It was soon after lunch that I texted my sister, Alma, who was keeping watch with her daughter, Carmen, and said that I was going to come out to Mama’s room where our family has kept constant watch for the last two weeks. Each of Mama’s children has spent time by the bed in the corner, speaking love to our Sweet Mama, spooning food into her reluctant mouth, giving drinks of ice water, adjusting the fan, and, along with the amazing staff at Country Rest home, doing all we could to keep her as comfortable as possible. There was music, there was sunlight, there were clean sheets and fresh nighties, there were gentle hands and kind words, there were prayers and prayers and more prayers.
I left my house around 3:15 and got into the room soon after 3:30. The noise of my mother’s labored breathing was the first thing that I heard. There was the swish of the oxygen in the background as I leaned over her bed and spoke to her. She couldn’t talk, her eyes were seeing things I couldn’t. When they would catch and hold mine, the suffering there wrung my heart. “Oh, Lord Jesus! How long?”
Mama’s sister, Alma Jean, was there with our sister, Alma, and Carmen. It wasn’t too long until our sister, Sarah came and our brother, Mark, Jr., and we, along with Aunt Alma Jean, stood around her bed. She just looked so bad. I looked at that lined face, so sunken and tired and thought about how much the Mama of better days would hate this. She always hoped that she wouldn’t have to suffer, especially gasping for breath. My heart ached for her in the hard, hard work that she was doing. And on this day, it seemed that none of the usual remedies worked. And I suddenly realized that this was probably home going time. That this labor, so like the labor of birth, was the inevitable labor of death. It was hard. It was real. It was wrenching. But Jesus was with us and His presence and the Hope of what was to come, kept us steady, even while we often wept.
Throughout the afternoon, family came and went. There was a time, after supper when it was Sarah, Alma and I, Nel and Rose and Mark and Polly, were alone in the room and we sang for her, songs of faith, songs of Heaven, songs of our childhood. I listened to the full, rich harmony of our family, singing our Mama Home, and felt the comfort and the peace of the unity we’ve been so blessed to enjoy, and my heart swelled with so much emotion it felt like it would explode. We started with the song she first taught us, “Jesus Loves Me” and worked our way through “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and many other old favorites. Then, again, family started coming in. She had three nurse granddaughters in the room at one time last night, and their tears told me more about the gravity of the situation than anything else.
Through it all, the labored breathing went on and on and on. When it seemed like she just couldn’t breathe another breath, it still went on. Occasionally she would be with us, it seemed, but as the evening wore on, she was clearly leaving. We prayed for God to just take her home, to set her free and to give her the ultimate healing.
And then, soon after ten, with granddaughter Holly on one side, and granddaughter, Carmen, on the other, and the rest of us sitting around and waiting, some in quiet conversation, some in contemplation, her breathing changed. Instead of the ragged, labored breathing, there was this peaceful, no struggle, easy breaths. Her face was peaceful.
“I think she’s going,” said Hospice trained nurse, Holly.
“Really?” Said Carmen. “You think so?”
“Yes,” breathed Holly. “She’s is definitely going.”
We gathered around and we held her hands, touched her where we could reach her, and watched in awe as a Saint of God made her final journey. Peaceful. Quiet. Eternal Rest.
How very much we will miss our Sweet Mama! She has been where we go for comfort and understanding and reassurance and unconditional love. But how we rejoice in her triumph! What a joy to think of her in Heaven with Daddy and the rest of the family that has gone on before. She loved living here. Heaven is so much more.
I can only imagine.
And this grieving heart still swells with grateful praise.