Easter Sunday, 2023 finds me sitting in Mom’s room at St. Paul’s, listening to Sandi Patty and Gaither Homecoming because I know that, if she is aware of her surroundings, she will find this music comforting. But Mom doesn’t know it is Easter, and, if I’m honest with myself, she probably doesn’t know I’m here. Yesterday she recognized me and, several times, she cradled my face with her hands. Once when I tried to give her a drink, she said, “No, honey.” Today she has not spoken and she does not see me when she looks at me through blank eyes. Since she took a turn for the worse last fall and entered hospice, there has been a little less of her each time I have visited. When I came in November she was still walking and she worked on a jigsaw puzzle with me. When I came after Christmas she was still trying to tell me stories about Portersville. When I visited two weeks ago, we went to the dining hall, where she did not want to eat anything. We sat watching her electronic picture frame, and tried to name family members, (“That’s Kay”) and could still have simple conversations. By this weekend, there is almost nothing left of her, either in body or in spirit. All four of her kids were together in the room with her–for the first time since my nephew’s wedding in 2019–but she wasn’t really aware of it. Her eyes still lit up when Paige, her ever-faithful nurse, said “Tim’s here!” and she reached out for me with her hand, touched my cheek and caressed it. Today….nothing
It’s time for me to drive back to Alfred to teach tomorrow, but this time, I know that when I walk out the door, I won’t be with her again in this world. The next time I drive to Pennsylvania–the trip I have made hundreds of times in my life–it will be for her funeral. So how do I get up and leave? She will not hear me say goodbye; she will not respond when I kiss her on the cheek. Our 64-year journey together has drawn to a close and, even after this long decline, I’m still not ready to let go.
Mom’s path took her from Pennsylvania to college in Indiana in 1950 and back again 18 years later, with a family of six. She settled into New Wilmington and stayed there for fifty years until she could no longer live alone, and then moved here to Greenville. I sit in her room looking at the last artifacts of her life: the wooden rocking chair in which she rocked me as a baby; the old set of bedroom furniture that she painted pale green for the girls’ room; the little porcelain flowered lamps; the clock with the pictures of the twelve grandchildren as the hours. She’ll never use her walker again….she’ll never work the family picture puzzles from Emmy again…..she won’t play her favorite Sandi Patty CD again….and she won’t say my name again.
Mom fidgets in her bed, never quite able to get comfortable, but she does not answer or look at me when I ask if she needs anything. Twenty years ago, we watched Dad go through the same process as he lay dying in the hospital. When he drew his final breath, we were all in the room with him. Dad fell ill and died within a week, with the family gathered. Mom might be alone when she dies. When my time comes to be fidgeting on my deathbed, will I remember this day? That day with Dad? How much is Mom even aware of anything? She has spent much of her final months focused on Grandpa & Grandma B; is she thinking about them? About seeing them in heaven? Does she remember that she had four kids?
The best I can do is to remember for her…remember the happy, playful, carefree, and magical childhood which was her enduring gift to the four of us. We never had enough money during our growing-up years and Mom and Dad never had a good marriage, but I did not realize either of things until I was much older. Instead, we knew her endless energy and creativity: the games, adventures, hikes in the woods, coloring books and crayons, rock collecting, parties, holiday rituals, her stories, a great love of reading and books, and a strong family bond that has endured throughout our lives.
Now it is Monday morning: I stayed one extra day because I just could not tear myself away yesterday before night fell. I went back to New Wilmington and slept at Sally’s, and then came back early this morning. When dear Paige came in and turned Mom over so she was facing me she said again, “Look, Tim’s here!” Mom opened her eyes, smiled at me, and briefly knew me. She reached out and took my hand. That will likely be our last exchange, and one that I will always cherish.
Tuesday Postscript on Mom’s passing:
Hospice estimated on Saturday that we still had at least two weeks, but somehow I never could find peace about leaving (must’ve been a God thing) On Monday I even had my truck packed to go, but I just couldn’t tear myself away. I couldn’t even bear to go down to Sally’s so I slept on the floor by Mom’s bed. Then on Tuesday morning I was ready to leave again to go back to Alfred to teach. But then a hospice worker arrived and was surprised by Mom’s rapid descent. She estimated a day or two at most. Sally jumped into her car and got there just in time. So when the end came Sally and I were both with her. As Mom breathed her last, Spotify was playing Sandi Patty’s version of Mom’s favorite hymn, How Great Thou Art. I’m forever grateful that Mom wasn’t alone at the end and that precious Sally was with me; I’d have come undone to go through that alone. Mom’s ending brought me great peace and I’m so deeply grateful to all of you for your overwhelming support and love.
Goodbye Mom, you loved us well…and I love you forever.
(My last picture with Mom on Sunday afternoon)