We take turns, sitting by her bed. I trace the lines and think about the face that was so familiar to my young life. I never knew that she was considered a very beautiful woman until I was a teenager. She was my Mama, and it didn’t matter what she looked like.
She gave me swing rides on busy mornings, sat on the steps and played dolly with me when I had no one to play with. She tried to keep me neat and clean, but I had a penchant for dirt and for getting rips in my dresses. I remember the time when I heard her say to Daddy one evening, “I think Mary Ann is finally growing up. She isn’t ripping her dresses every day at school!”
She worked so hard. There was a man she loved and a farm that they were working together, and she did anything that Mark Yoder, Sr. asked her to do. She did anything that she thought would help him even at great cost to herself and her comfort. She helped with the milking, fed chickens, gathered eggs, loaded and hauled one hundred pound burlap sacks of feed onto the wheelbarrow, as many as four and five at a time, and pushed them to the distant chicken house, emptied them into the feed cart and filled the hanging tube feeders down through the long house. I remember when we got feed bins at the end of that house and how wonderful it was to pull that cart under the chute and watch the feed pour into the cart. It seemed like luxury to her.
She did all that work outside and then came in and cooked for her family. Three meals a day. Every single day. And Daddy liked real food, so she didn’t very often decide to “just slip by.” She canned peaches and pears and applesauce and tomato juice and pickles and sometimes meat. She froze huge quantities of corn, Delaware Lima Beans, and strawberry jam. She began baking our own bread around the time I reached adolescence and the memories of the sight of those beautiful loaves and the smell of the farm kitchen inspire me still. The smell of homemade bread still says “home” to me like no other smell.
She loved to sing, and she had a lovely soprano voice. It was the time in the Mennonite church when forming a singing group was popular, and many people would sing in a specialized, privately arranged group. She sang in a women’s sextet for a number of years, and they were good. The ladies in that group had names that would be recognized in many communities. Mama’s sister in law, Dottie Embleton Yoder, Dottie’s sister Tootie Embleton Miller Clegg, Rachel Swartzentruber Schlabach, Rachel’s sister, Vida Jane Swartzentruber Huber and Maxine Mast Eash (along with Mama, Alene Wert Yoder) are the six that would have sung together the longest. They were good! Sometimes they would practice at our house, and we would need to go to bed early. What an incredible privilege to grow up hearing my Mama’s voice, singing in an a capella group in the living room below my room as I drifted off to sleep.
Beauty, music, good food, hard work. And so much more. All now brought to a halt by life and aging and this last insidious battle that she is fighting. A fall. A broken leg. Surgery. Pneumonia. A heart attack. And now an infection that has been hard to trace. She is totally dependent for everything she needs. The road ahead looks frightening and difficult. She is 86 years old. Often dogged by weariness in her life, she is even more exhausted and she struggles to breathe as her lungs fill more and more with fluid and the ravages of pneumonia. The doctors and the nurses are so kind, and they jump to do what they can for her. They are guarded in their prognosis.
For the first time in her life, she is talking about wanting to go home to Heaven. She doesn’t want to leave the people who love her, and she really does care about the little ones who know and love her and want her to stay here. But the tug of the eternal is all over her face and the weariness holds us at bay because she is too tired to really converse.
And so we, (I and my siblings and in laws and the next generation) sit by her bed. We hold conferences with the (many) doctors and each other. We adjust the pillow that gets so hot around her neck, give her sips of ice water, and rub her feet. We call the nurse when the breathing gets so short she gets frantic and we call the nurse when she has other needs that we cannot meet. We pray for her, speak to her of Heaven and those who are already there. I print out pictures for her wall of happier times and I try to bring up the good, good memories of the many, many years we’ve shared together.
The last year has been especially difficult for her — and us. She has felt her independence slipping away and she has battled fiercely against anything, ANYTHING, that she deemed an inroad on her life the way she knew it. Oftentimes, that came out very differently than the Mama we’ve known, and it’s been difficult to discern what is actually best for her. As a family, we’ve known that this injurious fall was probably what would happen, someday. We hoped that it wouldn’t. We knew the risks and wanted something different for her, but when all was said and done, we decided to allow Mama to decide on anything that she could. And this is one battle that she won, by virtue only of being THE MAMA.
But now it seems as if the fight is gone. To her, Heaven looks a whole lot better than rehab. How I wish it were possible to just bring her home to her house, her bird, her familiar kitchen. But, at least for now, that isn’t possible. We have hard decisions to make, for sure, and no solution is perfect. The one thing I am so immensely grateful for is that the six adult children of Mark and Alene Yoder are solidly together in the decisions already made. As Mama’s power of attorney, I’ve been blessed with the kind of support that many, many people only dream about. It has made everything so much easier. How very much I love my three brothers and two sisters and their generous spouses.
And we will keep watch and do what we can for her, pleading for creature comforts, praying for spiritual comfort and rest. She has been such a good Mama. We’ve been blessed far beyond what we deserve, and this upheaval, though overwhelming, is not without the grace of our Heavenly Father and Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is neither surprised nor perplexed by the happenings of these last ten days. And He has been gracious in His provision, tender in His care, and present with us, His children.
My heart gives grateful praise.