I’m late posting my blog entry because life events have overtaken me. Life’s like that sometimes. I’m taking a one-time break from my recounting of our early life and work in Kenya to write about something fresh and recent. It may help me process it.
I received an email from my father a week ago Tuesday, informing me that my mother, who has had severe dementia for the past 7 or so years, had passed away suddenly. He and my sister had noticed a decline in Mom’s overall health, whereas she had been quite stable for several years, with very little change. Nevertheless, even when the passing of a loved one is semi-expected, one is never quite prepared for such a loss. I guess you just kind of keep hoping for a miracle. I’d like to post a few musings here, if you all would bear with me…
Two weekends ago, when Dad and my sister had written about Mom’s decline, I began to mentally and emotionally to prepare for the hard news that I knew was inevitable but had been hoping would be put off (indefinitely, preferably). I felt depressed all weekend long. Surely, this wasn’t the end! But Monday morning, when I awoke and began my usual daily prayer for Mom, I felt a shift inside. Suddenly I felt like I was being selfish, wanting Mom to hang around just because I would miss her so. What about her quality of life? Not only had she not been able to walk for years, but by now, she was unable to communicate more than single syllable answers, and even then, we were never quite sure if she understood the question. She no longer knew anyone, as far as we could tell. On top of that, she had been experiencing pressure sores from being confined for such long periods to a wheelchair, one of which had apparently become quite infected. She was not responding to treatment. So, that Monday morning, I felt deep inside that her time to go was near, but that she had possibly been hanging on simply for her loved ones. I actually did something I’ve never done before. I verbally ‘released’ Mom to go. “Mom, if this is your time to go, it’s OK. Don’t hang on just for us. We will manage somehow. It’s OK if you want to go.” It was a difficult thing to say, but I think I needed to say it out loud – not because she could hear me, but to really prepare my heart for the inevitable.
Sure enough, it was the next day I received Dad’s email. Within 24 hours, thanks to my eldest son, I, our daughter Amanda, and her son Declan were in the U.S. for Mom’s memorial service and funeral. She had been cremated already (they had decided on this quite some time ago), so there was no viewing. It was difficult finding the chance or time to process everything because far flung family members had gathered and there was lots of noise and confusion, as well as hugs, reminiscences, laughter and tears. I tend to be a solitary processor, probably because I’m an introvert. In addition, we found that poor 88 year old Dad had left out several details for both the memorial service and funeral, so I went into my usual pitch-in-and-help mode. Naturally, it was a good excuse to delay the inevitable grieving.
The day of the funeral was surreal. Here I sat in Dad’s car with Mom on my lap…in a box. I kept looking at the box with a sense of unreality. When we arrived at the cemetery office to be shown the burial plot, I had to go to the restroom (it had been a 1 ½ hour drive and my 63-year-old bladder was complaining bitterly). So, Amanda, Declan (2 years old), Mom and I all trooped into the ladies’ room. I couldn’t help but quip to Amanda rather half sadly and half humorously that I was taking Mom to the ladies’ room one last time. What a totally strange sensation. Putting the box in the ground (that job fell to me) was quite a wrenching task. It felt like something physically snapping deep inside. What snapped? I’m still not sure. That bond that ties a parent to a child? The physical letting go of a loved one? I just don’t know yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever know.
Upon leaving the cemetery, I actually felt a bit lighter – like I had passed some sort of massively important test, or that I had accomplished some tremendously difficult rite of passage somehow. Perhaps I had, not even knowing I was in a test or rite-of-passage task.
For the memorial service, I had prepared a brief eulogy for Mom. I would like to share it here:
The scriptures say that “precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints”. I’d often wondered what that meant. Surely God does not see death as a good thing! But in contemplating what to say about Mom, I realized something. I am a: mother, daughter, sister, niece, grandmother and auntie. I live far from most of these relationships and I often long to be with beloved family members.
We are part of God’s family. He longs for us too and it is death that releases us from this earth to be with Him physically as well as spiritually and emotionally. In that sense, death becomes precious as we are released to finally be with Him.
For as long as I can remember, Mom knew the Lord. My parents brought us to church every Sunday from my infancy. We were not overtly religious with family devotions or prayers, but as the family grew and matured, we also grew in our faith. This was due much to Mom’s influence.
As I became an adult, Mom became more than a mother – she became a friend and confidant. I always looked forward to our Mother/Daughter days out where we would window shop, have lunch together and talk about everything and anything. I miss those days with Mom so much.
Mom was a unique blend of:
- Seriousness & offbeat humor
- Spirituality & practicality
- Strictness & leniency
- Wisdom & a sense of fun
Mom always loved people and it showed in all the practical things she did for them and in always providing a listening ear. I don’t think it a coincidence that of all the physical senses, the one that stayed sharp right up to the end was her sense of hearing – that listening ear.
In the past 7 years, severe dementia robbed her of her ability to walk and to communicate with people. We had to learn to connect in ways other than verbal, but from time to time, I would see that old spark of mischievous humor in her eyes, in a fleeting expression.
I will miss Mom. In reality, I’ve been missing her for the past 7 years. But I know we will be reunited with her one day – as she is now – free of the old body that had become her prison – once more laughing, teasing, talking, listening, and loving.
I am glad she is with the Lord. I’ll be even gladder when we are all together again, with Him in that place of no tears or suffering or parting.
I hope that my own reminiscences have possibly helped someone else also coming to terms with the loss of a loved one and that someone may find some comfort in this post. I’ll return to my story next blog entry