It was the day before Easter. My beloved was on one knee by her bed. His mother didn’t seem to know he was there. The doctor said she was “actively dying”. It was just a matter of time.
My mother-in-law had fallen a few weeks ago, suffered an open fracture and dislocated her ankle. A surgical team at UK put in a plate with pins. She was sedated for most of her time there, praise be to God. Since her return to the nursing home, there had been a marked difference. My husband was sure she had suffered a stroke within the first few days, and then one or two the week before Easter. As hard as it was to believe, his wonderful mother was nearing the end of her life.
As he knelt, he gently put his face in her soft hand and closed his eyes. “Oh, what that hand had done for him!” I thought. When he had been sick, she nursed him back to health. That hand had sewn on Boy Scout patches and hemmed his pants, driven him to ballgames, cooked magnificent meals, patted him when he cried, held him when he was hurt…Oh, that precious hand. (I held back a sob as I watched.)
Our prayer had been that she would not suffer, though she had suffered from a broken heart for just over five years. When her husband died in 2008, most of her died, too, that day. She never, ever got over his death, sinking into a deep depression almost immediately. She had met her Prince Charming, her other half, and he was gone. She just didn’t want to go on, to tell you the truth. Though she was not coherent now, she still called out his name from time to time.
My beloved got up from the floor and smoothed her hair. “This is your baby!” he said in the voice that had always made her laugh. Nothing. He smoothed her hair and rubbed her cheek and told her he loved her. This had been the routine every day that week. After a bit on this day though, he said, “Momma…everything’s gonna be alright. You go ahead and do whatever you need to do…It’s gonna be alright.” He kissed her face and smoothed her hair again. Big tears rolled from his eyes.
My daughter and son-in-law were in the room with us. We watched with big eyes not knowing exactly what to do. We took turns talking to “Mamaw”, just like everything was fine and held her hand. She would pull her hand away and act like she was trying to get up. (Strangest thing.) Nurses came to check on her, and my beloved stepped out to speak with someone from church.
One of the nurses said my mother-in-law needed some oxygen. We could tell from the look on her face that she was concerned. Mamaw HATED oxygen, ripping the mask off every single time. This time she breathed it in. (They knew she was not doing well because she didn’t pull it off as usual.) Suddenly she gasped two times. I thought it was because the air was rushing into her nose and mouth. We stared at her not knowing what was going on. I said, “She’s not gasping anymore,” thinking it was a good thing.
The nurses were checking her chest and began to whisper. My daughter and I looked at each other. It’s never good when they whisper. One turned and asked where my husband was. She said I needed to get him…it would be any moment.
I called him straight away and stepped closer to hold my mother-in-law’s hand. That’s when I realized she was already gone. In the blink of an eye she literally slipped from one world to the next. We were stunned!
My beloved came rushing in seconds later. He burst into tears. “Oh, Momma,” he cried. It was the most heart-wrenching scene. And it wasn’t because we didn’t know where she was. We knew confidently that she was in heaven. It was just personal loss. The mother who had been so very dear was no longer here. “Your struggle is finally over,” he moaned as he held her face. He then immediately dropped to the floor, praying, thanking God for the gift of his mother. After he wiped away his tears, he smiled thinking that she was in heaven for Resurrection Day. We wondered aloud what they do in heaven on Easter.
Normally, my husband is the comfort giver when a death occurs. This time, he was on the other end. Friends and family offered so much love and kindness over the next few days-and continue to do so. A memorial service was held here in Prestonsburg two days later. Loved ones came from far and wide to share in the loss of this precious lady. (She was laid to rest in Alabama later in the week.) Our son-in-law, who is from Jamaica, was amazed at the out-pouring of prayers, encouragement, and food. I told him that “people in the mountains” were awesome like that.
We enjoyed looking at the pictures that were needed to make the collage for her memorial service. So many good memories! Later, in Alabama with her younger son, step-daughters and their families, we reminisced and laughed at all the good times we’d shared. Naturally, tears were mixed with the stories.
I have always heard that “life is a breath”. It literally is. I had never been with someone when they died. I still think of it quite often. In one second, she passed from this life into the next. I kept thinking, “She’s gone!” and was stunned at the finality of it. In a moment, her life was over!
It has compounded in my mind that we have to be ready to go at all times. After that last breath, it is done and you can’t change a thing. We praise God that Mamaw had made peace with God, and we know beyond a doubt that we will see her again!