calls her home. Since she has now become what they call a total care patient I knew I would not be able to handle all of her needs on my own so I arranged for an in-home aide 6 hours per day during this time. The CNA the care giving service sent us is a lady from Ghana named Agnes. I have come to think of her as Mom’s African Angel.
Rocky greets her enthusiastically each morning at 9 a.m. The first few days she was quite alarmed by his loud greeting. I assured her it was just his way of saying hello and announcing to me I had a visitor. By the second week I could let him out the door when she arrived. He leaps off the front porch and gallops towards her barking “ferociously,” comes to a halt when he reaches her and wiggles his hind quarters in hopes of a friendly pat and greeting. She obliges and they walk up to the front door together.
By then Mom has usually been awake for a bit and I’ve given her something to drink. She never takes more than a few sips. Sometimes I’ve even gotten her to eat a little breakfast by the time Agnes arrives. Yesterday it was ice cream with mashed bananas. She managed about 1/4 cup before she could no longer make the effort to swallow.
Agnes greets Mom with a wide smile and asks her how she is doing. Mom always says, “Fine.” After making a bit of an assessment of Mom’s condition we begin the morning ritual. Agnes prepares a warm basin of water and sets out the items she will need to wash and dress Mom. I pick out some clothes for Mom to wear and then stand on the other side of the bed ready to assist when needed. I talk quietly to Mom and rub her arm or leg. Yesterday I asked her if she knew who I was. She replied with a smile, “Mama.” And so I am.
I never considered I might some day become Mama to my own mother. When she first moved in I often thought it was like having an eight year old in the household based on the care she needed, the questions she asked, her understanding of her situation. As the months have passed she has become younger and younger. Usually there is an event that has reduced her age–a surgery, a mini-stroke, a hospitalization. Now she is like my not-so-little baby, only a bit older than an infant. She is not sure where she is, she can no longer walk, she often needs me to hand feed her, but she knows our faces and our names. And for that I am grateful.
After getting washed and dressed, Agnes sits Mom up in the bed and transfers her to a wheel chair. I’d like to say I help, but it’s really Agnes’s strength that gets the job done. I just grab the waist band on Mom’s pants and guide her into the chair. Agnes wheels her into the living room and again “we” transfer her to the blue recliner by the picture window. Agnes skillfully props her up with pillows and elevates her feet. I offer her something to eat or drink frequently but most of the time she declines. She usually manages a bowl of ice cream at some point. It’s the one thing she always seems to enjoy and not have trouble getting down. At this point we offer her ice cream a couple times per day.
Agnes leaves at 3 p.m. each day so around 2:30 we start the process of getting her back into bed. After Mom is settled in she often takes a nap even though she has napped off and on throughout the day. I think just moving her from one location to another tires her out.
The rest of the day I am in and out of her room–checking to see if she is comfortable, thirsty, or needs anything. One day I asked if there was anything I could get her and she told me she would like her shoes so she could come to dinner. I told her why she would not be able to get out of bed knowing it would be forgotten in minutes. I think next time I will just distract her with a different conversation.
I put a TV in her room so she could watch her favorite show, The Andy Griffith Show. Netflix has all 8 seasons. She’s watched it through Season 5 many, many times since she moved in with us. Don Knotts left the show after Season 5 and Mom declared it wasn’t worth watching without Barney Fife. He’s her favorite character. A couple days ago after watching several episodes Mom told me she and Dad had met Andy Griffith and Barney Fife at the Health Department when Dad worked there. I think Mayberry and all its characters must remind Mom of the simpler days when she and Dad lived in their own small town where they raised my two brothers and me.
Around 7:30 p.m. I prepare Mom for bed. After I get her pajamas on her, I arrange her pillows to prop her up and relieve any pressure points. This is something I have to do several times before the morning. More than one nurse has emphasized the importance of repositioning Mom to prevent pressure sores. I trick my body into waking up in the middle of the night by drinking a good sized glass of water before I go to bed. Otherwise I might not be able to make myself get out of bed to attend to Mom. I still pray with her each night before I say good night, but she no longer offers her own prayers. One night before turning out the light, my daughter came in and suggested we sing some hymns. We are a hymn loving family and know quite a few by heart. As we sang, Mom moved her lips but her voice was too soft to hear. It was a sweet time of worship.
I check Mom often when she is sleeping in her room–whether it is napping in the late afternoon or after she has gone to bed for the night. I watch her chest to make sure I see it rising and falling. We are all only one small event away from eternity. God has numbered our days, and only He knows the day and the hour He will call us home. But I am acutely aware His time for Mom is very near. It’s my prayer and heart’s desire to be at her side when she steps away from us and into His presence. I think I have a secret hope I will see some of His shining glory and get a little glimpse of heaven when Mom leaves to join the heavenly throng.
There was a week in May of momentous, life changing events: my mother had a stroke, my daughter announced I was to be a Grammy, my son got married. I thought my heart would burst with all the sorrow and the joy. God gave grace for each day in the form of family and friends to share the pain and the happiness. I received texts to tell me someone was thinking about us, sometimes it was a short visit from a friend to give a hug, sometimes it was a Facebook comment to remind me of people who cared and knew how to pray. It all reminded me I was not alone, but surrounded by a community of fellow sojourners on this life journey.
Last weekend we prepared for Mom’s arrival home from the rehab center into hospice care. My son and his new bride came over to help move Mom’s queen sized bed out of her bedroom and down to my son’s now-vacated bedroom. The supply company hospice uses brought a hospital bed and installed it in my mother’s bedroom. We also moved two recliners into her room so visitors would have a comfortable place to sit and spend time with Mom.
Now we walk a sacred journey with my mother. It’s not a lonely walk, though. Family, friends, and even strangers will join us on Mom’s final earthly journey. One by one they come to walk alongside my mother for a bit. A friend from the church she and Dad used to attend drove over 100 miles to visit with her. My mother’s face lit up with joy when her friend walked into the room. There wasn’t much conversation on Mom’s part. But she recognized her friend and remembered the visit the next day as well. At her departure, the friend cried and Mom wept, too, even though I don’t think she knew why. I expect there will be many showers on this journey.
Her first week home Mom’s sister from North Carolina arrived. They hadn’t seen each other since my father’s funeral almost 2 years ago–although they talk on the phone regularly. It was such a sweet reunion as my aunt, my daughter, and I gathered around Mom’s bed catching up with family news and reminiscing about the past. We talked about a future visit but I knew in my heart this was probably the last time they would see each other on this side of eternity. These things remained unsaid, though.
Mom’s sons, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces, a sister-in-law, friends will all attend her in the coming weeks. She will lay in her mechanical bed, propped up with pillows as the procession of dear ones come to spend a few moments at her side. The talk is quiet but there are smiles and occasional soft laughter. Her hand is gently held and the kisses placed upon her cheek are gentle caresses. She will not be alone even when there are no visitors because she is surrounded by photos of the ones she has cherished throughout the years. Their happy, smiling expressions speak of the love they hold for Mom.
The room feels like an airy cocoon, and I hope she feels comfortable in it. The walls are a soft pink, the scent of lavender is in the air. A vase of colorful flowers sits within her view. During the day soft sunlight streams through the windows. Though it might seem strange, it is a peaceful place and I enjoy sitting there beside Mom. The silence isn’t empty but filled with a life of love and memories.
Caregivers come each day to bathe and dress Mom. Now I am the assistant and quite willing to be so. Mom lies quietly under their gentle ministrations. I am impressed with their compassionate, skilled care. My own efforts at caring for Mom these past 2 years seem clumsy in comparison. I privately feel a little embarrassed at the memory but there isn’t any shame. I will learn to be more proficient as I watch their movements.
I don’t think Mom understands what is going on. She doesn’t realize she is paralyzed on one side. She thinks she can get out of bed whenever she wants. It doesn’t do much good to tell her she can no longer walk because 5 minutes later she will not remember what I said. What goes on in her mind is a mystery. One day she told me she had made glazed donuts. Not too long ago, I would have tried to help her understand why that was impossible–now I just ask her if I can have one.
More so than ever before I remind myself to take one day at a time. God’s grace is sufficient for each day but not in advance of the days ahead. God does not promise grace for our imaginations. But He does promise to provide the daily portion of what we will need for the day’s journey.
I imagine my mother and all the ones who love her walking with her but mostly behind her on a pleasant path. There is a gentle stream on one side and mountains in the distance on the other side. Ahead of us is a shining city. But the distance between my mother and the gates of that city is unknowable. Some days it seems very close and other days not so much. One day she will complete her sacred journey, and my family and I are grateful to be a part of this time with her.
Mother’s Day, 2017– the start of a momentous week in our family’s life. Sunday was a day to celebrate Mom, and the following Saturday was my son’s wedding–an occasion greatly anticipated in our household. In between, my daughter and her husband were flying in from Portland to share in the festivities. Even though Mom would not be attending the wedding, she shared the joy of this special family time.
Mom woke up around 9:30 and was her usual happy, morning self. We started our routine as we did every morning–after helping her into her robe and settled in the chair by the window I brought her orange juice and medications. When I asked Mom what she wanted for breakfast she surprised me by saying she would like her protein drink.
She hasn’t been able to drink it for several months now. No one understands why, least of all Mom. It’s been her morning drink for many years–a concoction of calories, protein, fiber and healthy fats. But over the course of several weeks after Christmas she had begun to have more and more trouble drinking it. She would take a mouthful and hold it, unable or unwilling to swallow. I would sit with her and coach her through as much of the drink as I could. Finally we reached the day when we could not continue and I started fixing other breakfasts for her. It took her an hour to eat a bowl of oatmeal or a scrambled egg and toast but at least she could get it down.
On Mother’s Day, however, when Mom requested the protein drink I could not refuse. Taking advantage of the opportunity, I packed as many calories into that shake as I could manage. In very short order she drained it dry. Everyone but Mom was surprised.
I helped her get dressed and ready for church. These days church for Mom is a comfortable seat in the family room watching Grove Avenue Baptist Church as we stream it from the laptop to the TV.
Mom attended Grove Avenue Baptist in Richmond when she was in training for her RN at MCV in the early 1950’s. One Sunday when Mom first moved in with us, she was watching and remarked the pastor was the same one who preached when she attended all those years ago. Even though he did seem a little ancient we just looked at each other in sad recognition of Mom’s mental decline. At that time we were still trying to convince her of reality so I looked the speaker up online. To our utter amazement he was indeed Pastor Emeritus of Grove Avenue Baptist Church and had been the senior pastor when Mom was a student. It was God’s sweet gift for Mom that Sunday.
The rest of Mother’s Day was a fine day of family celebration. My husband fixed a scrumptious roast chicken for lunch. Our son and his fiancee joined us for lunch, and afterwards we all went outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. We gathered around the carport and watched my son and husband change the oil on 3 cars. It’s an odd sport for family fun, but we are easily entertained. Later I made a decadent dessert for our evening repast. It’s Mom’s favorite–chocolate molten lava cakes with ice cream. And yes, we sometimes eat dessert for dinner–usually on a Sunday.
The next day everything changed.
I heard Mom in her bedroom at 7 a.m. fumbling around. I went in and asked her what she was doing. In a somewhat slurry voice she told me she was trying to find her clothes. It was too early to get up so I guided her back to bed. Mom usually sleeps until 9 or 10 a.m. If she tries to get up earlier than 8:00 I often put her back to bed. It’s the one time of day I have to myself. I jealously guard that little morning time slot between the last person leaving for work and Mom getting up.
At 9:30 I heard Mom again and went in to help her. As she was trying to drink her juice and take her pills she was having quite a bit of trouble. I could tell she was holding juice and pills in her mouth. I encouraged her to swallow but she couldn’t. Eventually I had to let her spit out the juice and pills. I fixed her protein drink for her again, hoping she would be able to get it down as she had the day before. She couldn’t drink any of it.
I began to realize Mom seemed weaker than usual. She needed a lot more assistance from me in getting dressed. After she got dressed, I finally took the time to really look at her and assess the situation. That is when I noticed her mouth was drooping a little on the left side. I followed the stroke guidelines and asked her to smile, raise both arms and repeat “Twinkle, twinkle little star” after me–all of which she was able to do.
I already had an appointment with her primary care doctor that morning to check for a UTI. I helped her out to the car and we headed to the doctor’s office. We were led into an examining room to wait for the PA. When she came in I asked her to notice Mom’s drooping smile. And that is when it all began. She told me to take Mom to the ER immediately.
After I wheeled her into the ER, Mom was whisked back into triage. She responded to the same directions I had given her earlier and smiled, raised her arms and then her legs at the doctor’s and nurses’ requests. Everyone wanted to see her perform. Each performance, however, got a little weaker. She was finally admitted that evening and by the next morning she could not lift her left leg or left arm. The MRI confirmed Mom had a stroke. Over the next few days further tests were done and by Friday it was determined she was “stable” which just means there was nothing more to find out about her condition. She was discharged to a rehab facility.
At any time this would have been difficult, but this was the week before my son’s wedding. We had carefully planned for providing Mom with with all the support she would need over the weekend while we were in Richmond for the nuptial festivities. None of the caregivers would be needed now since she would be in a rehab center. In a way I could rest easier knowing she would be well taken care of with nurses and CNA’s looking in on her around the clock.
I decided I would compartmentalize the issues with Mom for the weekend. My daughter and her husband were here and their visits are rare. We were all spending the weekend in Richmond together to celebrate with my son, his bride, our families and friends. I wanted to enjoy this time to the fullest with the people I loved and make some sweet memories. And that is what I did.
Reality set back in Sunday morning when we got back and I went directly to see Mom and see how she was doing. Since she came in on a weekend she had not been to any of her therapies yet. The first thing she asked about when she saw me was Rocky. She couldn’t understand why she hadn’t seen her dog. She cried when I told her about the wedding. Mom didn’t know where she was and did not understand she had had a stroke.
I’ve been visiting Mom twice every day since she’s been in the rehab center. I try to get in for a meal and her speech and/or physical therapies. The dementia is detrimental to her progress–eating is a long difficult chore, she cannot stand on her own and her left arm is useless. Though the dementia inhibits her progress, it allows her to believe all is well.
Only God knows what lies ahead. I’ve asked Him several times to give me a hint but He has been silent. I have prayed He would give me the grace to take one day at a time and that is the prayer He has answered. Though I have felt utterly overwhelmed at times, my faith upholds me and the strong love and support of family and friends are sustaining. I have no doubts of God’s goodness and mercy and love for me, my mother and my family. Wasn’t that most evident in this terrible, wonderful week?