Since my niece’s memorial not long ago, I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot. My sister made a comment that my niece was the first granddaughter for my parents to come along, and then the first to join mom & dad.
I thought about my mother because with the exception of my brother, all the rest of us siblings were gathered in one place, with a great many extended family members there as well.
I could count on one hand the number of times that had happened since my mom checked into ward 2 East for her final stay–maybe even one finger.
It was a terrible last few weeks and months for mom–for all of us, really. It wasn’t like in the movies, where the sick person cracks jokes right until the end. It was ugly, and she hurt, and we couldn’t help her. We hurt, watching her die, and there was nothing to assuage that pain, either.
I remember what an awful son I was during that time. Right when she started to get really sick, I’d gotten a job I liked at a local steak house, but had to quit because I needed to help take care of her. I resented it, and resented having what was supposed to be the fun part of my life encroached on by my mom’s cancer.
I wanted to goof around with my friends, and play, and have a girlfriend (well, that finally did happen, but it wasn’t easy, and for some reason I never told her about my mom). I wanted to enjoy the time after my high school graduation, but that was when things really started to go bad.
So I did as little as I possibly could of her caretaking, in order to still be some sort of teenager. I missed a lot, and I regret it terribly. I spent–no, wasted–a great many years crippled by self-loathing because of how I’d treated my mother over her last few months.
And this is one of the places where I experienced true inner healing, where God reminded me of who I was to my mother, and who I was to him.
The healing came in the form of a memory, and a sort-of vision.
The sort-of vision was this. At the moment I came to faith, I was kneeling on a smallish wooden dock with the knees torn out of my Levi’s. I remember having a slide show of my life scroll before me, of all my transgressions, sins, and times of darkness one after another. I pounded the dock with my palms and cried out to God, wondering if the world was a place I even belonged.
I felt the warmth of a hand on the back of my neck, and a stream of words in my heart.
You are meant to be here
and then the warmth flooded down my arms, and swirled through me, and I struggled to my feet.
I wondered if someone had slipped something to me and on the heels of that was this is God and this is love and this place was where I belonged for a time, because work had been prepared for me to do, and all I had to do was lay my burdens down. So I did.
It was only the beginning, and there were still quite a few hard times to come, but I think if it hadn’t been for that experience, I never would’ve had the other. I never would have remembered that day in the hospital.
The memory came to me quite a few years after I came to belief. It was 2007, I think, and it was during a church service at CVCF, right around Easter. Pastor Mike was talking about how he’d led his mother to Christ, sometime soon before her death. He talked about his mom’s last few days in the hospital, and how they used to play old school, big band music in her room.
It made me think about my mother, and her room–her death-room, as it turned out. Pastor Mike mentioned how at the moment of her death, the song “Cheek to Cheek” by Fred Astaire came on. He spoke of the peace he was able to find with the knowledge of his mother finally being home.
All the guilt I’d ever felt about my own mom came rushing back, and I got up quickly at the end of the service so I could scurry out.
At the door, the overwhelming urge to sit back down with my friend Ron came on me, and I did exactly that. “Could you pray for me?” I asked him. “I don’t know what about.”
I both heard his words, and didn’t hear them as he prayed. I couldn’t tell you a thing he said today, but that was when the memory rushed into my head and my heart, and I
picked up my brother in my old Mustang II, that had passed through many hands. We had to get to the hospital because it was time for mom to go. I hurried, and let my brother out in the front while I parked. please, don’t let me miss this, too. Pleasepleaseplease. I remembered running up stairs, and following a painted line on the floor to the nurse’s station, and then turning into her room. The girls were there, holding her hands and touching her leg. My brother stood at the end of the bed for a minute, and then turned and rushed out of the room. “Where’s Tommy,” she said.
“I’m here, mom.” I said, and I looked on the cork board next to her bed. My prom picture was pinned there, and I remember looking at it as she said the last word I ever heard her say.
She didn’t die that day. She lasted until February 27, 1987, and then quietly went home while my sister Valorie was with her in the middle of the night.
I don’t know why it took me most of my adult life to remember that, but I’m glad I did. I’m glad my friend Ron was there, and I’m glad he just let me grieve for a few minutes. I literally cried on his shoulder almost until the second service began. But I also felt a wound begin to close.
It was a start. And here I am today, where I never even thought about being.
Another family gathering is in the works for next month, and it occurred to me at the memorial that my niece did something in death that hadn’t seemed possible until that Saturday afternoon in Old Town, and it was truly a miracle.
She got the band back together.