It was almost April and one news station reported that our city had had a mere forty hours of sunlight since October! It had been the darkest five months of my life. Record-breaking rainfall had been our plight this year. Even the interior of my car seemed soggy. However, on this morning when I opened my eyes, there was hope of a sunny day! By the time that Dan joined me downstairs the house was filled with sunshine. We soaked in the rays like turtles on a mossy rock.
We had a regular hike planned for the day but Dan had a different plan. We drove to Fort Ward to walk along the water. Joy was in the air! It was evident as people were out in droves drinking in the sun. We walked hand in hand like lovers and even greeted strangers. It was a glorious day.
We returned home and the phone rang. I listened to Dan answer it and knew immediately that it was Sondra, Dan’s childhood neighbor who had power of attorney for his mother’s health care. The day changed in an instant. I sighed and in my mind could hear my father say, “There is never a good time for death.”
We arrived in Columbus at 4:30 the following afternoon and when we walked into the assisted living care facility everyone seemed to know who we were. A nurse came to us and said that she hadn’t thought that Jo would make it through the night. “She’s been waiting for you.” She opened the door and Dan and I immediately went to her bedside. Her body under the white quilt looked like a small child’s frame. She looked at peace and when Dan touched her head and greeted her, her breathing changed. I went next and stroked her hair and told her I loved her and how beautiful she was even now. Once again, without being able to do anything but breathe a bit differently, we knew that she had heard us.
Wayne, her partner, was in a wheel chair next to her bedside with vacant eyes. We hugged him and then met, Veronica, a “sitter” from Ghana. Immediately I knew that she was a believer. I hugged her too. The next three hours were on ground where the veil was more torn aside than where we normally live.
The President of The Seattle School had emailed Dan saying let your heart find all the peace that you can. The Dean of Students had emailed Dan: “Make sure you ask for forgiveness and make sure you grant your mother forgiveness for what she needs forgiven of.” With those men’s orders Dan was valiant and prepared.
We needed to love on Wayne since his loss would be much greater than ours. He was lost in his own grief. His eyes seemed glazed over and he would not look at Jo. Our children, Annie, Amanda and Andrew called to say their last good-byes.
The holiness of the words they spoke also caused Jo’s breathing to change. Her spirit told our spirits that she had comprehended their farewells. I looked at my watch and asked Wayne when the nurse would provide food for his stomach stent. The timing was perfect. I wheeled him out through the many locked doors so Dan could be alone with his mom.
When I returned Dan was at peace and I could tell that all that needed to have been said, had been said. It was my turn. I told Jo that I loved her and thanked her for being a good mother-in-law. I said other true words that rolled easily off my tongue and I meant every word. We then joined hands with Veronica and sang and prayed over this shell of a ninety-three year old mother. Veronica closed our time together and I felt like the angels had already arrived in the room. It was the right time to leave.
Dan’s phone awakened us. It was Veronica calling to tell us that ten minutes ago, at 8:47 am, Jo had “passed unto the blessed bosom of Jesus.” I looked at Dan and he said, “I am at peace. I said everything that I wanted to say and I have no regrets for not being there when she died.” I couldn’t help but think that our being there would have been an intrusion. I think If I could choose any guide to escort me from this world to the next, I would choose Veronica to sing me into the arms of Jesus and my family. I was at peace too.
The rest of the day unfolded moment to moment with heavenly provision. A morning service was arranged. We were seated in the “Buckeye Room” and Dan thanked Sondra and Wayne for their care of Jo. I thanked the five administrative staff and nurses for their kind care. We all told a few stories of Jo and that brought good laughter and tears. Then Steve, the hospice chaplain, gave one of the greatest sermons of love and faith I had ever heard. Each psalm, passage and prayer was food of hope to my heart and a glorious testimony to Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension. Dan had planned on speaking, but halfway through the service he heard Jesus say, “Just be a son and receive.” In this hearing he realized that he was released from a lifetime of caring for his mother. It was a new day.
We went with Sondra to Jo’s room to gather her outfit for the funeral home. We hugged Sondra and Wayne goodbye and walked out to our rental car. We had an hour before meeting with bank trustees. The sun was shining and the outside world beckoned. “What do you want to do,” Dan asked? I knew in an instant exactly what we should do. When I told Dan it rang true with him as well.
We drove to where Dan’s father’s bakery used to be and on the property’s sidewalk gave each other communion with a chocolate chip cookie and black coffee. Both cookie and coffee were the favorites of my mother-in-law. With these “fitting” elements we put closure to Dan’s mother’s life.
We partook of the sweetness his father and mother had given him. With tears of gratitude and we ate and drank and remembered a woman whom we will one day get to dance with in glory.
What is a life? What is a life lived well? What does a tombstone convey? What words remain when we are dead? Dan’s mother gave life and at times took life from my husband. There were times I couldn’t bear her. There were times her laughter brought so much joy. She was the mother of the man I love and without her I wouldn’t know the love I know as a wife, mother and grandmother. As I beheld the emaciated and shrunken body of a dead woman, a broken and beautiful woman, I quietly sang, “Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God My Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee.”
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 40 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs
Oh, this just brought all of the tears. That is all I can say right now. That , and thank you. 💜
Thank you Julie. Saying that is enough.
So much within this resonates as my own difficult mother died on February 22. I understand the “release” as well as the mix of emotions. How great it is though to have no regrets and be at peace. May your hearts continue to be comforted. 💗
I did not know that she died. I am so sorry to hear this and it seems there must always be mixed emotions with death. I pray you have more and more peace and closure.
Oh Becky, tears & sobs overtook me at Christ’s words, “…just be a son and receive.” And then, “…released from a lifetime of caring for his mother. It was a new day.” Thank you for sharing this most intimate time with us. Tasting sweet redemption with you.
You are so welcome Melanye. Thank you for understanding the deep new reality that that was for Dan to “just be a son and receive….” Death brings so much and teaches us so much.
Becky, this entry is such a tender offering to your mother in law. ‘My heart is deeply touched and drawn to hopefulness by how you and Dan gracefully honored his mother during her final hours of life on earth. Reconciliation and holy grace abounds in this retelling of you all journey. Thank you for sharing.
Oh you are so right, Anna. Reconciliation and holy grace DID abound and continues to. I never could have predicted how Jo’s passing would be and what it would give us….
Thank you, Becky for sharing your heart once again. So grateful that you both got to say goodbye in a poignant way. My mother passed away while I was flying home to say goodbye, and I’m still angry that she didn’t wait for me. Then I think she knew I wouldn’t know how to handle it with grace, love and tenderness. So conflicted. So I keep working on my heart to boldly love those around me today.
Dear Becky, I am so very sorry that you did not arrive in time to say goodbye. I guess with time you will come to a deeper peace with the timing. Yet…saying goodbye to a parent is right and to have that robbed from you… I am sorry. My mother died a few days before I was to arrive for a two week stay over Mother’s Day. Instead, we buried her on Mother’s Day….not at all what I had hoped and planned for. I think you are wise and courageous to “keep working on your heart to boldly love those around you today.” Not an easy thing to do. Hugs to you….Love, Becky
Definitely easier said than done! God’s grace for today. That is all I need. Someday I will understand, but until then I see through dirty glass.
Weeping on the ferry as I pass White Point and read this wonderful tribute. Thank you, again, my dear sister, for being so generous in sharing the stories of your life and Dan’s. Pondering, courageously now, a visit to my aging mother so she can meet Mark soon. Where would we be without the steadfast faithfulness and comforting Spirit of our God? SELAH.
I will pray that your visit with your mother and with Mark by your side will be more than you ever hoped for. Grace…it is a mystery how it is allotted when needed. I trust that you will know when the right time will be to go visit. I continue to be filled with joy that you have Mark met….
It was such Holy ground on Thursday morning when Dan shared with the cohort about his mom’s passing … and reading your words brings sacredness and beauty to the broken but beautiful parts of death!!
Thank you, Ro, for your kind words. It truly remains, even today, a holy and sacred thing to remember and talk about her passing. Her life…now fully redeemed. Heaven….will be glorious.
These words will sit on my heart as we wait the death of a family member ~
“Joy is in the air” ~ ‘There’s never a good time for death” ~ ” It was a new day.” ~
thank you Becky for your heart felt timely offering.
Elaine, blessings and hugs to you as you await a family’s passing. I pray that your strength and love and kindness will help others …. and in turn, they will help you. This life…is anything but casual or easy.
You’ve so richly gifted us through sharing these holy, heart wrenching moments… thank you Becky … Tears for Dan and you from a heart stirred by your poignant images that remembers last moments with each of my parents…
Dear Elaine, thank you for your kind words. Thank you for your tears and yes…we have so much that is the same with the passing of each of our parents. May their absence take us closer to Jesus…closer to the hope of heaven.
Pure beauty, kindhearted friend. Lifting you all up as you both grieve and celebrate.
Thank you Katy. Thank you for saying that death holds and leaves so much to sort through in the land of the living. How I long for the restoration of the new heavens and earth.
The beauty of this writing is beyond words…and the sacred space it represents truly a picture of being “where the veil was more torn aside than where we normally live.” There are so many things I love about being invited into these holy moments… “just be a son and receive;” chocolate chip cookies and black coffee as elements for communion on the spot where Dan’s father’s bakery once stood…such a beautiful picture of the care our God takes of our hearts. Thank you, dear Becky, for sharing the beauty of God in your lives with us at such a pivotal occasion. Love to you and Dan, Christine
Thank you Christine. I am stunned by your kind words. The ripples of a parent’s dying go on and on and the provision of God’s care during Jo’s passing is a mystery I can never fully grasp on this side of heaven. Hugs from us to you, Christine.
Beauty, grief and tenderness. Thank you.
Dear Sharon, you are welcome. Other deaths of my parents or friends have also brought fury so deep in which caused me to feel like someone else…such anger that I hurled objects far distances as I raged against a God that allowed horror I could not bear! Jo’s death was a new surrounded understanding to an almighty God. It was her time. I was at peace. But, of course, the ripples of sorrow remain circling to far horizons.
So much beauty. Thank you for writing. Praying as your hearts hold it all.
Thank you Bethany for you your prayers!
Dear Becky, I needed to sit a few days with this sacred writing and re-read it. You speak of 5 of the most difficult months with rain and dreary skies, the darkness suffocating out the sun. As I think of Dan as a young boy and his stories with his mother and the stories I don’t know of you as the daughter-in-law of the mother of the man you love, I can imagine some dark and dreary times without much sun. And then you offer words of such beauty and offering. I especially love the communion with coffee and cookies in her honor. Death has no victory here. You invite my heart to remember the passing of my grandmother who kept me alive – a passing I was not able to be a part of. And then the passing of my biological mother who didn’t know me in her later years as Alzheimers stole her memory. Both passings feel unfinished. I won’t stay there in the “what ifs” or “I wish”. I will savor your words and the beauty of what can be and offer thanks for the Georgia sun which shines brightly here today. Thank you friend, Valerie
Dear Valerie…oh…those passings both sound so very hard and you are right, “unfinished.” I pray that Jesus heals those unfinished passings as you ponder and receive peace. I have had to say with my parents’ passings (I was not with my mother…she had a heart attack a few days before our two week time together.) were in God’s perfect timing. I am grateful for the sun that shines in Georgia. I have learned to use aromatherapy and joy of growing plants with the rain and darkness. I love that you know not to stay with the “what ifs” and “I wish.”
Thank you for your story you put into words. I can relate so much in this story as to when I said goodbye to my mom. The words pierce my heart reading, “Dan be a son and receive” ~ wow! My story with my mom was so painful, and still is. I ‘chose’ to forgive her but I believe it comes in layers. I still long to have a mother to love me, rather then me take care of her all my life. It’s final now, my long dream to have a mother’s love is gone. I continue to cling to God’s Hope as he continues to take me thru the process of her grief. There’s just something about not having any parents at a young age that really has been hard to navigate. In fact, no siblings either, or a spouse.
So thankful for your story, and how it impacted my heart. Thank you!
Dear Renee, I am thankful my story impacted your heart. Thank you for letting me know. I just prayed that God will “mother” places in your heart you long to be care for. And I pray that the expanding places in your heart receive care for others and from Jesus. I pray for love. Love…which makes the impossible sometimes become possible.
This is deep leaves during as my own parents are reaching that age, and the window for repentance is closing. I am challenged by the warmth with which you dared to enter. Looking forward to listening to the podcast and hearing a bit more of your experience. Thank you for writing. Cookies sound like the most holy Communion. Blessings, Joanna
Dear Joanna, thank you for your reply. The cookies were on the table at the service and after it was over, I took one, not knowing why. As the next hour unfolded they became an integral part of blessing and saying goodbye. I look back to a routine Monday evening of Young Life meetings for my kids and Dan’s late teaching. I realize now how priceless that open space was for somewhat regular phone calls with my parents in Ohio. I pray that time opens up in a natural way for you to begin to talk and soften jagged edges….