Saturday, June 1, 2024

What it’s like when my mother is dying

 Note: I wrote this on March 1, and my beautiful mother left this world on May 20 with a smile and glory on her face. I will write about that in days to come. 

My heart aches and my mouth is like sawdust. My mom is dying.

Will it be soon? Will she have another turnaround and give us more time? 

We have been living in this season for over two years now, the season of the shadow of the valley of death. She has given us scares before. I have stood in hospital corridors with doctors telling me she may only have hours left, she's in sepsis, and then... she comes back to us. Each time diminished, but there.

Day by day they tell us there are the signs of death coming near, and I am so uncertain. I do not know what each hour might bring. She is eating and drinking. She kisses my cheek. She greeted my sister this morning- but is mostly silent, except for the pain when they move her. She might be fighting a viral illness or she might have a "terminal fever." She might have "mottling on her feet," but I think that's the way her feet have looked for several years- just elderly splotchy red and purple-veined feet. I look for pictures in my photos- do I have pictures of my mom's feet? Yes, there they are, bare, by the lake, 3 years ago, looking about the same as they do today.

I struggle with anger at the words I hear from the hospice nurses. I think I have found my equilibrium again and then they pull the rug out from under me again with this sign, or that sign- emotional whiplash. The fast moving storm-clouds breaking and blowing in again with sudden violent gusts of wind.

Yesterday in the car I listened to Dr Tim Keller preaching on Ephesians 6:16- 

"...take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." 

He said that in times of seige, the flaming arrows come when you are storming the walls, and your enemies are standing above raining down fire to not just kill, but instill terror and fear that they hope will cause you to lose heart and retreat, as you see your fellow soldiers around you on fire, consumed by flames. Terror and fear, the cold chills of weakness and horror that incapciate and make you nauseous. The feeling that you want to run from. The horror and unbelievability of the reality of death.

But I must put up my shield and refuse to run. Roman shields were enormous- 5 feet long and 2 feet wide. My shield of faith is bigger. It surrounds on all sides and "can extinguish ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one." 

It doesn't change the fact that I am sitting in a battlefield with flaming arrows falling directed at me and it feels horrific to be here.

My shield means trusting that-

"when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)

I am refusing to disbelieve the good words of my savior Jesus, spoken himself on the night before his death-

"My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:2)

My mom loves Jesus with all her heart and she has spent the last 50+ years walking in his paths:

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Rom 8:1-2)

"...if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you." (Romans 8:10-11)

"Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:34-39)

It is an incredibly hard place, this. I go through my days sobbing in the car, pulling myself together, going grocery shopping, making phone calls, doing the things I have to do. It is like wearing a weighted coat that makes everything harder, heavier, more exhausting. I wake at 4 am with the feeling of dread washing over me. 

"Praise the Lord, O my soul;
While I live I will praise the LORD.
Indeed, as long as I have my being,
I will sing praises unto my God." (Psalm 146: 1-2)

I no longer think that praising requires some element of joy, singing exultantly. There are times of praise like that, but this season, those words hit very differently. Today the words of this Psalm are words of clinging to a rock in a raging sea after a shipwreck. Words of refusing to lose hope in the truths I believe in. Words that I shout at the darkness because I will NOT be taken by it even though the woman that brought me into this world is getting ready to leave it, and my father, the man who loves her the most, sits at her bedside with his head on her lap. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," said Peter to Jesus, when things were getting very very hard and Jesus asked his closest friends if they would leave him too, like the others who couldn't handle the message of hardship and suffering they were hearing. No. There is no where else to go. There is no other "god" out there that can handle this mess, or a place I could run to that would make me feel better or that this world isn't what it is: beautiful but deadly and full of horrors, in bondage to decay and death. As long as I have my being, I will sing praises to my God, because THERE IS NO OTHER FREAKING PLACE TO GO. He is it. He is the only one that can comfort my soul, he has shown it over and over and over again. He is the only one that can strengthen me to get through this day-

when my mom is suffering
and my dad is weeping
and we prepare for the severing of earthly bonds
that have wrapped and surrounded my sisters and I
binding us together in love, 
this precious family
this stable mother-rock
turning to shale

He wraps my soul in love and holds me tightly. I will not fall because under the sliding shale of this grieving path is THE rock that doesn't shift, that is strong and unmoveable. My mom led me to this everlasting rock. She knew. Her one heart's desire for me was to see me on a rock that would not fail and I am here. I will be okay because I will stand. He has got me, no matter what flaming arrows are launched at my heart and soul.

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