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Snoqualmie Summit

Updated on March 26, 2013

An early morning call from my brother-in-law abruptly awakened me.

What in the world? Why is he calling at this atrocious hour? I thought as I struggled to shake the cobwebs from my frazzled REM-deprived brain.

"It's Mom," he said, "...I think she's dying."

Instantly, the harsh reality, like a pitcher of ice cold water, slapped me awake.

My wife, roused from her sleep, took the phone from me. Speechless, I remained by her side, prepared to offer comfort and support.

You can read all the books in the world, do the rapid online research, and hear a thousand sermons about the subject. Nothing, absolutely nothing, prepares you for this moment.

A few hours of sleepwalking through the sadness and anxiety later, my wife and I were on our way from Walla Walla County in southeast Washington state to the adult care home in Lynnwood, a city just a few miles north of Seattle.

Providential comfort came in the form of beautiful early March weather. The sun was the lead ballerina on a panoramic stage of azure crystal as our vehicle forged its way westward.

A range of mountains divide eastern from western Washington. These magnificent pacific northwest Cascades have a handful of passes connecting what we endearingly (with tongue firmly imbedded in cheek) label as the rural and established Republican eastern side with the urban and predominantly Democratic western side.

The divisive Cascade Mountains are the cause of meteorological differences as well. There is an abundance of rain and thus verdant evergreen forests at and to the west of the slopes. In stark contrast, the east side has a more desert-like ambience. Ironically enough, there are valleys in eastern Washington where some of the country's finest produce is harvested; miles and miles of fertile wheatland; and vineyards galore that give birth to some of the world's richest wines.

The most popular pass, and the one we habitually use to travel to the other side, is called Snoqualmie. Pre-trip, my wife and I had a cursory glance at the online pass reports as well as viewed some of the slightly delayed camera shots of the prevailing driving conditions. The roads were slushy, and there appeared to be a mixture of snow and rain coming down, but there were no travel alerts mandating tire chains.

We stopped for lunch in Yakima at a bustling restaurant called Miner's . If you're ever traveling through eastern Washington and are looking for healthy and satisfying cuisine, we recommend you try the garden burgers at this wonderful establishment.

Soon, we were on our way again. We chatted along the way, but mostly we were engaged in our own personal thoughts and memories of my wife's mother. I did my best to recall what she'd been like prior to the seemingly rapid onset of Alzheimer's.

The one memory I hung onto was of Mom preparing her delicious homemade German potato soup. She'd always have it waiting for us after the long five-hour drive. After a hearty welcome from Dad and her, a simple yet lovely blessing over the food, my wife, son, daughter, and I wasted no time in enjoying Oma's heavenly dinner fare.

After dinner, I'd often tease her, sweep her into my arms, and dance with her in the kitchen. How she'd laugh and speak in her native German to my father-in-law who, along with the rest, would be grinning and enjoying the little spectacle.

In more recent times, whenever we've had the opportunity to make the long trip, I've leaned over her geriatric bed and whispered into her ear, "Do you remember when we used to dance?" And in my writer's imagination, I'd picture her somewhere else--a place that mercifully transcended the mortal coil that lay still and almost lifeless before me--smiling and responding with a clearly visible nod. And then I'd sing to her some of the old familiar hymns that she'd loved and cherished.

I never doubted for a moment that she could hear me. The utter cruelty of Alzheimer's is that it incarcerates the essence of an individual long before the body is ready to go to sleep. She's in there. I know she can hear me. I know she's trying to reach me. She's pounding at the wall. She's trying to get out...

"Let's stop at the summit for some water." My wife's voice beckoned me back from my deep mental wandering.

And this is what we encountered...

Lee"s Summit Deli & Grocery Snoqualmie Pass
Lee"s Summit Deli & Grocery Snoqualmie Pass | Source
Overworked Snow Plow Taking a Break
Overworked Snow Plow Taking a Break | Source
A Heavy Winter's Coat
A Heavy Winter's Coat | Source
Waiting for the New Season
Waiting for the New Season | Source

At the Summit

It's funny...just a couple of hours earlier, we'd left a sunny, blue-sky canopy with moderate temperatures, and now this!

Snow drifts piled almost as high as the buildings on the summit, just about everything covered in frozen marshmallows, and more flakes falling relentlessly from a gloomy gray sky...

Snow plows struggling to keep the roads open, accessible, and safe...

Fellow travelers like us gingerly treading on the white carpet to keep from slipping and falling...

An almost claustrophobic ambience...

Is this what Mom has been experiencing? Has it been one super long, tough, and relentless winter for her? The amyloid protein that's piling up like snow drifts in her once-verdant brain...is she fighting with all her might to dig herself out, slowly and painfully realizing the utter futility of it all?

In just a few minutes, my wife and I would be over the pass and headed into the other side of Washington state.

Soon and very soon, Mom will be liberated from this frozen summit she's been on...and she will pass on over to an eternal sleep. A sleep that will seem like just the twinkling of an eye to her.

After taking a few pictures, I returned to the car and wiped the moisture from my camera. I reflected on how quickly we'd gone from, seemingly, one kind of climate to another. Isn't life just like that? The seasons fly by at incrementally increasing warp speeds, and before you know it, you're at the crucial wintry summit, praying for clear roads and safe passage to the other side.

Thankfully, prayerfully, my wife and I traversed the Snoqualmie Pass without any problems and arrived safely at our destination.

We said our goodbyes to Mom. We called our adult children, and--over the phone--they were able to say farewell to Oma. Medical experts would disagree, but my wife and I saw clear evidence--subtle as it may have been--that Oma had acknowledged her grandchildren's loving aufwiedersehens.

A few days later, Mom made it safely over the Great Pass. She rests peacefully now until Jesus awakens her.

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