I joined Mama in those last steps of her dying. As much as I could. From the outside looking in. This was Mama’s dying, not mine. I was very much alive and it made it all the more difficult to accept this separation that death was about to force upon us.
She turned her head and looked at me. She spoke. soft. single. syllables, but I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t understand.
I’m tired, I thought. I’m worn. I don’t like this. I want to go backward – to yesterday – to last week – to last year. I want to hear my Mama’s voice. I want to listen closely to her. I want to soak up her every word.
Then no more movement. Eyes closed. She lay perfectly still. Not in sleep. But in the stillness that sometimes comes before death. This was a stage of death – one I’d witnessed in my Daddy, just one month prior – one I did not want to face again. A double-edged blade was stabbing the most tender place of my heart. She would never look at me again. She would never speak to me again. I yearned to hear her voice, even those soft. single. syllables, once more. I wanted to place my ear close to her mouth and listen closely. Please God, can we go back.
But there was no going back because this awful parting that was coming about between a mother and a daughter, was death, and this awful death had been compounding itself in my Mama’s life for many years. It had been initiated and implemented in a beautiful garden, and it had ruined every life since. It was aging and suffering, cancer and illness, war and killing. It had parted many mothers and daughters, and it was strong – stronger than I could any longer fight. And so I sat beside Mama and watched as she lay still, her body dying.
Suddenly, the stillness of those hours was broken by an occurrence that became a ritual of the next hours: she opened her eyes and turned her head, facing up, looking toward heaven; lifting those, purpled, bruised hands straight from her elbows, toward heaven, toward her Savior. I watched this sacrament in amazement throughout these next hours, each time understanding more about death and feeling its wicked sting. Please, God, let Mama’s body die so she can go to You and to Daddy.
I had prayed for a visible sign of Mom’s soul leaving her body. It would be such a simple thing for You to do, Lord God. I didn’t need a sign to know that my Mama was going to the Lord Jesus. I simply wanted it! And so I prayed.
Now she dwelt in this last state of her physical being, one I had not yet observed in these days of watching her die—or in the weeks of watching her struggle to breathe—or in the years of watching her vibrant body deteriorate into the old woman who now lay before me. Mama simply turned her right hand away from the sterile white sheet and raised her palm toward her Savior as she took her last breath.
I opened the Bible – the Word. I went to the Psalms and discovered that Mama had lived the Word in her death:
“Yet I am always with you,” [my Mama said],”You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory . . . earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23-26 NIV)
He had held her by her right hand and had taken her to glory. And He had answered the simple prayer of a simple daughter.
And I knew that the Word would help me face life without her, that God was the strength of my heart and would be my portion forever, and I understood a bit more about death and felt a bit less of its sting.