Friday, January 18, 2008

Safe in the Arms of Jesus

Tuesday, January 15--The call comes during breakfast. John answers it, only to find his mother is non-responsive. They think we'd better come. The day is spent at her bedside, watching for any signs of improvement, but seeing none.

And the morning and the evening were the first day.

Wednesday, January 16th--Her frail shoulders rise in quick, shallow jerks with each gurgly breath. Her ninety-one-year-old cheeks glow a soft pink, the color naturally applied by the brush stroke of fever. Her eyes are closed, always closed.

"Mom, we're here. John and I are here." Our kisses elicit no response. I stroke her hand, the skin on the back of it tissue-thin, barely protecting the veins that form the relief map of the life she's lived.

Thus begins Day 2.

Thursday, January 17th--It's 2 AM and the vigil continues. She's working hard for each breath as she enters her third day of actively dying. Each exhalation sounds frothy--like a child blowing milk bubbles through a straw. Her lower cheeks are sunken around her mouth, giving her the high cheekbones of a model.

And that's what she is. The model of a godly Christian woman walking the final steps down the runway of this disease called Alzheimer's. She has walked it with grace, never losing her trust in God, love of family, or sweetness of character.

Sweet. That's the refrain that has run through each story the caregivers and hospice nurses have shared with me these past two days. "She is the sweetest lady I've ever known." "She's always so sweet. Not a mean bone in her body."

They are all shocked by the sudden change in her health. One by one, or sometimes in groups of three, they come to love on her. They gently bathe her, carefully reposition her arms and legs, and cover her face with kisses. "I love you, Marjory," I hear them whisper before they leave.

Hours pass. A thin hint of daylight sneaks through the fog outside as the thin hint of her spirit lingers in the room. When will it happen--that nanosecond when she leaves our presence and is immediately in His?

She tip-toes through yet another day, her footsteps so light they can hardly be heard, her spirit poised on the edge of eternity, patiently waiting for her body to catch up.

Family has once again been in to tell her goodbye; to spend precious hours with her. They reluctantly leave for home. I alone am left to stay at her side throughout the night. Her breathing, though still rapid, quiets. I scoot the chair as close to her bed as possible, place my head on a pillow next to hers, my hand resting on her shoulder. Surely I will feel if there's a change. Thirty minutes later I awake with a start, realizing the noise in the hall is louder than any Mom is making. I go around to the other side of the bed to make certain my suspicion is valid. Only her shell remains.

I tell her once again what a precious woman she is to me; what a wonderful mother-in-law she has been. I make phone calls to family before leaving the room to inform the staff of her passing. I listen to Beethoven for the next hour as I sit beside her, my palm resting on her cooling forehead. I hold myself together. It's not until an hour later, at 1:08 AM, that the tears come, brought on by the simple action of me removing a pillow from under her legs.

I place a praise CD in the player and cry through every song, the words impacting me in a different way than ever before. When I think of Mom standing in the very presence of God, gazing into the eyes of Jesus, it's almost more than I can bear. There's such an intensity to my sense of awe at what she is experiencing.

I sit beside her for eight hours, continually resting my hand on her forehead. Through the tears I talk to her as I have for the past three days. My pain is outweighed by joy, but nevertheless, very real. I will miss her. I already do.

Through the window I see the rest of the family pulling into the parking lot, ready for one last visit before her body is removed. As I leave her room to meet them I turn to say, "Now you're the 'you' you've never been, but were always created to be."

Her life has been a gift to me and all who knew her.

In loving memory of
Marjory Ashcraft Peterson
October 25, 1916--January 18, 2008