Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In the Presence of Angels

 

Three weeks ago I awoke to find 6-year-old Mary Ashley standing beside my bed, her face inches from mine: "I threw up."
I cast a weary glance at the clock. It was barely 6 a.m. Mary Ashley said she got sick during the night but made it to the bathroom in time. I reminded her to wake me anytime she is sick and sent her back to bed to get some extra rest.
I nestled further into my cocoon of blankets, hoping we were not in for a stomach virus, but thankful momentarily not to have to get out of bed to fix Mary Ashley's hair for school. I shut my eyes tight, memories of the last few days filling my mind as I drifted back to sleep.
The Saturday before had been full, with friends, football and family time. The day was winding down, and it was nearly bedtime when the call came. Mother was in ICU on life support, and doctors didn't think she would make it through the night.

With tears streaming down my face, I rushed into Mary Ashley's room and told the girls to put their pajamas away. When I told them Meme was seriously ill, Mary Ashley cried, "Oh, Mommy, we need to pray right now!" Immediately she folded her little hands and led us in a prayer, asking God to take care of Meme. Joe told the boys the dismal news as we quickly dressed to leave.

I stepped into the bathroom to comb my hair, then remembered the children would need to rest on the drive. "Everyone grab a pillow and blanket for the trip!" I called as I rounded the corner to the family room, where the children were gathered.

"We were praying, Mom," 8-year-old Christian said as they lifted their heads.

The children rushed to my side, wrapping their arms around me in a tearful embrace, and I asked Christian to lead us in prayer. He looked up at me and nodded, his big blue eyes solemn as tears trickled down his cheeks. Pressing his face into my side, he said a prayer I will never forget:

Dear God,
Please be with Meme and D-Dad, and the pain each of them is going through tonight.
In Jesus' name,
Amen

Within a few minutes we were ready to go, and I stepped out into the night. The children filed out the door, each clutching a pillow and blanket -- their mournful whimpers piercing the darkness as we headed to the van. Buckled in with pillows and blankets, the children fell asleep as we drove out of town.

Joe sped us through country roads, winding our way toward the hospital some two hours away. I cried most of the way, my heart breaking for my father. I have never seen a married couple more devoted to each other than my parents. High-school sweethearts who were married nearly 40 years, they spent most of their waking moments together. Daddy always doted on Mother -- especially during the last months of her life. After visiting Mother in the hospital after her stem cell transplant this summer, my sister, Jennifer, tearfully recounted stories of Daddy's tenderness toward Mother in the intensive care unit. Jennifer said Daddy would stand by Mother's bedside for hours on end, holding her hand, fanning her -- doing anything within his power to ease her suffering as she lay motionless on a ventilator. As much as I did not want to say goodbye to my mother, I could not bear the thought of my father losing the love of his life.

On our way out of town I made a frantic phone call to my friend Missy, who has organized a prayer group for the ladies of our church. Through my tears, I asked her to share the news, specifically asking everyone to pray that we would make it to the hospital before Mother passed. It was very important to me to be with her in her final moments. In fact, the most difficult moments of the summer came when I feared we would lose her after my back surgery. Despite my best efforts to remain calm, a floodgate of emotions burst forth one day as Mother teetered between life and death following her transplant. A single tear gave way to great heaving sobs as I lay helpless in my bed in Alabama while Mother faced life-threatening complications in the hospital in Utah.

When Mother finally made it home, I drove to Oxford, Ala., on a trail of tears, so happy to reunite with my parents. When I entered their house, I stopped in the kitchen to drop cupcakes, flowers and a birthday gift on the counter. I followed the oxygen tubing trailing into the family room and found Mother sitting on the sofa. She stood slowly as I entered the room. Overcome with emotion, I rushed to her side, nearly choking on my words as I hugged her. "Thank you for coming home!" I cried. "I was so afraid I would not get to see you again."

Mother was so frail from all she had endured, but she gave me a sweet, gentle smile. "I want ... my grandchildren ... to remember me," she said between labored breaths. I apologized to Mother for not visiting her in Salt Lake City, but she assured me that she knew it was not physically possible for me to be there. What treasured memories we made during that visit! Thinking back to that precious reunion, I pleaded silently, "Dear God, please let me make it to the hospital in time."

We reached the hospital around midnight, where we were greeted by other family members who had gathered in the ICU waiting room to support my dad. The news was better at this hour. Mother was still on the ventilator, but her vital signs had improved. We were able to go back to ICU, a couple of people at a time, to visit her. I wanted to linger at her bedside, but her vital signs indicated that she was distressed by our presence. The nurse said that sometimes patients have more difficulty resting when their family members visit because they want to talk or respond. Knowing Mother had spent a sleepless night in the hospital the night before, we stood quietly in the corner for a while, then reluctantly left her bedside so she could rest. Joe and I returned to the ICU waiting room for a while, but ultimately decided to return home as Mother's vital signs stabilized.

We arrived home around 5 a.m. Sunday, exhausted and heads throbbing from the tumultuous night. I took a Tylenol P.M. that morning and slept off and on most of the day.

Mother was still on life support Sunday and Monday, but her vital signs were stable. She was sedated, and doctors told us her condition could go either way. She had faced such difficult odds time and time again through the summer that it seemed likely that within a few days she would open her eyes, astonishing medical personnel once again with her positive attitude and quiet strength. Yet we also knew that her body had been through so much, and myriad complications compounded the trauma to her vital systems. My sister, brother and I began rearranging plans and settling details so we could join my father at the hospital.

Mary Ashley's Tuesday morning stomach upset turned out not to be a stomach virus, but the extra rest her sick day afforded me was a blessing. My dad called later that morning with grim news. When Mother's doctor removed the sedation that morning, nurses had not been able to rouse her. Mother's eyes would not dilate, and she gave no response to pain. The doctor had scheduled an EEG for that afternoon and a follow-up test the next day. The oncologist wanted to give Mother every chance to come out of the sedation, but she warned Daddy that by Wednesday it might be time to make a decision about life support.

I made arrangements to leave as soon as Joe came in from work that afternoon and drove out of town with my heart breaking. I thought back to the many times I had made this trip to visit my parents over the years, and I sobbed realizing that this time I was driving up to say goodbye. The anguish was so great I did not know if I could safely make the trip alone.

By God's grace, I did make it to the hospital and found the ICU waiting room full of family. Standing in the center of the room I saw my dad holding our family's newest addition, my 2-month-old nephew, Jonathan. Daddy talked to Jonathan in hushed tones as my sister stood nearby. Jonathan looked up adoringly at his D-Dad, cooing and trying so hard to talk. This portrait of grandfather and grandson was so poignant -- the moment so precious -- that Jennifer and I stood by silently for a bit before either of us spoke.

I exchanged hugs with family members and took a seat in the waiting room until we were allowed to visit Mother in ICU. Finally, a nurse came for us, and our immediate family went back. The nurse compassionately updated us on Mother's condition, citing signs that her body was shutting down. She told us we could stay as long as we wanted to and unlocked a smaller waiting room for our privacy.

Jennifer, Nathan and I clung to each other and our father as we stood around our mother's bed. Jennifer mentioned the panic her 2-year-old daughter expresses when she notices that Jennifer has left the room. "Mommy! Mommy! Where are you?" Jennifer said she felt like crying in this moment.

We said little as we gathered together, offering quiet words of love and thanks as we held Mother's hands. I stroked her palm with my finger, remembering how her tickling my hand soothed me as a little girl in church. It felt so strange to hold her hand and not feel a reassuring squeeze back, but I hoped our presence would bring comfort to her final hours.

Nathan's wife, Shana, joined us and we asked an elder from my parents' church to lead prayer with us. We lingered at Mother's bedside for a while. With a second EEG scheduled for the next day and another potentially long day at the hospital, Jennifer and Shana decided to take the babies home to my parents' house for the night. Daddy suggested we return to the waiting room to say goodnight to the family and friends still gathered, so we stepped out to see everyone off before heading back to the ICU.

After we said our goodbyes, Nathan and I sunk into waiting room chairs beside our dad. We sat there for a few minutes talking, when suddenly a nurse rushed past us. She looked for us in the private waiting room, and saw us in the general ICU waiting room when she turned around. "You need to come now," she said. "Something just happened."

We rose quickly and followed her to Mother's bedside. I felt relieved when I looked at the bottom corner of the monitor and saw activity, but my heart lurched when I looked up at the other numbers and saw 0, 0, 0. Flat lines. Zero activity. I was so overwrought I dropped my purse on the floor, rushed to her side and cried, "No! I didn't want her to be alone!"

As we took her hands, the nurse gasped as Mother's vital signs jumped back up.

"I have never seen that before," the nurse said in disbelief. "Somebody was listening."

Daddy, Nathan and I stayed at Mother's side as her vital signs slowed, gradually fading until she was gone from this life. And in that precious moment, grief was swallowed up in wonder that this sweet, godly woman is now safe in the arms of Jesus. My heart was full of gratitude that God had given her to us in the first place.

I left the hospital that night thankful that God answered my prayer, granting me the privilege of being by Mother's side when she passed from this life. And comforted beyond measure to know that even when her time on earth was complete, Mother was willing to turn back for a moment just to make sure her family would be OK -- a final act of mothering to last our whole lives through.



A gentle wind blew cross the land
Reaching out to take a hand
For on the winds the angels came
Calling out a mother's name
Left behind, the children's tears
Loving memories of the years
Of joy and love, a life well spent
And now to God a mother's sent
-- Tim Chambers

58 comments:

Mrs. Cozy Home said...

God bless you and your family. What a poignant retelling of such a difficult time, from a daughter to be proud of.

Jennifer@Pieces of Me said...

Will be praying for strength and healing during these rough times. May God Bless you all!

Kathy said...

Melissa,

I've enjoyed your beautiful blog for 2 years now and and have never before commented. But I had to tell you how deeply sorry I am for the loss of your precious mom. My heart has ached for you through this as my story has paralleled yours with my own back surgery followed by my Dad passing just short of my parent's 40th anniversary. I have read your story with regretful familiarity & understanding. I am praying for God's peace and comfort for you, your father and your family.

Cheri said...

I'm so sorry, Melissa. ( (HUGS ) )

Ariadone said...

Dear Melissa, my heart is with you. Thank you for writing these words of what has happened; death can be soothing as well as heartbreaking. Your love for your dear mother will be eternal...Wishing you warm carresses from all angels, your children and hushband, your dad too.
I love you.
Godeliva van Ariadone

Anonymous said...

Dear Melissa, my heart is with you and your family in this difficult time. She´s been a true mother even in her last moments with you, how precious! The dedication of your father to his wife is also memorable.. I pray for you and your family!
Mariel

mary beth said...

Peace and joy to you Melissa as you walk through these days..thank you for sharing your heart with us..it will help the healing along.

Sandy at Teacup Lane said...

My condolences to you, Melissa, and your family on the passing of your beloved Mother. My Mother passed away 19 years ago in very similar circumstances, on a ventilator in the ICU unit, with her family surrounding her with love and prayers for three long weeks. My parents just missed celebrating 50 years of married life. As it is for you, it was heartbreaking for me to watch my Dad's suffering. God Bless you and your family!

Anonymous said...

Melissa, what beautiful words for a beautiful lady. You and your family have been in my prayers.

Nelle said...

I'd been wondering how you were Melissa. Thanks for sharing such a precious story. It's a wonderful thing to know your mum is with Jesus. xo

Elise said...

Melissa, I am so very sorry to learn of your Mothers passing.

So touched by this very personal account that you have shared.

Your dad and the rest of your family will be in my prayers.

BeemerGirl said...

Prayers and well wishes for you and your family. -Lori

Becky Welch said...

So sorry for your loss. Prayers are being lifted up for you, your siblings, your precious father, the kids and others who were blessed to know your mother. We love you!

Granna said...

My prayers are with you and your family.

La Table De Nana said...

I am crying:( I still miss my mom ..after 37 years.. almost every day..I understand your sadness.
You wrote your thoughts beautifully.My sympathies..

Lisa said...

Melissa,
You are and have been in my thoughts and prayers. I pray that God will give you the strength and comfort that only He can in this difficult time. Cherish your wonderful memories of your sweet mother.
Prayers,
Lisa

Kristi said...

I'm still amazed that you are able to pen this so soon. I'm so glad your Mom was so good to you, and it reminds us to be so thankful if we still have our Moms. We have prayed for you so often, and will continue to do so.

Robyn said...

Sweet blessings to you and your family, Melissa. What a beautiful story of your journey. Thank you for sharing it so we could all be blessed by your Mother.

hilary said...

Thank you for sharing such a private moment. Tears couldn't help but fall for you and your family. Praise God we have a Redeemer. How else could we handle it. Prayers have been lifted.

Rach said...

Wow, I had to stop reading several times because I kept balling at work!

Sending you many hugs and prayers to your family.

Quinn said...

What a beautiful tribute....

Jan M said...

Your mother's love and grace continues to live through you and your words. My deepest sympathy to all who loved her. May our thoughts and prayers support and strengthen you during these sad days.

Sharon said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful write up of all you went through . I have tears in my eyes as I write. I am so, so sorry for the pain but you are very right that she is in the company of angels and I am sure they are lingering with you to see you through this very difficult time. God Bless you all.

Brenda said...

Praying for you. Thank you for sharing this personal testimony with each of us. So thankful you were there for your mom's final moments.

Kristen said...

I'm so sorry for all your family has been through with your mother's sickness and recent passing. I know it's so comforting that you were able to be with her at the last. Your writing is beautiful and I know that God is pleased when you recognize His hand in your stories. May He keep blessing your family, even in this sorrow.

Tina Foster said...

Another last act of nurturing on your Mother's part...She left us you!

Christy said...

Melissa-
Thank you for sharing your story with us. My heart aches for you and your family. I am a member of the church and know that you are right that she is in the arms of the Lord, and that we should be happy for her, but I am still sad for you and your entire family. My prayers will be with you all. In Christian Love-

Shannon M said...

Melissa, What a precious, precious story. Thank you so much for sharing it. I'm praying through tears for you, sweet sister.

kelli said...

you are such a beautiful writer. so sorry about your mother. thank you for sharing your story and for helping me to be a better daughter & mother today.

Sonja said...

Melissa:

You have just written, almost to the exact detail, the story of our final days with my mother, 10 years ago. My eyes and heart are full. How I thank God that He gave you those last precious memories to hold close in your heart.

Love,

Sonja

Ann said...

I just started reading your blog about a month ago ... wish I had found it sooner. Your mother must have been a very special lady to evoke such loving memories from you. Thank you for sharing and may God bless you and your family as He leads you through the healing process. Blessings, Ann

Patsy said...

Mellissa, and family,
May God love carry you through these days. Memories, are how our family members lives on. She will be with you at all times, every corner you turn, every thing you do...she lives on in her family. What a beautiful family she has given this world. Thank you for sharing all the blessing your family have. Peace, be with all in your family.

Red said...

Melissa...
we are praying for you from KC. Hope that you can feel the arms of God wrapped around you as you mourn the loss of your mom. From everything you have told us, she was a woman I would have loved to have known. And you are her legacy, and we are all so proud to know you! Our sympathies are with you! Love and hugs...
Becky and the girls

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to read of your loss, I have been following your blog for sometime, & feel like you are my friend.Your life is a perfect of example of the love your mom obviously passed on to you!I cried thinking of your pain, my mom died when I was 9 years old,so i understand your loss. God bless you with all your warm memories.Kathy Hanson

Susan said...

Dear Melissa...My deepest condolences on your Mother's death. You shared a very special bond.

She will continue to live in your laughter, your heart, your thoughts, your memories, and most of all, in your every day life on this earth.

You are her greatest legacy. Warmly, Susan

Betsy and the Boys said...

Oh Melissa, so very very sorry for your loss. What a precious final memory and sweet gift from our God, our Comforter. Praying that you find the peace and comfort that only he can provide when life doesn't make sense.
Blessings,
Betsy

Anonymous said...

Dear Melissa,
My thoughts and prayers have been with you sent you wrote the tribute to your Mom. I'm so sorry that your Mom has passed but rejoice with you that she is in the presence of the Lord Whole and Healed. My prayers continue for you, your dad and your precious children. One thing is evident, the gracious way you live, write, create and serve the Lord is a legacy to your Mother who must have been a tremendous lady.

God rest her soul and God Bless and uphold you all at this difficult time.
Sharon in California

Mommy2CVC said...

By reading your words I can tell how much love you have for your mother. What an awesome woman she was! You are an awesome woman just like her and thank you for sharing with us your blog readers the beautiful lady that you had the pleasure to call mother. My prayers are with you and your family.

Pamela Kirk said...

Bless you during this time. Your bond with your mother has been an example to your children and they will care for and love their mother as you did yours. "Her children shall rise up and call her blessed..." Remember too that death is swallowed up in victory. "O death where is thy sting? O grave thy victory?" Because what the Lord has done for us we need not fear death or separation from those we love.

Bless you and your family.

Pamela
Kirkskorner

Carol said...

I've been following your blog for awhile, what wonderful love you have for and amongst your family.This story is a perfect example of the of the unconditional love HE has for us as our Father. Thank you for sharing these private moments of your life with your cyber friends. Our prayers are for you and your family during these difficult days ahead.
Carol in GA

Ann said...

Beautifully written. I am so sorry for the pain and grief you are felling right now.

Anonymous said...

Your accounts touched my soul very deeply that I cried without realizing it - I am so saddened for you and your family over the loss of your Mother (you capitalized every Mother - I noticed that) - You have also inspired me to share memories with my own 9 year old daughter more - I am so critical of her sometimes that I forget how much of a light she is in my life and how much I l ove her - I need to hug and tell her even more -- Just hearing the beautiful things you've said about your mama - I want to be an accountable Mother - a mother who adored and loved daily by her children - I want to dote on them as much as possible - Stay strong in the Lord and you are so very right - You mother was a godly woman and I too believe she is resting in the arms of Jesus.

Leanne Helums said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Lynn McDaniel said...

What courage it must have taken for you to recount the last few days of your Mother's life. What a strong lady you are! How God has blessed me with your friendship. I am so thankful.

Julie said...

God bless you and your dear family. I have been checking back at your blog every day and praying, praying, praying. What a wonderful comfort, that your mother is with the Lord! I am praying that "The God of All Comfort" will meet your needs as only He can. Thank you for sharing your heart with us Melissa. Your mother was surely so proud of you!

Bonnie said...

So beautiful, Melissa. I am drying the tears as I type.

I hurt for you because it is clear how much you loved your dear Mother. I only know you from your blog but I will be praying for you.

Melissa said...

Tears are streaming down my face...I cannot even imagine going through all that you, Jennifer and Nathan have with her illness. My heart breaks for you dad. What a wonderful woman and mother she was! I have always thought that, even when I was a little girl playing at your house. I truly appreciate the sweet spirit she had now that I'm older and am a mother. I think she truly embodies what we all aim to be as mothers. Thank you for sharing the story of her last few moments on earth with us. I have said many prayers on behalf of your whole family and will continue to do so. Paradise is much brighter now that she is there! I can't wait to see her again one day. I send my love to you all...

Barbra said...

May Jesus wrap you and your little family in His love through the comfort of others Melissa. Your beautiful Mom was honoured through your tender words of love Melissa; my prayers of sympathy.
Barbra.

Akela Joy said...

You have touched my soul with your beautiful words. As hard as it may seem God has it all worked out for each and every one of us and we know that your mom is happy and content now. My prayers are with you at this time. Joy - South Africa

Shane and Kristy Davis said...

May the Lord be near to your family. Praying for you today. O, that the Lord would make me a better mother to my precious, four children. Seems so often I take life for granted.

Marie said...

I send you my sympathy. I am so glad that you made it to be with your mother--that is special.
Love,
Marie

Mid-Atlantic Martha said...

Such a beautiful post. I'm so glad that your pray was answered to give you that comfort. May God bless and comfort you.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Melissa, my deepest, most heartfelt sympathy goes out to you and your family. It is so hard to lose your mother. I know that first hand, and this brought it all back to me.

I wish there was something I could do to ease the suffering you feel from this loss, and I pray that Jesus will hold you even closer to His heart of mercy. That is what got us through losing our parents.

Please know I am thinking of you and sending much love over the miles to you. I would have answered this sooner, but Fred had surgery and then a long recuperation. He's better now for which I give thanks to the Lord.

All my love to you and yours...

XO,

Sheila

Love Being a Nonny said...

Such precious last moments with your sweet mother. May God give you strength and peace as you all learn a new normal without her.

Sue said...

How blessed you are that you were able to hold your mother's hand as she left this earthly life.

Mary Beth said...

Tears are streaming down my face as I am typing this. There are just no words to express what I want to say.
I am so sorry for your loss. I know that your faith is strong and that because of that, you feel at peace that your mother is in such a perfect place. But I also know that you will always miss your mother with every fiber of your being.
Your story is so similar to mine. We too teetered between life and death so many times during my mothers illness and with her stem cell transplant, radiation, and chemo treatments. There were gatherings in waiting rooms with my entire family where we heard the good news that she was able to go home with us.
Then there was the day that she would not come out of sedation and was showing no response (you see now why I say our stories are so similar.... it was like I was reading my own memories). I spent the night at her bedside that night giving my father a bit of a break from the many many nights he spent in the hospital with her.
I called my father and sister that morning and told them they needed to come because she was getting ready to go home, but this time not with us.
She waited for their arrival, and when it was just the four of us in the room, she was at peace with letting us go.
I am so glad you were able to be with your mother. There is no replacement in life for that moment. It truly is a beautiful moment as hard as it might be.
You and your family will be in my prayers. Particularly your father. I will pray for your comfort and peace with your loss and that you may find comfort in your memories.

Beth said...

Melissa I have not been on your blog in a while so I was catching up. I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your mother. May God continue to bless you with peace and strength. I rejoice that your Mom has finished her race and now with Christ.

I am keeping you and all your family in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your beautiful blogsite, and for writing about your experience with your mother. I, too, was privileged to be with my mom when she died in 2006. She fought a valiant battle with cancer, and won for much longer than the doctors predicted. I know you are just now beginning to really miss her, and I can tell you, it doesn't get any easier. But by God's grace, it is bearable. I talk to her a lot; maybe she hears and maybe not,(I'm convinced that she does hear me), in any case, it helps ME. God bless you, your family and your home. Thank you, Cathy

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