Mom had just celebrated her 92nd birthday in November, and despite her dementia and frailty, she was in remarkably good spirits.
For six and a half years, she had been residing at the Crofton Convalescent & Rehabilitation Center’s long-term care unit where she had captivated the entire staff with her charming simplicity. My mother was never demanding; always thanking her caregivers for everything – usually saying “ You treat me like a queen.”
From the very beginning of her admission to the facility, I knew that it would be the place where she would eventually die. As a former Hospice volunteer, I had had extensive experience dealing with dying persons and their families. I had learned how important it is to talk about death and dying. I felt blessed to be so comfortable doing it with friends and family through the years. I also realized that I would be preparing my own mother at some point in time.
Despite her dementia, we were able to have the most wonderful conversations on every imaginable topic every time I visited her. She might not remember the next day that I had even visited but that wasn’t important. What took place in the course of the visit was what was truly important.
By the time she had celebrated her 90th birthday, I realized that even though she might live to be one hundred, it was probably time to start talking about the eventuality of her dying. Gradually, I began to talk about death casually on occasion, even injecting a little humor. During one such conversation, I described what I thought would most likely happen. As Roman Catholics, we have a special devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. My mother was especially devoted to her and would always remind me “to carry the Miraculous Medal “ with me on my many travels.
“Ma”, I said, “I know exactly what’s going to happen the day God calls you home. Daddy’s going to be at the foot of your bed on the left side; the Blessed Mother is going to be on the right side. Your Guardian Angel is going to be at your shoulder and they’re going to say: ‘Chloe, it’s time to go home’.”
She looked at me, her eyes wide with wonder and asked, “ You really think so?”
“ I know so!” I replied emphatically. Mom clapped her hands excitedly like a small child and exclaimed: “Ooh! I can hardly wait!”
Well, during the first week of January 2004, Mom developed pneumonia and I knew she would not survive. Early in the week I told her: “Ma, God is calling you home, and as much as I hate to let you go, it’s okay for you to go because He loves you so much and He’s waiting for you with open arms.” She smiled and replied: “It’s so nice to know that He loves me that much.”
Two days before she died, I asked: “How’s it going, Ma?” In a weak voice she answered: “I’m getting there.” I knew exactly what she meant but I needed to have her confirm it so I asked: “ What do you mean – you’re getting there?” Without a word, she took her hand out from beneath the covers and pointed upward with her thumb. I smiled because I knew she was on her way.
For the past year, my constant prayer had been to be with my mother at the time of her death. “Dear Lord”, I prayed, “ I don’t ask You for very much when it comes to myself but this is one thing I’m counting on. I want to be there holding her hand when she takes her last breath.”
And this great God of ours Who is never outdone in generosity, heard my prayer. Shortly after midnight on January 9th, Mom went home to God. In that last half hour of her life, her eyes, which had remained shut most of the week, were wide open. She was staring straight ahead and her lips were moving in conversation with someone I couldn’t see but I knew…
As she took her final breaths, I was there, holding her hand, repeating over and over:
“ I love you, Ma. Sleep with the angels.” Although I miss her physical presence keenly, I am at peace knowing that I had the privilege of saying that final goodbye.
I was scheduled to attend the International Conference for the Alternatives to Violence Project in New Zealand and was due to leave on Jan.27.
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