Friday morning I was getting ready to go visit my mom. I had talked to my dad the day before, and he told me she had been very sick this week but he would never tell me not to come. I figured he needed some company, and I would just peek in at her. But Friday morning he called and said that she was almost comatose, and he was taking her to the ER. They would admit her into the hospital from there.
Now, if I were like my mom, the first thing I would do is head to my praying place, kneel down, and pray it all out. But I am a Martha, so I needed to hurry around and do things. After I brought Lucy home from school, I headed to the store. I wanted to get my mom a nightgown, and some lotion, and most importantly, some lipstick.
There is so much music I derive comfort from, but for some reason the only thing that would do for me right then was Phil Collins' No Jacket Required (still one of my top 5 favorite albums after almost 25 years). I think because that was the album of 1985-86, and whenever I hear it, I'm taken back to that time. So I drove listening to "Inside Out" and sort of pretending that my mom was in her kitchen in the house on Blanchard Street, and I was going to meet Kirsten or Julie at the mall.
At the same time, in lieu of a prayer that my lips just couldn't form, my heart cried out, over and over again, what the poor, lost blind man did when he sensed Jesus was near, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!" And after awhile I felt like Lucy, not my Lucy, but C.S. Lewis's Lucy in The Last Battle: "Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, 'Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.' The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little--a very little--better."
I saw Mom that evening and brought her the things, but she was utterly exhausted. She did perk up a bit when she saw the lipstick--my brother and his wife had been there earlier--and she said, "I was so embarrassed for Chuck and Rome to see me without lipstick. How tacky!" I turned out her light, and put her water and her Bible on her nightstand. "And my lipstick," she whispered, and I kissed her goodnight.
I worked through my day on Saturday and went back to her in the evening. She looked so ill and weak. She had had a terrible night before and day. Now if I told my mother's private business to the whole Internet, she would rise right out of her hospital bed and murder me. Suffice it to say, the strong radiation she had to take, as far as I can tell, has weakened her body and almost melted her insides. She has control over her mind, but the control over her body for now is gone.
She had had an awful episode shortly before I came, but when I entered the room, she was lying in the dark...guess what? Praying. She said, and her voice is so weak now, "God is so merciful to me. I was feeling sorry for myself about what just happened. It's so embarrassing. So I just decided to praise Him. I sang until my voice gave out, and now I'm praying for all these dear little nurses who come in to help me. Oh, honey, He gives us so much mercy."
She went on, "I have such peace. I used to be afraid to die; to go to a dark place. But now I see Jesus there, waiting. And when I go, I'll just be even closer to Him than I ever was during my life down here. I'm ready to go. There's a part in the book of John, I'm not sure of the exact words, but Jesus is talking. He's talking about Abraham and Moses and then He says that none of His are dead. Jesus doesn't have any dead ones; we're all alive to Him, even if our bodies are dead. I love Him so! "
Throughout the evening, she drifted in and out of speech. She told me of her two pearl necklaces, one that was my grandma's that I wore on my wedding day. She told me that the setting had disintegrated, and she had had it restrung. Then she said, "And then there's my set. Your dad surprised me with it on the night of our rehearsal dinner. I had no idea where he got money to buy me a string of pearls. I thought the wedding itself was our present to each other. But I was so happy!" Then she added, "Those sets are for your girls--at your discretion of who gets which one."
I had taken a call from my friend Katie, her pastor's wife, earlier that day, and I told her about it. She said "Bruce and Katie want to visit me, but I just can't. I don't want anyone to see me like this," and I told her "Mom, Bruce wants to see you because he wants to know..." and for the first time in front of her, I started to cry.
"Oh, honey," she said and reached out her hand to me. She understood what I couldn't bring myself to say, just as she always has. "Bruce wants to know about my service, I understand."She told me about her arrangements and what she wants for her service. "I want to be buried privately, before there's any memorial service for me, just with my family around--you know, in the cemetery in Wisconsin where your dad and I both will be, waiting for the Resurrection together. I want my two younger brothers to bury me there, and I want all of you around to sing 'Up From the Grave He Arose.' My little ones love that," and I'm not sure if she meant her little ones or now my little ones...but it doesn't matter because we all love to sing it.
She told me about other songs for her service and added with a little smile, "But NOT a long sermon. You know how pastors are...they sometimes go on too long." Then she said, "I have this idea, and I don't know if it's crazy or not, so I'll run it by you. I think at my service, on a table, I want free books for people who want them. Maybe a copy of Stepping Heavenward, and maybe one of the Patricia St. John books. What do you think?"
"I think it's a great idea, Mom," I said and laughed, "It's like something I would do!"
She told me about her life insurance and, with ever the heart of a missionary, how she wants it to go to a young couple she knows who is starting a school for children in Zambia; she wants a part of that mission to go on from her.
Then she seemed too tired to go on any more, so I held her hand and told her what has been weighing on my mind and is so important for me to have her know. "I'm not hanging onto you, Mommy. I'm not holding you back. But I'm going to miss you every day for the rest of my life."
"I couldn't talk with you like this if you were holding on to me," she whispered. "I couldn't go if I felt you couldn't let go of me. You've given me such freedom. You are my treasure. God is so good to us."
"Such mercy..." she finished.
I opened her Bible then to John 11 and read her my favorite story, when Lazarus dies and Martha goes out to meet Jesus two miles before He gets to her house and demands answers from Him. And instead of telling her what she wanted to hear, Jesus told her the greatest statement in all the Bible: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."
When I finished reading, Mom said, "Isn't that like the Lord? Even when He told Martha to stop worrying about the dinner, He wasn't angry with her. How He elevated women--it's just as important for us to learn and serve as anyone else. And Martha! She was truly a remarkable woman."
I kissed her goodnight, turned out the light, and we each walked our own paths, together yet separate, separate and together, both with our shoes off and both under the umbrella of His infinite mercy.
He is just as good as ever.