Last Saturday (was it really only a week ago? It seems like a thousand years), we had Lucy's and my brother's birthday celebrations with Mom and Dad. Mom was able to sit with us for a little while in her wheelchair, and we heard her sweet voice sing "Happy Birthday." Later in the evening, we could tell that she was feeling very unwell, and at around 2:30 the next morning, my dad woke me up to say we would need to take Mom to the hospice home immediately.
As Dad ran around gathering up things, I held Mom's hand and told her that everything would be better soon; that her nurse was on the way. A look of fear crossed over her face, and she said, "That's not good. That means everything is changing. We can fix this, if we just have a cup of tea!" I smoothed her hair and told her not to worry; the nurse would soon come and help her.
We got her into the car and drove in the darkness the few miles to Serenity Home. In the silence, Mom said, "If this were my brother, I would take care of him, too." My dad answered her, "I know you would. You've always taken care of everybody your whole life."
The first few days in the hospice Mom alternated between waking and sleeping, mostly sleeping. It is the most beautiful place, quiet and serene, like its name. She recognized Dad and me and would sometimes ask, "Where am I? This is a beautiful place." Her body was agitated though, and many times she would try to get up, though she (nor any of us) knew what for.
A few weeks before this, Mom had told me, "When I go, I want you to get my journal. It'll either be on my bookcase or my bedside table. Be sure you get it." So, I got the journal and in between, Dad and I have found any number of other little journals Mom wrote in over the years. I recently read something Beth Moore wrote about after her father died: she read his journal, cried, and wondered, "Dad, why didn't I know you?"
Reading my mom's journal, I smile and cry, but not because I didn't know her--because these journals are vintage Lois. They have almost no sort of linear thought; they are interwoven threads of the following: lists of chores (both for herself and for my brother and me), written out prayers, how much she loves the Lord and what He's teaching her, her family and friends, and everything she cooked and/or ate.
These are private journals for the eyes of her family only so I will not share them here, only one small entry that if there were room on her tombstone for it, I would want this engraved there. In February 2009, the time she found out she had cancer again, she started a fresh page and wrote "A New Chapter" at the top. She details the initial doctor reports, her fears, how she and my dad had to tell their children and friends. But on one day, here is an entry: "Dr. Carter called today and told me I have a tumor the size of a lemon in my lungs. Oh, I am so glad I know and love Jesus! Made chili for supper."
On Thursday of this week, Dad and I were at the hospice early in the morning. We sat with Mom, and she was awake. All of a sudden, she began to cry. Cry and sob and wail. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy..." she cried. My dad put his arms around her and said, "Which daddy do you mean? Do you mean me? Do you mean your daddy?" and Mom whispered, "Heavenly Father, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." Then she cried again, "I want my mother!" Her mother died when Mom was only six years old.
The nurses came in to calm and help and give her some medicine. I went down to the chapel to cry and pray and also to call my brother since Mom had been asking for him earlier. I could hear Mom wailing all the way down the hall, and in my weakness I asked God if this could please be the worst thing that ever happens to me in my lifetime.
As I walked back to her room, a young nurse's aide was sitting by her bed, holding Mom's hands. I heard her saying quietly to her, "Jesus is here, Lois, Jesus is here. Just lay everything at the foot of the cross..." so I tiptoed away again, because I didn't want to interrupt when an angel was in the room.
After Mom was peaceful again, I went and sat with her. Her Fernando Ortega hymn CD was playing quietly, and she gave me a beautiful smile. "This is my culminating day," she told me. "This is the last day." Then, "I want you to put your head down on my lap." So, just like when I was a little girl, I put my head down on her lap until she quietly drifted off.
As she slept, her breathing slowed down to about three breaths per minute. The death rattle began in her throat. After several hours, the nurse came to take her vitals--her blood pressure had dropped and her knees and legs were mottled, a sign that circulation was leaving her extremities.
All our family gathered, including Chuck and Rome, Darren and the girls, Mom's closest friends, her pastor and his wife. We cried and said goodbye to her; the nurses cried too, whispering, "It's not going to be long now."
We waited all day. We waited all night. You may think this can't be true, but I even jerked awake when I heard the clock strike midnight. We waited all Friday, with Mom still lying still--she had awakened briefly Friday morning and went back into unconsciousness. Her face is pale but peaceful, her breathing shallow and slow, but still coming in and out.
I came home last night because my family has barely seen me all week. I need to be with Darren and my girls a little bit and to take care of certain things that only I can do here. Get a haircut since it's so hard to book an appointment.
Chuck and Rome have come to stay with Dad for the weekend so he will not be there on his own. I'll return Sunday night if Mom's departure doesn't happen sooner.
I slept with the phone next to me last night, but it did not ring. I woke up with the words to this hymn in my mind:
Be still my soul, my God is on your side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change, He faithful will remain...
Be still my soul, thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
This morning I got out my Bible study of Paul I've been doing for the last 10 or so weeks. I didn't do the study yesterday, so today was the very last day. Here is the Scripture for today:
"You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me... Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them...But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus...For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
Through this week, Mom's friends have told me wonderful things about and stories of Mom. But one thing every one of them has said: "I learned from her." The things they learned are many and varied, but each one has ended with: "I learned how to pray from her." One dear lady told me yesterday, "If you wanted something prayed about, you went to Lois. And she didn't just tell you, 'I'll pray for you.' She took you by the hand, knelt down right there, and prayed with you."
So, today, Saturday, as my mom lies quiet, still, and unconscious, yet continuing to draw breath, I will learn from her yet again.
June 12, 2010: Spent the week in the hospice home, watching my mother die. Oh, I am so glad I know and love Jesus. Folded the laundry.