It has been three years since she left. The missing of her grows like sprawling crabgrass over my tender lawn. I long to hear her voice and see the sparkle of life in her brown eyes. Eyes that saw me. She would have delighted in the things that have happened since she’s been gone. I like to think she knows. Weddings were her favorite. And babies – oh, how she loved babies! Both have happened since that night three years ago.
I think back to those hours that in the strange way of time, seem like three days ago and three lifetimes ago. At first glance, she appears to be looking at me intently, her head resting on the satin pillow that she favored. It takes me a minute to realize that she is not looking at me. Her eyes are focused just past me and to the right – as if she can’t quite make out what is there.
Puzzled, I ask, “What do you see, Mom?” Then, curiously, “Is Jesus here? If you see Jesus, go! We will all take good care of Dad. I promise.” I speak these words quietly to her as her mouth begins to form rhythmic “O’s.” She becomes agitated then and I go to get my dad who is folding laundry in the next room. “Dad,” I say, “let me do that. I think Mom wants you.”
Dad went to her while I finished folding. A moment later, I looked up to see my sister-in-law enter the room, face pale. “She stopped breathing.”
And so, it was. She had waited for him. They had spent so few nights apart during the 60 years they loved each other. It made sense that she wanted him to be there. And so, he was. As the sun set on that late September night, in the pause between breaths, she simply stopped and began singing, “Holy, holy, holy.”
Had it only been yesterday morning when I boarded a pre-dawn flight from Miami to home? My sister had called to tell me I should come home. Mom was not doing well.
I walked through the bedroom door at 10:30 a.m. She was sitting on the edge of the bed. She looked at me and we both knew. The future had shifted. “Hi, Jill.” She said, eyes filled with resigned apprehension. I put my arm around her delicate shoulders and sat with her. “Hi, Mom.” In unspoken agreement, we began to move toward the end.
Within a few hours we had increased her morphine so she could rest comfortably. It was hard for her – choosing between painfilled presence or comfortable absence. For me, losing her presence was a small price to pay for her rest. I hadn’t seen her rest in months. Even in sleep the cancer treatment and subsequent nerve damage kept her hands and legs moving constantly. But now, I rested in her peace. Nearly wallowed in it.
She opened her eyes only for more morphine. Looking through the fog to find us, she would squeeze our hands as her vellum eyelids closed again. During these hours, we tended, sang prayed, and held her as she participated in the activity of dying. We told our stories and we made our peace.
I think of that moment often. Of her looking just past me, intent on what I could not see.
The space between us so thin that I could feel the Presence of that which she had never been sure she was good enough for.
In the moments beyond her final breath, we stood around her bed. As death claimed the vacant shell before us, the room seemed pregnant with life and I wondered aloud, “What is happening just beyond our sight?” It was the holiest of moments and most sacred of spaces.
I imagined the space around us overflowing with her praise and the energy of a well-being, the peace of healed relationships, the confidence of good enough. I imagined certainty replacing all the doubts that plagued her on earth. I imagined her in her fullness, in her wholeness, confident for the first time in the sure love of her Creator.
I love imagining her. Sometimes, I feel her, or I feel something of her. Maybe it’s simply the grace of the Spirit as I long for her, or maybe there is a parallel existence, yet it seems she is here sometimes. I wonder as I gaze across the room. “Can she see me through the thin space?”
If she can, I know that seeing me brings her no sadness, no tears, no grief. Only the Lord’s joy.
I wonder in those moments, what does she want me to know about the Creator who claimed her? What does she long that I know about the God of love?
My theology may be off, yet she never really cared much about theology – she would wave her hand dismissing all the heady stuff.
She craved a simple belief – that she was enough. I love to imagine she found it in that final exhale. That she unearthed this truth as she shifted her way into the joy of her Lord. I think this is what she would share through the thin space if she could – that the love of the Creator makes us enough. That in the Christ who met her, we are enough. That through the Spirit who brings imaginings of her, we are enough. Imagine, being enough.
Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.
Jill, your words here are poignant and powerful—I love the encouragement you gave your mom to “if you see Jesus, go! We will all take good care of dad. I promise!” The love and sentiment in those words comfort my heart as I look toward the future. You writing feeds and sustains. I’m so thankful for the time we shared at the writing confessional and the opportunity to know you — even a little! Christine
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Jill, Powerful. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with us. I felt like I was there as you watched your mother transition from this world to the next. Beautiful.
Thank you, Jill, for your Holy description of releasing your mother to the arms of Christ. How I wish I had the same story. I lost my mother when I was 29yo, 9 months to the day she was diagnosed with cancer. I desperately wanted to be married and have her 1st grandchild before she passed on, but it was not in God’s plan. She and I had more than our share of conflict when I became a teenager and young adult, but God’s love drove me to our home every weekend to relieve, distract, and minister to my parents. Still, I had no idea how deeply I would miss her, and still do. I missed her when I got married. I missed her when I had kids. I missed her when the foundations of my marriage fell apart. I miss her wisdom even now as I try to sort out the conflicts between myself and my adult children, all unwitting prisoners of the divorce after 24 years of marriage. Praise God that you had the many years with your mother, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit were able to let her go into the wild mystery of faith and God’s love.
This was beautiful and touching. Having lost both parents, feeling an orphan in the world in a sense at 65, I found this so authentic and moving. Thank you.♥
Jill…this is so beautiful and moving. It touches my heart very deeply and I am so grateful to you for sharing. Thank you.