I want to tell you something supernatural. Something beyond the realm of everyday. At least in the way that we "normally" see the everyday. This story is full of things you may or may not believe. It isn't a ghost story but it is about spirits. It is a story about seeing, and walking, and running, and living, and dying. It is the story of a passage to the place beyond what we know and understand. It is my mama's story. And mine.
My mama is a great lady. A lady that has taught me about love by living it around me and through me and on me. She loved on me.
She loved on everyone. It was her gift.
She wasn't perfect. No one is. But that is not the point. I just want you to know that she was real. Is real.
I have trouble with the was and is when talking about mama. She still is. In every way except in the way that I can hug her. She is here. I can feel her.
I can talk to her. She even talks back in the way that happens when you know someone so well that you know what they are gonna say before they open their mouth. I hear her all the time. She still exists. More today than ever before. She is real and alive and so happy that I am sure she daily bursts with gladness. That makes me smile.
I remember the day she left my presence. The day I couldn't touch her anymore.
That was a happy day.
You will just have to believe me when I say there is nothing offensive about that statement.
I rejoiced the day she left. I felt happy and light. Indecently happy for all I knew about right and proper. I knew where she had gone. I had walked the road right up to the gate with her and kissed her as she passed through. It was the sweetest and the hardest thing I had ever done.
Sweet is not always pleasant. Hard is not always bad.
Mama had been in pain for more than 10 years. I had watched her go up and down as she lost her strength. Her body was wracked with pain. In the last month or so of her time here she was in and out of the hospital repeatedly. She checked in for the final time because she was to undergo some exploratory tests to see what was causing this round of pain.
I knew that the test was going to bring the end. Just a feeling. I was assured that it was all simple and no big deal. I tried to shake the feeling but it stayed. And it didn't frighten me. I just knew.
I took a couple of the kids in to see her that day. We waited in her room for awhile and were eventually told that she was taken to ICU recovery after her test. That was all they said. Standard procedure.
The children stood outside with Papa/Grandpa while I went in to see her and talk to the doctor.
She had had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and vomited and aspirated. Now she couldn't seem to wake up. She needed help to breathe because of the junk she had breathed in.
I held her hand and loved on her. I felt very calm. And I knew it would not be very long.
I was wrong about the last part. Long is a relative term. This time, long was weeks.
Mama developed pneumonia. People prayed. Papa refused to leave the hospital.
I felt a gnawing in my spirit. Anxiousness. Not because she was dying. Just because I felt very unsure as to what I was supposed to do about it. Papa would not breathe anything but hope for her recovery. I never suggested anything different to him. I just watched. They would not let him stay in the ICU but he would not leave her so we fed him and brought him clean things to wear. when they made him leave her room he made a nest in the ICU waiting room.Each day his "camp" would be a little larger. Each day there would be another waiting family calling him by name. He soon knew everyone there and would add to our prayer lists the family members of his new community as they waited with him in this seeming purgatory.
People visited. People agonized. People hoped for the best.
I had already called the family. That was an agonizing day.
They were spread all over the country. Keeping them informed was hard enough. Telling them that it was time for them to gather took more strength than I believed was possible.
What if I was wrong? Well, they would have to decide that for themselves. The best I could do was give my opinion.
Even now it feels wrong to remember how much I hoped I was right.
I had some hard talks in those weeks. Friends and family praying hard for her deliverance. I smile when I think about that. They wanted her restored here with us. All I could feel was a fantastic opportunity for her freedom. The thought of her never being sick or in pain again was so delicious that I almost hoarded it. On the outside it may have looked like I was lost in some pragmatic realism. Practical as opposed to idealistic. Realist or even atheist as opposed to believing in the power of the God who raised people from the dead.
I could not seem to share the hope I had in a way that made any sense. It just looked like I was passively letting the enemy win.
Why wasn't I fighting for her?
Why wasn't I believing for the best?
Where was my faith?
Again I smile.
I believed fully in the power of God to fully restore her. I believed He was going to do just that. I just no longer believed that it was going to be within my eyesight. And my heart felt strong enough to deal with that. I do not know why.
The thing that tore my heart. The thing that really tested my faith. The place where I really had to put full trust in my Father God to do right by me was in believing that He would absolutely do His best in His perfect timing for her...no matter how many were praying otherwise.
Did you catch that?
There were so many precious souls praying for her to stay that I began to fear that they would actually delay her release.
Release was what it had come down to by that point. She was barely conscious. Different members of the family would go in to sit with her to give papa some time to rest or walk around. I knew that when he was gone she called for him. We did not tell him that then. He never would have left. We would soothe her and assure her that he would soon return. She knew we told the truth.
One afternoon I sat beside her bed and held her hand. My sister was murmuring something at her other side. I felt a sigh and the heat of tears behind my face. I was familiar with the feeling as it had become my comfort. Crying was easier than feeling the knot in my throat. No sobbing. Just a river.
I lifted my head and closed my eyes for a moment and became aware of something beyond. That sounds funny to me now. It wasn't beyond anything. It was a real thing there in the room. But it was also just a vapor. Kinda like when you see something out of the corner of your eye but when you turn to actually look, it is not there. Well, it was a little bit like that. Except I could see it and not see it at the same time. It "looked" like the curtain that surrounded the bed but it wasn't white. It was greenish-blue. And it looked like a skirt or something. Like I could see a foot maybe. I could stare right at it and it didn't go away or change. It was just there and not there. As if a giant skirted figure had stepped up and was standing beside the bed. I could not see above the knees. It was just enormous.
I had never heard of verdigris angels. But who knows?
I wept myself into another sleep that night as I talked to Papa God about His stupid timing. I wanted to trust more. He knows that about me.
I asked Him if He would help me see this in my dreams. Sometimes dreams bring great clarity to reality.
As I slept I dreamed of a red carpet being rolled out. Flashbulbs snapped as the crowds waited for a celebrity appearance. I knew that the carpet was for mama. That made me feel so proud. I sighed at that. It felt so good to see the situation as He saw it. Preparations were being made for her arrival. It was almost time.
But the dream did not end there. I continued to look and then on the red carpet I saw snapshots. Like the photographers were taking instant photos and throwing them on the carpet and they were developing before my eyes. I watched them grow their colors and saw them turn into bright vacation postcards. Each image showed another view of the Statue of Liberty. I saw her crown, her book, her torch, her feet at the edge of her gown.
Her feet at the edge of her gown. Her greenish-blue gown.
I had seen Liberty step into my mother's room.
The next day my sister and I found ourselves again beside her bed. She was awake and peaceful. For reasons known only to God the two of us began to sing to her. Actually it isn't surprising that Mary would sing. She does so beautifully. I, on the other hand...I really don't sing much out loud for serious.I certainly don't make it a point to toke a songbook and suggest we all gather round. Still, there we were. Singing. I probably did it because I knew it would bless her. There was probably a hymnal beside her bed because papa would have been singing to her night and day. It is just odd now that I would be singing. It wasn't odd then. We sang to her. Song after song. Sometimes we messed up. Sometimes she chuckled. Sometimes we sniffed really loud and blinked back tears like I am doing now. Mostly we harmonized as we softly loved on our mama in the language she loved. Oh! how she loved to sing. At this point her singing was all in her hands as she tapped her fingers on the blankets and wiggled her feet in time. She sang her part beautifully.
I see that moment as a sweet sweet gift from Papa God. A moment of life. For all of us.
We had some time to sit together and talk about what was happening, Mama and Mary and I.
I shared with her my dreams and told her what I thought they meant. She could barely speak. It took a lot of effort to move air through her lungs. I told her that I thought that she was being offered liberty. She nodded her head. I asked her if she were ready to go home. She nodded again. Then she spoke.
"Beckie, do you mean heaven?" her voice a rasp but so sweet then as it was the first time I had heard her speak my name in weeks. That same voice is so sweet on my memory now because it was the last time I heard it out loud.
"yes, mama. Heaven. Are you ready to go home to heaven?" my voice raspy with the emotion behind that question.
"oh! YES!" she said. And she squeezed my hand so hard it hurt my heart.
Mary and I wept with her then and let her know that she was free to choose her time. We talked of taking care of papa and prayed with her and for her to let her heart be at rest.
I do not know of a greater gift than knowing that she was ready, willing, and able to make that journey.
I thought, at that point, that we were right at the doorway to heaven. Again, I was wrong. Long held each day hostage. Not long seemed an unreachable goal. Now I know it was just a week or two or so. Then, it was so long. So so long.
She was moved to a hospital ward that I do not understand. Maybe it was a sort of isolation. I do not know for sure. In there she decided to not continue with her dialysis. Without those treatments she would not continue to live. She was able to make that choice for herself. My sister offered it to her. They were so painful at that point. Still, it was mama who chose. That was a gift.
If there were to be no treatments then the only thing left to do was make her as comfortable as possible. The doctors told us that even with a full recovery from the numerous infections she would never even regain to the status of where she had been a few weeks ago and that was constant pain. She had chosen to have no heroic life saving measures. It was time to say goodbye.
I walked outside to find a place to laugh hysterically. I was standing in a collision of joy and sorrow. It was as if someone had said to me...
"the bad news is, your house is burning and you will lose everything. the good news is...you get an all expense paid trip to Disneyland!"
You just can't put sane boundaries on grief. I was wrecked. Completely and deliriously and joyfully wrecked.
My mama was about to be free. I was so happy for her. My sadness had existed for so long that I did not even recognize it any more. It was just a part of me. To be relieved of witnessing her agony was worth not being able to be with her for now.
The hospital made a place for the family to gather with her for her last hours.
I laugh grimly at how little the medical community knows about life and death. She was not ready. The medicines seemed to take her pain but she was not ready to give up her journey on this earth. Not yet.
Hours turned to days. We sat with papa as he sat with her. We talked to her about life and love. We talked to each other about memories and dreams for the future. We waited on Jesus together. She slept mostly and mildly responded. I did not hear her speak again.
One evening as we gathered I began to write. Just a poem. A thought. A continuation of my sister's prayer.
Her prayer had become our mantra for mama. "Let the dying end and the living begin."
We repeated it often.
It reappeared that night in my poem.
April 6, 2009 I wrote...
putting on robes of brightest white
dancing freely before the Father of Lights
like the breath of dew on sweet pink petals
sparkling with fresh life
each breath taken
a deeper realization of transformation
gentle kisses of goodby and hello
mix together in precious bliss
I can see her running
joyful on the path of life
full of wonder
delights too beautiful for words
she breathes it in
the sweet fragrance
outside of time
we remember still
as she waits in joy
for us to catch up
as she goes running
see the beauty
feel the beauty
embrace the beauty
white robes caressing
as she makes entrance
I wrote as Mary played on her guitar. Soon enough she began to sing. The words she sang familiar. I looked again at what I had just wrote...and saw her words. As I would write from across the room she would sing.
Our hearts sharing the same song. Not word for word but thought for thought. Supernaturally. A gift.
My heart breaks again when I remember that long dark time. Even tho I speak of happiness the sadness must be understood. The sweet gifts that came were wrapped tightly in grief. Recognizable at the time but almost too precious to fully unwrap. Just held, and understood. Enough I think. For in those moments we had much to hold. He knew that. He knew we would need the gifts later.
The days continued to come and go. Family that thought the trip could not be made were able to come together. She waited for them. All her children were able to kiss her one last time. I believe with all my heart that she knew each one would need that. I cannot know if she held on long enough for each to make their peace. That is not my story. Not mine to know. I only know that as she passed I held her and I let her go on living...just not in the way I had always known her.
I feel her closeness. Probably because in eternity we are already together.
After my friend Ricki died she appeared in my dreams. I heard a knock at the door and saw her standing on the other side of the screen door.
"Ricki! Are you real?!" I asked.
"I am realer than you are." she said
"we get the day to see and understand. sometimes we see past the temporal. and that's not ours to judge."
I think now that life is closest to us at the moment of death.