Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sacred Space

*This post could be considered disturbing to some. This is my disclaimer.*

Last Wednesday afternoon, YS called me at the church where my office is. Older Brother the Younger had been to Pastures to see Mom, and while he was there, the doctor came to see her. He said that she was not doing well and that it was probably a "matter of days." YS wanted me to know so that I could plan accordingly. I decided that I would leave for Illinois the next morning to be with Mom and my family to walk together this journey before us.

The rest of the day was spent doing regular "intern pastor" type stuff. We did Wednesday night Lenten worship, and some of us were chatting afterward. The pastors and staff at the church were incredibly supportive of me, and wished me safe travels for the 800 mile trip back to my home communities.

When I got back to the parsonage that night, my phone rang again. Sis was on the other end of the phone. She needed my advice because one of the nurses at Pastures called and said that it was looking like Mom would not make it through the night. She wanted me to tell her if she should go to the home or not. I tried to be "pastoral" and let her make her own decision, but ultimately, Sis said, "What would you do?" I told her that I would go to the home, just so Mom wouldn't be alone. Sis then said she'd go. So, she and YS went to the home, and Jake and I hurriedly packed up and left for Illinois. YS said that while they were with Mom (til about 2:30 a.m.), she told her, "Trish is coming, Mom. Trish is coming."

Jake and I drove all night. The drive from the parsonage to Pastures takes approximately thirteen hours. But we kept going, and we got to Pastures around 11:30 a.m. A CNA took us to Mom's room, where she was on oxygen and largely unresponsive; lying on her bed and facing toward the window showing a beautiful sunny day. She looked to be awake, but aside from her breathing, she was not moving. I leaned over her, kissed her forehead, and told her, "We love you, Mom." Her eyes moved a tiny little bit as I said these words to her. As we remained with her,I held my hand on her shoulder and we watched her breathe. In. Out. In....Out...........In Out In Out. Again, "We love you, Mom." For twenty minutes, we watched her breathe. In...Out...

And then there was nothing.

I tried to feel for a pulse, and when I felt nothing, I pushed the nurse call button. The CNA came in, checked, and then called the nurse. Mom's struggle was over. We spent some time with Mom's body, listened as some of the Pastures staff came in and gave us condolences, and I traced the cross on her forehead, proclaiming the promises made to her in baptism, "You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever." She waited for me; the last of her many wonderful gifts of which I was the recipient. She may not have cognitively known that I was her daughter, or maybe she did. But I think she waited. For me.

Needless to say, this past week has been incredibly painful for my family and me. I have been a little surprised by the intensity of grief I've been feeling. Don't get me wrong, I really, really loved Mom, but I thought I was "ready." She'd been so unwell for so long, I thought I'd be okay once her death came. But really, I'm realizing that we're never really ready to stop making memories with the ones we love. We're never ready to lose that last connection, no matter the circumstances around the death. It's hard. This grief work is hard work, and so I appreciate the prayers of many faithful people, near and far.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life in the midst of death

Last Wednesday, YS left a message for me in my voicemail saying that Ma had been taken to the hospital. The Nursing home (We'll call it "Pastures") had called Sis earlier and said that Ma was having high blood sugars, a weird heart rate, was pale, lethargic, and otherwise not doing well. So, Ma was taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed with sepsis and pneumonia.

These two things are the leading causes of death for people with dementia. Therefore, my siblings and I were concerned for our mother's health, although we have been for some time. Her dementia has caused her further cognitive decline to the point that I no longer have to wonder if she knows me because I know that she does not.

I went to Illinois to see Ma over the weekend. It was a long and exhausting trip, but I'm glad I went. My siblings said that she was singing in her sleep. They didn't know the tunes, but were thinking that they were hymns. When I visited Ma, she was sleeping most of the time. She was not singing for me, so I sang to her. At one point while I was singing, "Seek Ye First the Kingdome of God," she folded her hands as if in prayer. She could not say any prayers with me, nor did she sing with me. But, her brother and sister in law went to see her the next day and said she was singing in her sleep while they were there.

I don't say this flippantly, but instead, in awe. Mom was always a singer. She sang at funerals, weddings, community events/dedications, in multi-community karaoke contests, and in church. She sang at home, in the car, and while working in the yard. One of the hardest parts of seeing her mental decline was the fact that she stopped singing. Imagine our surprise when we heard (or heard of) her singing in the midst of such a serious illness.

I'm grateful that somewhere deep inside her blocked and deteriorating brain; in her personality and character, lay her love of music. I'm grateful that the gifts of God in her life continue to make themselves evident, especially as my brother mentioned he thought he heard her sing, "Alleluia, Praise the Lord" at one point. Singing was a way she could reflect the goodness of God in her life. The fact that music has returned to her reminds me of Romans 8:26 where we hear that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. The Holy Spirit, I believe resides in her and gives her the strength and ability to sing in the life she has left. Even if it goes away again, this time of regained music has been a gift.

Anyway, I appreciate the prayers of those who choose to pray for Mom, my family, and me. Thank you for listening.