Eleven days ago Dad called to tell me Mom was declining.
Twelve years ago Mom began the descent into Dementia.
Nine days ago, Steve and I flew to Albuquerque to see Mom one more time.
Sixteen months ago had been the last time we had seen her without a window between us.
Somehow all of these numbers and moments seem vital right now. She has declined significantly just since we saw her last week. We chose to go immediately to have the chance to see her before she was completely unaware of our presence. We had to sit six feet away with masks on, but we were able to talk to her, and able to play her a couple videos of Sam playing piano…on her old piano. (Sam playing Liszt. )
She absolutely responded to that. She was aware the whole sixty minutes we were with her. But, while Sam’s piano was being played, she was looking around moving her hands. She knew.
There were things I wish I had said. I think there always will be. We thought we would see her the next day and that didn’t work out. That was hard…that we had seen her for the last time and had not known. There were things I wish I had said.
But she knew.
“I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for all the good things she has taught me, for standards to live by, for criteria learned in childhood which are helping me to live through this summer, which is rushing by, no matter how much separate days may seem to drag.”
So says Madeleine L’Engle in the Summer of the Great Grandmother. She documents the final summer with her mother, and there is grace in that book for me right now. And I do owe Mom an enormous debt of gratitude. I would like to have told her that more clearly, but she knew. I have her set of the jaw when I am angry, as does my Maddie. I think I have a bit of her wit and incredibly quick mind…but not to her level. I don’t think I’ll ever command a room like she could.
Fifty-one years she has taught me, even when she did not know who I was or where she was, or even who she was. And now she is teaching us this final lesson. I’m watching from afar, which has been my role for the last quarter of a century. I’m learning from a distance, and there is an ache to be there…but I am glad we were able to be with her before she did not know.
“My memory of Mother, which is the fullest memory of anybody living, is only fragmentary. I would like to believe that the creator I call God still remembers all of my mother, knows and cares for the ousia of her, and is still teaching her, and helping her to grow into the self he created her to be, her integrated, whole, redeemed self.
I love this thought. Mom has forgotten who she is…or at least from our viewpoint, and we know her only in our own limited ways. But God knows her, and he remembers all of her, and he will not forget. She is not lost, and she is not simply deteriorating or slipping away from us…she is being called home and she is being called to be whole. I sure wish I could see her in that moment of becoming again. The things she will have to say!
I think about the passage in Hebrews, about the great cloud of witnesses that are in heaven, and I think of them holding their breath and waiting for that moment…that final moment that God has ordained. That moment when he whispers to her…or shouts? She is almost there, she has almost endured to the end, and she will soon see that cloud of witnesses.
And we will be left here, another cloud of witnesses. Those who knew her. Knew her laugh and knew her wit, knew her keen thinking and knew her talent to make anyone feel welcome in her presence. Knew her thundering anger when we had not lived up to who she expected us to be. Knew her love of her family and her love of God. Those of us who ate at the table with her, a table filled with food she designed to nourish both our bodies and our souls. Those of us who lived in rooms she decorated with care and love. We, the cloud of witnesses left behind, will only know her in our memories and in our stories, and through the mark she has left on all of us.
For now, I sit and wait. I watch my phone for the updates. I cry some, but mostly those are quiet tears that just roll out. I’m not sure when I will completely grieve. I’m not sure the rules on this. This is all new territory, and so I sit and wait and feel the grief waiting with me.
I’m holding off on posting until this is complete. So this post sits open and I come back and reflect. That is a bit of the processing for me…writing and letting these things soak a bit. What a strange sensation to think of a world without my Mother. Even the skies seem to be waiting as heavy clouds roll in. There is no rush, Mother. Take your time. There will be a moment, and you will know it…when God says “Now” and all will be well. We will grieve, each of us in our own way…and then we will rejoice and will know you are whole.
Twenty-Eight hours later and she continues to breathe steadily, even if shallow breaths. FaceTime is on constant now and provides this tenuous connection that eases the distance.Listening to the quiet conversations, listening to the prayers of the chaplain, and the consistent breathing of Mom in the background. Mom is still the center, she is still in control, even of this moment.
Four hours later. Mom has endured to the end. With the grace and dignity, with the class that she lived her life she left us. I cannot imagine her passing being any more peaceful.
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him…