My mother-in-law is a woman “in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalms 32:2). She has always been concerned for others, putting their needs above her own. Her eldest daughter recently related a typical experience that happened when she was a school girl. When there was no bread in the house for lunches, their mom said, “You’ll have to come home for lunch.” When they arrived, the house smelled of freshly baked bread. She had baked that morning so that she could provide lunch for her family.
After dinner most days there would be ice-cream, pie or some other dessert. If someone looked at the piece their mother had cut for herself, and asked, “Whose is that?” she always replied, “It’s yours.” Or if someone asked if there were seconds, she’d reply, “Here, have this one, I didn’t want some anyway.”
Every morning she’d greet her children, “Hi beautiful!” or “Hi handsome!” Even on the days she wasn’t feeling well, she greeted them with that same positive attitude. And there were several days when she wasn’t feeling her best.
One year, when my sister-in-law had just obtained her driver’s permit she asked if she could drive to pick their dad up from work. She was told to stay home and start dinner. That day their mother had a seizure and blacked out with her foot on the gas. The car plowed into the back of a truck, slamming her forward and throwing her youngest daughter in the backseat to the floor where she was protected.
Her eldest daughter answered the phone when it rang. Their aunt had driven by and seen the accident. She stopped as they were loading mom into the ambulance. She took the youngest daughter to her house then called.
My DH was in the backyard with a brother and cousin when they heard the sirens. When his sister came out and told them that their mom had been in an accident, he jumped on his stingray bicycle and rode to the accident. The image of the smashed car stayed with him, and for a long time he flinched whenever he heard the sound of sirens. With good reason.
Four months later, with her eldest son driving, her in the middle on the “hump,” and her eldest daughter to the right, a drunk driver ran a red light and hit them. In that accident she broke her wrist with a compound fracture and two more in her hand because she’d had put it out to brace herself. When her teens began “freaking out”, she calmed them by saying, “It’s okay, somebody will come help us.” What she didn’t realize, but they had seen was that her ankle was in bad shape and they didn’t want to draw her attention to it. The ankle was so badly damaged it was almost severed.
Her life has always been a miracle. She was born three months early in a birth that took her mother’s life. Taken for two years by an aunt and uncle, they put her on cow’s milk and she thrived. When her father remarried—a girl he’d dated simultaneously with his first wife–mom returned home. She was raised by a mother who was very reserved toward her because she was a constant reminder that another woman was grandpa’s first choice. Yet mom never said a bad word about the woman that showed a marked preference for her natural born children. And mom raised her children to love that grandma.
Mom’s seizures have resulted in multiple falls and recently she broke an elbow. She was involved in one more severe car accident while on a trip to New Zealand which launched her from the backseat through the windshield. Her face is scarred from acne and the various accidents. As she aged, her bones deteriorated when medication for the seizures sapped the calcium from her body. As the bones deteriorated, she crumpled. But her spirit remained loving, generous, and cheerful.
My DH doesn’t recall her ever complaining about her physical challenges.
This last Monday she went to the hospital at 11pm with a severe stomach ache. Her small intestine was kinked. Immediate surgery seemed the only option, but after tests, the cardiologists assured them that surgery was not an option—her heart would not survive the anesthesia. Because of her bent frame, her heart had been pushed up close to her left shoulder and the aorta opening was too small.
A son had texted and called his siblings constantly. Then the text came, “You need to call mom now.” Everyone responded and through tearful messages had their last conversations with the woman they held so dear. “I love you mom,” my DH said. Then from habit, “How are you doing?” Her response, a cheerful, “I’m doing just fine.” She also said, “I love you and Susan.” I have always felt so loved by her. She expressed her love to all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The conversations were brief–some of her words were incoherent.
Hospice was contacted, and she was taken home and placed in a special bed, while everyone began to scramble to get “home.” My DH and I left work, picked up a sister at the airport and drove to Idaho. There, we gather around the bed, but mom is unresponsive. Her eyes stay closed, her breathing is labored and sometimes a groan indicates it’s time for another dose of pain-killer. Children reach and hold the hand that had so often held theirs, and tell her over and over again, “Mom, I love you.”
My DH said, “Whenever I was sick, she gave me her whole attention. Now, it’s my turn to be with her.”
We’ve been told, “hours or days.” Nobody is confident about the days possibility. Her body is filling with toxins and infection. She no longer has an IV.
We just wait for her to go–go with the visitors she has already witnessed coming to be with her. Visitors we don’t see, but are aware of. The room is filled with love.
Now our vigil softly keeping–All through the Night.