Following our traditional Easter luncheon with family and friends, my husband Ken and I headed to Indiana to sit by my mother as she made her way from this place to the next.
Her last dialysis treatment had been on the Wednesday before Easter. The doctor said it would take seven to 10 days for the end to come. He was wrong; he's a smart and caring physician but he didn't know my mother. It took 15 days and in the last days of semi-coma she consumed no food or water. She was not in a coma, by definition, but even when her eyes were open, she couldn't see us. Since we had been told the hearing is the last sense to go, we continued to include Mom in every conversation. When family members called from out of town and we held the phone to her ear and they told her how much they loved her.
On Thursday, my father, sister and I stood beside her and assured her, yet again, that she had raised us all well and we promised to care for each other, never lose touch and continue to be family in the way she wanted. Dad promised that he would be OK.
After they left and I was alone with her, I told her that I really didn't want her to go. I had wanted at least 10 more years with her but that her body wasn't going to allow that to happen. I told her I was proud that she was my mother. No one could have a better mother or a more loving one. I apologized for disappointing her on more than one occasion but I am glad she was proud of the woman I have become. I told her I am who I am because of her, especially her faith and her strength.
At 5:02 a.m. the next morning, Mom's nurse called to say she was gone. Her vitals had never wavered. Her breathing had been shallow but nothing like one expects in the dying process. Her nursing aide had been watching her carefully that night, coming in and out of the room. There was no particular reason for her to be more attentive on that night, except that we knew mom was nearing her last hours. My sister and I expected that we might spend the next night with Mom. Surely by then the signs of finality would be there, but no, Mom didn't want it that way. She wanted to go alone. Of that, I'm sure.
Fifteen days after the end of dialysis. Thirteen days after the first missed treatment. No way could she last so long. No way.
We didn't account for the fact that my mother was an incredibly strong woman. I don't mean strong-willed in that she stood her ground in an argument, as I might be accused of doing. She was just strong. She didn't give up. She didn't give in to disappointments, adversity or discouragement. She just did what had to be done.
My father traveled for his job for 40 years. Mom took care of most of the daily family responsibilities and Dad came home on weekends. He will admit that Mom carried more than her share of the load. She worked; she raised kids; she served at church. She wasn't Wonder Woman, but looking back she was my model for the days when I would become a single parent.
It took my mother 15 days because she simple didn't know how to not be strong.
Over the years we had promised Mom again and again that she wouldn't be merely kept alive beyond real life quality and we did our best to honor that. But in the end, she went when she was ready to go, on her own terms. For 15 days we sat by her bedside, leaving her alone only at night. We made sure we each had time alone with her. We sang. My sister read a devotional to Mom each day. Mom's sister came early to feed her breakfast. We told her stories about the things she taught us and reminisced about times gone by. We talked to each other -- those here and those scattered -- in ways we had lost to the busyness of our own lives. Mom got to meet the youngest great-granddaughter, just five months old, when she and her mother, Mom's fourth grandchild, came for a last visit. We drew closer to each other, which I'm sure was Mom's plan all along.
Today, we will gather at First Baptist Church in Scottsburg, Ind., to celebrate Mom's life. I'm not looking forward to living life without her, but I am looking forward to this celebration where family and friends will gather and remember. Mom was an incredibly beautiful and strong woman who loved her God and her family.
Very early Friday morning I called my aunt, Mom's baby sister, in Tennessee. When she answered, I said, "Tears may come at night, but joy comes in the morning" (my paraphrase of Psalm 30:5).
They did and it does.
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