I call my sister for another update on Mom. Last week had been my week to help out. Our mother lives in her own home in Battle Ground, Washington on the property she and my father bought together—their personal version of the American dream. My sister Kari and her son Dane live with her and provide most of her care since her stroke several months ago. My sister took intermittent FMLA (Family Medical Leave of Absence) and was able to decrease her work hours, but her leave is running out. My nephew took a reduction in hours from his job delivering pizza to care for his ailing grandmother.
I help out, make the three-hour trek down from the beach, and am able to use my sick and vacation leave. Under my watch, mom had taken a fall, struck her head against the dresser, and suffered a brain injury. I have relived that moment a hundred times—I know there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. But still, the what-ifs haunt me as they have a tendency to do.
My mother is hospitalized, and my sister is frustrated and exhausted. My mother yells loudly if she is left alone for more than a minute. She has become a frightened little child, terrified to be alone. She will not stop yelling until someone is with her and only happy only when a family member is in the room. The hospital is tragically short-staffed, and although the care they provide her is second to none, she is stressing them out. Our beautiful, kind mother who has always lived to serve others and been so determined to meet death on her own terms is living her own worst nightmare—dependent, helpless and scared.
My heart is breaking for her, for my sister, for myself, and for all who love her.
My sister says to me, “I need you here. I can’t do this alone.” Of course she can’t. It’s way too much. It’s way too much for her, for me, and for the millions of people caring for aging loved ones all over the world and who have done so since time began. It is too much, and yet, as my father would have said, “It is what it is.”
My father was a pragmatic man. He offered balance, and his confidence, humor, and sense of ease captivated my mother from the day she met him. She knew he was the one for her alone. They were married for more than 50 years, growing in love as devoted partners offering each other stability and comfort.
My father died over 10 years ago after a short illness on February 15th, 2012. Since that day, my mother has woken up each morning with varying levels of disappointment that she had not yet been able to join him in his Heavenly home. My mother longs to meet her Savior and her eyes glow when she speaks of the joy she anticipates.
“I don’t like this enduring,” she said to me after her stroke. “Why didn’t I die?” she asks. “Why did God leave me here?”
And I don’t have an answer.
My mother wants to return to her home. She wants out of the hospital. My sister and I go over every scenario. How can it be done? How will we pay for it? Will one of us lose our job? Will both of us lose our jobs? How will we keep our health insurance? We exhaust all options, rest a bit, and then repeat them all over again.
My two grown daughters are able to chat with my mom while I am there at the hospital. They love her beyond words. She loves them the same. She is surprised to learn they don’t have a brother, she could have sworn there was one. But, no matter. The conversations are happy with smiles all around, and even her great-grandchildren are able to join in. A few moments later, still smiling she asks me who those nice ladies were she had talked to. I tell her and her smile brightens even more.
Meetings ensue, and my sister and I both feel heard and validated. Doctors, nurses, and social workers nod heads and affirm our determination. We advocate for her to return to her home and receive only comfort care. My mother wants to meet Jesus. She had been looking forward to it for some time.
She lived for four years in a small house we owned in Ocean Shores, a time of her life she treasured. She and I talked about it often. She was always lighthearted in these conversations. I would order supplies for her online. She would caution me not to buy too much of her fiber drink. “What I have should see me through those pearly gates!” she would say with spunk. Or perhaps, “I’m headed for that promised land!”
As my sister and I begin this final leg of my mother’s walk home, we pray for grace and mercy for ourselves and for each other.
We can’t make this journey for her, but we are with her just the same. We might feel we see what lies just around the bend, but we try not to get ahead of ourselves. Really what is the use?
One thing I am confident of is this: when my mother goes, she will leave a legacy of love behind her. For now, we wait. Our conversations are simple. We discuss sandwiches, sunshine, and birds flying by. Will it rain, we wonder? Should we get another blanket? What do you think of that tea? Would you like another cup? Should we cut your sandwich into quarters? We say “I love you” in every possible way. We let our mother know she matters.
She matters, but we also matter. It will be up to us to stay strong and well. Fitting the puzzle pieces together is a challenge. It is consuming on every level. My sister longs for a walk along the shore in the sunshine her dog by her side, without a care. My mother longs to walk along streets of gold in the presence of her Lord.
Both will need to wait.
For now, my mother is not walking on streets of gold. She is learning to walk again here on this earth, and it’s tough but necessary. She is trying not to fret, but it is hard. She is both fearful and confident of what lies ahead, which is pretty much how my sister and I feel because it truly is anybody’s guess.
Numberless travelers have made this journey. Yet, it is just as mysterious as it ever was and every soul will reach their destination unencumbered by earthly baggage. We long for our mother to set aside her hurts and scars and heartaches. All of us have them and all will carry them, but in the end, they must all be laid down. Laid at the feet of Jesus alone.
We pray that we will continue to walk this path with our mother, honoring those who have done the same thing with compassion and dignity. We don’t know how the journey will end, we don’t know how long it will be, but we will walk it in love.
“Walk in love, even as Christ has loved us, delivering himself for us as a sweet smelling sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2).