03/20/2013 04:49 pm ET Updated May 20, 2013

Dying but Still Teaching: Lessons I'm Learning From My Mother

My mother is dying. Cancer, occlusion of the carotid arteries, kidney failure, and she is only 80 years old. And then there is the dementia.

We noticed the dementia last May after she had been put on steroids for the newly diagnosed kidney problem. On a visit to us Mom got lost in the middle of the night while looking for the bathroom. In her house when you leave the bedroom to go to the bathroom, you turn right. In our house, you turn left, and she couldn't figure that out. Thing went drastically downhill quickly.

It has been hard watching her decline. Dad's health has been declining for some eight years, so, of course, we thought Dad would go first. That doesn't appear to be the case now. Mom is in a nursing home and we are waiting.

Even in her decline, she is still teaching us lessons about life. She has been told she can stop dialysis at any time and end this roller coaster we are on, but Mom isn't ready for that. She has more to experience and to share with us.

God is faithful. Take life one day a time. Live it well.

Yes, Mom can stop dialysis at any time. The doctor has explained the complications from the cancer or the possibility of a major stroke. However, Mom believes God is faithful and that when it is her time, God will take her home.

My mother is a lifelong follower of Jesus and part of the American Baptist Churches, USA. She and Dad have been active at our home church in Scottsburg, Indiana for most of their marriage. Her faith in God is unshakable and she has put her life in God's hands.

It isn't easy for us to watch this roller coaster. One day we are gathering for the end, the next day she is alert and cracking jokes. In fact, she is funnier now than ever.

On Tuesday she wanted to go to the bathroom and didn't want to wait for the nurses to help. As she tried unsuccessfully to push me out of the way so she could get out of bed, she said, "You are an ornery little cuss."

"Yep, like mother like daughter."

She looked at me and replied, "I'm ornerier than you'll ever be."

Really? My mom said that? Apparently she has forgotten some of my childhood, which is a good thing for me!

Mom doesn't like living in the nursing home but she finds joy in moments, which leads me to the next lesson.

Always be gracious.

The dementia has brought a different side of Mom. She complains more, questions "why me?" and has said "damn" three times! These are things Mom wouldn't do when she is fully herself. But things are different.

However, the one thing that isn't different is my mother's gracious spirit. When someone stops by, she perks up and invites them to have a seat. Then when they leave, she thanks them for coming.

When the speech therapist came to watch her eat and asked if she could sit down, Mom said, "Please do."

She thanks everyone for all they do for her and the nurses love to visit her. The nursing home is a caring place and we are pleased with the attention she receives.

A friend called me recently from Florida to ask about Mom and remarked that Mom was such a gracious lady. When you are gracious, word of your reputation travels.

Marry someone whose face you want to see from your wheelchair.

Recently Mom had a slight stroke and she was taken from her room at the nursing home to the hospital where Dad was already a patient for complications from his COPD. Eventually they would be in rooms next to each other, but Dad was too weak to visit with her much. Then he went home and Mom went back to the nursing home. Dad is still weak and unable to walk any distance without gasping for breath. While on a short visit home this week, my husband took Dad to a doctor's appointment, then brought him to the nursing home where I was visiting with Mom. When Dad arrived, Mom was in rehab. As we wheeled Dad into the room, Mom reached out to him, her face alit with joy and then she dissolved into tears. The picture of her face will forever be etched into my mind. As she cried, we did too. Nurses turned away to shed their own tears. Mom and Dad held hands and spoke quietly of things as we sat away from them, giving them their space.

No teenage girl looked at her boyfriend the way my mother looked at her husband. Sixty-two years of marriage and she still lit up when he came into the room, particularly on this day. It was then that I realized we should choose our partners thinking about whose face we want to see from our wheelchair.

Later that day as I sat on her bed telling her goodbye, she said, "You have a lovely family."

I answered her by saying, "I had a lovely family before I married Ken, Mom."

For my mother and father, Joyce and Donald Jones.