People who know Iâ€™m religious might be surprised to learn that I sometimes doubt there is a God.
Then I think of the events leading up to my motherâ€™s death, I see the great kindness of God toward us both, and I feel all better.
It began with something going wrong. God things often do, Iâ€™ve noticed. I had been caring for my mother, Dorothy Glidewell, for thirteen years, since she had a major stroke in 1988. The stroke took her ability to move her right side and to speak, except for â€œyesâ€ and â€œno.â€
During the last five years of her life she never left her bed. And she never had a bedsore.
I was proud of that.
And then she got one, in her heel, and it wouldnâ€™t heal. I propped it up, tried all sorts of ointments, and it just got worse. I had to ask for help from the Visiting Nurse Association, whose nurses began coming by twice a week. I could never have made it heal, they said. Healing would take six weeks of special medication.
Oddly enough, this was the first God thing. Because I was going to need the calm reassurance of those visiting nurses in the days to come.
Late in that April of 2003, my brother David drove from Montana to Virginia for what became his last visit. As soon as Mother heard he was on his way, she began to glow with happiness, and she kept that glow throughout his visit.
Only hours after he left, she apparently had a small stroke, which took her ability to feed herself with a spoon. She began sleeping ninety percent of the time, as she had done after her stroke in 1988, one reason I decided sheâ€™d had another.
This began a series of events, which I believe were small strokes, each of which took something. Soon she forgot how to chew and could only have soft food. And, oddly enough, that was when I began to see most clearly the hand of God orchestrating her departure.
By this time her world had narrowed. She no longer cared about TV, no longer tried to be a good citizen who kept up with world news. Even Andy Griffith lost his charm.
The signs were unmistakable: she was going. But I wasnâ€™t ready. Our lives had been so intricately intertwined that it HURT to pull us apart. I walked the hallway for days coming to terms with our coming separation. I was given that necessary time, and finally I came to terms with it.
No sooner had I done so than the visiting nurse stepped in. I had told her I thought Mother was having small strokes. The nurseâ€™s interpretation was that Mother needed to go into the hospital for diagnostic tests. And the doctorâ€™s interpretation, when the nurse called him, was that Mother needed to go into the hospice program.
By then I was able to tell the doctor that I felt ready for this, and he agreed to set it up. But afterwards I wondered: I was ready, but was Mother?
â€œDoes it seem to you that pretty soon youâ€™re going to go to heaven to be with Jesus?â€ I asked her.
â€œYes! Yes! Yes!â€
â€œIs it okay that I put you into the hospice program?â€
Oddly enough, that began a happy time for her. People brought her flowers. Her sister made reservations to fly out from Montana to see her. And Mother understood why these things were taking place. Even though the strokes took much from her, she always understood the important things. And nothing ever touched her loving heart.
Sunday afternoon brought her pastors, Father Jim and Brenda Brinson. With them was Joe Maio, who had so faithfully brought communion wafers and love to Motherâ€™s bedside each week. This time he brought a guitar, and he came to say goodbye.
Father Jim conducted a full communion service, complete with music, just for Mother. But when the time came for the communion wine, I said, â€œShe doesnâ€™t know how to drink liquids anymore.â€
â€œGet a teaspoon,â€ said Brenda.
We put a little communion wine in the teaspoon, floated a tiny fragment of the wafer in it, I tipped it into Motherâ€™s mouth, and she swallowed.
The presence of the Holy Spirit of God, filled with peace and joy and love, was there with us in the bedroom that day. I looked at Mother, and she had what I can only describe as a white light on her. I have seen this a few times in my life, on people who were exceptionally close to God. Itâ€™s something you see with your spirit rather than your eyes, yet on this occasion the presence of God was so strong that I could even see it with my eyes. Brenda saw it too.
The Apostle Paul wrote, â€œWe all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.â€ Thatâ€™s what we saw on my precious mother that day: the glory.
On Monday the visiting nurse handed us over to the hospice program. Tuesday brought the hospice intake nurse, who made me feel better about a lot of things. She said, â€œLet your mother decide how much she wants to eat or drink. Donâ€™t push her.â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t it hurt for her to get dehydrated?â€ I asked.
â€œNo. Weâ€™ve found that dehydration doesnâ€™t bother a person who is shutting down.â€
And she was shutting down; we all knew it.
Then Motherâ€™s world narrowed to the two of us, communing over yogurt. She no longer knew how to chew or swallow, but she knew which flavor of yogurt she wanted. And she knew me. She always knew the important things.
I would take a teaspoonful of yogurt and tip the spoon so it flowed toward the back of her throat. Then there was a pause. A long, long pause. And then her throat moved. She had swallowed that bite.
Then we began on the next bite.
All of this took time. One-on-one time. Which was what made her so happy.
That was how she spent Thursday morning, May 22, 2003, her last morning on earth.
â€œDo you want strawberry yogurt?â€ She shook her head no. She had by then lost the ability to say â€œyesâ€ and â€œno,â€ but she remembered nods and shakes.
â€œDo you want blueberry?â€
She shook her head no.
â€œDo you want raspberry?â€
Her blue eyes were dancing with happiness as she nodded her head yes. It was just her and me and our little game, and she loved it. I will always remember the light in her eyes during her last waking moments on earth.
After she had eaten, I put the head of the hospital bed back so she could take a nap. She went to sleep, and at some point in her sleep apparently had a major stroke. I tried several times to wake her, but she was deeply unconscious, and I could not. Finally, at ten that night, I went once again to try to wake her. As I stood by her bed, I saw that her breath was coming more slowly than usual.
And, as I watched, her breath came more and more slowly. Then there was one tiny breath, and she was gone.
God took her without pain, without distress. She was deeply unconscious all day, and the stroke could have taken her at any time, but she went in the two-minute period when I was standing beside her bed.
I believe she now has a new prayer ministry. We used to pray the Prayer of Jabez for one another: â€œThat You would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory.â€ Mother fervently wanted to enlarge her territory: she was sick of sitting in that bed in that bedroom.
Well, now sheâ€™s in new territory.
I asked her once, â€œWhen you get to heaven, will you keep on praying for me?â€
â€œYes yes,â€ she said. â€œYes yes yes!â€
Iâ€™m holding her to that.
About the Author
Find the best recipe, food gift, and healthy dieting sites in Janette Blackwellâ€™s Delightful Food Directory, http://delightfulfood.com/main.html. Or enjoy her country cooking at Food and Fiction, http://foodandfiction.com/Entrance.html.