The above picture is a picture of my mom when she was in Acteens. A LONG time ago. 🙂
Many years ago tomorrow, my mom died.
I don’t like to keep track of how many years. I generally don’t keep track of the day either, usually relying on one of my sister’s to remember or to remind me.
But for some reason, my mom has been on my mind lately.
She died after a long battle against breast cancer. She died very young. She died in much pain, but with much dignity.
I remember at the time that my only source of income was that of a daycare worker at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. I was working hard to put my ex-husband through his last year of college. He was doing his internship at Highview Baptist in sports and recreation. We were newly married. And dirt poor.
I received a phone call from my father telling me that he thought she wouldn’t last much longer. But I had no way to get there. There was no money financially, and our car would have never made the trip.
I worried and worried about what to do. Do I put a plane ticket on a credit card? Do I brave the trip in a vehicle that had missing floorboards? I worked in the infant room, spending my days with six little babies. As I sat and rocked each one, I fretted over the decision, never really sharing anything with anyone except that my mom was dying. That same day, the administrator of the day care came down to my infant room with an envelope. Inside was a plane ticket to Iowa. Leaving that day. I was astounded. Overcome that they would love me enough to grant me this gift.
I instantly left and got a ride to the airport, stopping by the house only long enough to throw clothes in a backpack and make arrangements to be picked up either in Des Moines or Iowa City by a neighbor. I don’t remember which city.
We went straight to the tiny Fairfield Hospital. I gingerly entered my mom’s room, not knowing what to expect. I was shocked. She was sitting up, awake and lucid. It was only she and I in the room together. She was lucid for about 20 minutes. I don’t remember what we spoke about. I don’t think it was anything profound. She joked that she was going to haunt my father after she died. We chuckled about that. I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t know how to say “I love you Mom. I’m so sorry. Please don’t go”, though these were all the words in my soul.
Our time together lasted just about 20 minutes, like I said, when she seemed to fall asleep. But she didn’t really fall asleep. She slipped into a coma. The nurse’s aide came in–someone who graduated from high school with me, that was strange–and told me that it was a coma probably. And she was right.
The next three days were a blur. My father and I would take turns sitting with her. I’d often take the night shift, and he would take the day shift. I remember mom’s dear friend Phyllis Shepherd bringing us food, while we stood vigilant. That act of kindness was huge.
Three days later, she breathed her last. She went home.
I picked up my sisters from school. We went back to the hospital. Then we went to the mortuary to pick out the casket. I helped my father pick out a dress for her. All the while not believing she was gone.
What can be said about my mother? I know there is a tendency to put a person on a pedestal after their death, and I don’t want to do that. But I do want to be true to her memory; true to who she was. She was strong. A very strong person. The life of a wife of a church planter in Iowa is a difficult job–and was much more difficult back then. Inviting strangers into our home each week, she was the picture of hospitality. I remember going door-to-door with her for hours at a time, doing the canvassing that was required by the North American Mission Board at that time. (Though we were not NAMB missionaries, but rather considered “Mission Service Core Volunteers”. Which meant there was no pay, but the title did come with a cool lapel pin.) It was hard work. And my mom weathered it all. She stood next to my father as they tried desperately hard to plant a church in Fairfield, Iowa, and then took over as pastor of a small struggling church in Eldon, IA, all the while with my father maintaining a full-time position at the local bank.
My mom had a sense of humor. An awesome sense of humor. I like to think that I got some of that from her. Especially her sarcasm. It wasn’t unusual for her to fling a spoonful of mashed potatoes at someone during a formal dinner at her parents (my grandparents) home to lighten the mood.
She could not cook, which I also inherited from her. We ate some strange things. And some things were deemed uneatable. No, cooking was certainly not her thing. And it certainly certainly is not my thing either!
I don’t dwell on her death or that she is not here with us. But there is so much that I wish she knew about me now; about my life–all of my life. The good and the bad. The joy and the heinous things. I wish she knew that I am a believer now-a follower of Christ- and someday will be home with her. Maybe she does know–I certainly don’t understand how heaven works. There is so much I would love to tell her. I hope she sees somehow from heaven. I hope she is proud of me, as she watches me raise her grandchildren alone. I hope she is proud of me. Whew.
I once had a dream about her–only one time in all of my life. I remember it today as if it happened last night. She was at the church I attend now, Seaford Baptist Church. She was sitting in the church office, speaking to one of our pastors. At the time I was sure that he was telling her about my life, and about the difference Christ had made in my life. I stood at the door afraid to go in. I didn’t want to interrupt the conversation. I wanted her to hear everything. I could just barely make out the side of her face, and I longed for her to turn toward the door-to turn toward me. She didn’t, and I eventually woke up. But I woke up with a peaceful–though stirred up–heart with the belief that somehow she sees and knows my life in full now, and that she is sorry for the ugly things but joyful over my relationship with Christ It was a profound moment. It still stirs me up to remember it.
So as I think of where I was so many years ago on this exact night–sitting by her bedside alone, holding her hand and listening to the terrible sound of a soul that is struggling to die–and how the hours ticked by so slowly, I am recognizing what a gift that night was to me. And what a gift those 20 minutes of lucid conversation we had immediately after I arrived were to me. They are two of few times in my life that I hold as precious and dear deep in my soul.
I’m not grieving her death tonight. I don’t think I will grieve her death tomorrow, I usually don’t. Contemplate, maybe, but not grieve. I know that she is home. Home in heaven. And I know that heaven is real, and some day I will join her there. I will not grieve, but I will be thankful for the time I had with her. I messed up a lot of that time. I stayed away from home as much as possible growing up. I regret not being a better daughter to her. I regret not telling her I loved her before she died. I did love her, I just didn’t know how to say it. I love her today, and look forward to expressing that to her in heaven if we are reunited.
Beware: Below is a video of extreme cuteness. Yes, me, I was adorable. Nah, just kidding. But it is a brief video that I hold on to dearly as one of the last material remnants I have of my mother’s life. (I had her Bible at one time, but lost it, which broke my heart) It’s a Christmas video of us both–I was a baby, and she was beautiful. It’s quick, lasts only 26 seconds, but it’s a very important 26 seconds for my soul:
I miss you, mommy.