Chiming sounded from all around as Mom lay in the hospital bed, tubes and alarms consuming her exhausted body. I thought back to the day I received the card in the mail from my mother-the day when I sensed a chapter in my life coming to an end.
It wasn’t like my Mom to send money I knew she couldn’t afford, but there it was…in my hand. My birthday was at least six months away, so I knew that couldn’t be the reason for my mother’s generosity. And whether or not the words and contents of the card were intended to come across as nonchalant, they were anything-but. For reasons unknown to me then, I was overtaken with sadness-I just sat there sobbing like a cloud of dread had overshadowed me.
No one understood why such a thing had reduced me to such sadness, but somehow I knew the card held a message much deeper than I ever could have guessed. For about a year Mom’s declining health had reflected through her drastic weight loss. My brother and sisters saw Mom quite often, so they didn’t notice how skinny and frail she was becoming; but I did.
The last time Mom had taken the hour-and-a-half trip to visit me, I was shocked to see her so thin. I asked her how she was feeling…suggesting she see a doctor, but she just shrugged it off to age and a dwindling appetite. There was no convincing my mother once she made up her mind.
A short time later, Mom caught what seemed to be a seasonal cold. But the longer the cold hung on, the weaker she became. Two weeks of doctors’ visits and numerous prescriptions later, what started out as ‘just a cold’ was diagnosed as a severe sinus infection. Still, Mom’s condition continued to drain her energy-her eyes swelled into blood shot surrounds where her whites had once shown. Mom’s hearing started to fade until she was nearly deaf. Somehow the clinic where my mom had become a frequent visitor saw no need to admit her to a hospital…until my brother insisted and refused to take no for an answer.
We were later told at the hospital that if my mother had been left to suffer another day at home, she wouldn’t have lasted more than 48 hours. It was clear to all of us by then that Mom faced something much worse than sinus problems. Whatever monster ravaged my mother was swiftly claiming her life.
I know she must have been scared, though she tried to remain a pillar of strength. Somehow I’d known from the day I received the card and money, that our days were numbered until things would change forever in our lives and within ourselves.
Following extensive tests, a biopsy revealed that Mom was suffering from Wegener’s granulomatosis; a rare disease in which the blood vessels become inflamed, leading to vasculitis which affects important organs like the upper respiratory tract (sinus, trachea…lungs) and the kidneys. My mother grew weaker and more defenseless against the disease that had been stewing inside of her for a length of time no one could determine. It explained so much: why Mom had been dropping weight, why it seemed she wanted to give to me while she still could, and why I had felt overwhelming grief upon my receipt of the last words my mother ever wrote to me.
Mom’s condition seemed to improve at times, and we actually had hope when she somehow drew strength to wean herself from the respirator that kept her breathing for over a week. I know the tears of her children must have been her fuel for the strength she needed to fight the disease. My admiration and respect grew for my Mother, seeing what she went through with nary a complaint, but always a smile whenever she was able.
In her lifetime, she had pulled through the loss of my father, my sister, and my two-month-old nephew, her own parents and only brother. We had all suffered these losses together, but now our vine of life was losing her battle with death. Never had I felt so defenseless and alone than when I witnessed my mother take her last breath, only one month and three days after she turned 77 years old.
The birthday party my mother’s emergency room nurses had organized for Mom, that month before her passing, was bittersweet indeed. The whole family was there; though that seemed to be a first, since I couldn’t remember the last time we’d all gotten together for an occasion other than a funeral.
Tragedy had brought us all together for the sake of the love we all shared for one woman. My mom was an angel with eyes of blue that last celebrated day-her tears streaming like diamonds down her sweetly-aged face. And I’ll never forget my last visit with my mother…a week before she passed. She was still being the caregiver, lovingly offering me some of her lunch…always insisting I was too skinny. There…in her hospital room, we shared a meal of chicken, rice, bread, and zucchini squash. It was the most meaningful meal we had ever shared.
Right up to the end of her life, my mother was still giving unselfishly, and babying me–the one she always called her baby–my being the youngest of the six kids she’d brought into this world. The last thing she said to me as I hesitantly left her room that day was “I love you”. Three words I will always remember as if that were the only time I ever heard her say them. Two days later, my mom suffered seizures that would render her non-responsive. From that day on, we all agreed to let His will be done, and pray for a miracle. That following Sunday, our miracle came in an unexpected way.
Though my mother would likely soon pass, since her condition had not improved, she seemed to be hanging on to life as she continued to grasp each breath with a struggle. My older sister and I had stayed the night by the side of our dying mother, both agreeing that Mom seemed to be holding on for reasons unknown to us. At first we thought perhaps that Mom wanted us all there with her when she died. But since the seizure had left her in a vegetated state, there was no way to know for sure.
Something just told me that it was for another reason my mother struggled to capture each breath, not yet allowing herself to pass. Something, or Someone, reminded me of The Little Bible that had belonged to my Me-Maw, my dad’s mother. I always carried the playing-card sized Bible in my purse for protection.
My sister and I read from my pint-sized Bible from cover to cover. And in the forty-five minutes it took for us to finish and re-recite the 23rd Psalm, my mother’s breathing softened and slowed until more and more time was lapsing between her ever-calming breaths. Five minutes after we finished reading from The Little Bible; my mother took her last tender breath, and passed from this world.
The moment was that of complete awe. Mom had been anticipating God’s words to call her home. And until that day, we’d all worried whether or not my mom knew God. Suddenly it was all so clear: Mom had maintained a personal relationship with Him that required no approval from anyone of this world. We felt she had thirstily absorbed His every word.
It has been close to a decade now since my mom left our world, but I feel her presence in my heart…as she crosses my mind continuously throughout every waking hour, and perhaps in dreams I cannot remember. I often wonder if upon her own passing she was met by those who preceded her; those she never stopped missing or loving.
And even though the pain never ceases, I found comfort one day through an ironic discovery my daughter noticed as we stood crying over my mother and dad’s gravestone; the words “Together Forever” chiseled in granite as a testament to a love that would never die. It was suddenly so clear, though such irony could only be seen through the eyes of a child, that Mom had celebrated her 77th birthday in room 77, which might’ve seemed coincidental if not for the year of my father’s passing-1977.