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That Tragic August Day Chapter Seven

Updated on July 18, 2017

Visiting With Mama

Sandra, Nancy and Connie visiting Mama early in her journey.  Mama could still talk about past memories.
Sandra, Nancy and Connie visiting Mama early in her journey. Mama could still talk about past memories.

Chapter Seven - Deeper Into The Fog

There comes a time when you put certain things away forever. These events are never happy ones. They are melancholy times, painful times, necessary times. You close doors that will never be reopened. As the one who held power of attorney for Mama and Daddy, Resa had the unenviable task of ringing down the curtain on Mountain Hill Road. I am sure that there were times when she just sat in that house and stared at the walls, walked though each room...and remembered so many joys, so many happy times, so many people, so much love. How do you walk out on this? And when do the tears stop? There would be no more Thanksgivings with all those familiar faces pilling in to enjoy Mama’s famous Southern cooking. Aunts and uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces, the sounds of laughter still reflected in those walls and rooms. God how it pained Resa to close each door for the last time! But the house had to be closed up now. None of us were able to change our lives and go live there, to somehow give Mountain Hill Road a reprieve, a magical continuity. Like grasping at sand to hold on to a hill, it is futile. I don’t know how many times Resa stood in there alone and cried as she packed Mama and Daddy’s clothes and personal belongings. She had taken a small amount of things to make Daddy feel at home in that institute, and knowing how much he hated it there, she had desperately awaited the day he would be discharged. In all of our dreams, Daddy would return to Mountain Hill Road, and the spark to revive the fairy-tale ending would be rekindled. But that was never to happen. The day he died, Resa whirled into that room at the institute and completely took any and every thing that belonged to him out of there. If he could not escape it in life, he was going to escape that institute in death, she would see to that. Nothing that belonged to Daddy was left in that room the day he died...and now she had to take him out of his house, take him completely away from Mountain Hill Road, for the last time. It is often said that what does not kill us only make us stronger, but, whoever said that was a liar, because what doesn’t kill us definitely robs us.

James And Nancy Visit Mama

I could always get a smile of cheer from Mama when I told her that Nancy and James would be coming to visit.
I could always get a smile of cheer from Mama when I told her that Nancy and James would be coming to visit.

With my father’s burial, the house closed up and all of Mama and Daddy’s belongings sorted and sent on their way, some to family, much to liquidation, each of us felt as if we had awakened from a dream that was half over. The dream was the same that all of us have, that we somehow live forever, that all we love is forever intact, and that old age and death happen to others. The bright sunlight of reality was now washing our faces with the thought that it really is not long for any of Our turn is coming, even if we face away, even if we don’t want to discuss it, for we have now faced it in a way that is brutal and face-slapping. The person who stood between hardship and rescue, our father, that wall who kept us from pain and suffering, was removed. He would no longer be there to fend for us, we were on our own to face the same thing he faced. When? It is faint at this point in time, but when my father died, I saw my own mortality as much more certain and real. What chapter is this in the book we each write? Daddy was gone, the house at Mountain Hill Road was no more, a few trinkets that I kept from each of my parents would be all that I would take to remind me that they once were whole and real.

I remember hearing someone once say after a funeral, “They died, not you.” Their point was simple and awakening, we are still here for a reason, and we have no choice but to get on with the business of living our lives until the last chapter is written. Bit by bit, after such a series of situations, you turn the page, you start getting back into your routine again, even though the routine has some holes in it, and with that, we now focused on trying to help Mama live a peaceful life under the circumstances. We had moved Mama to a better room in the facility, Resa did her best to make the room as much like home was at Mountain Hill Road, and with Mama sitting in that green armchair from her living room, each of us sitting around her chatting and acting like nothing was amiss, this tiny piece of Mountain Hill Road was going to be the tiny island where Mama had washed ashore. Like driftwood that had washed ashore with us, this was all that was left of the house formerly filled with happy times, so it was disconcerting to still see that Mama was not able to be happy here. Of course, she was happy to see us, to sit there and talk with her children, or with Brother and Sister Johnson and other visitors from church. But it was always a shadow away from sadness that came when we each had to leave. We did not live here, Mama did. This was Mountain Hill Road now, with halls filled with nurses, aides pushing carts and wheelchairs, row after row of open doors leading into blank faces of dying and near dead, of those who were in the same depressing walk through this deplorable fog. It always bothered me in indescribable ways to walk into this place, and it bothered me even more when it came time to leave after visiting Mama. Resa wanted so much to take Mama out of there, to take her home to live with her. She was not alone. What person in their right mind gathers their loved ones up and dumps them here in this Gehenna? I can tell you who...those who have lost all hope.

In the days ahead, I would come to visit Mama, and what I saw about this end of life was sobering, causing me many philosophical and spiritual debates within my soul. I remember one lady who had come in. I knew her family from many years earlier. Join the club, lady, join the club. You are not alone, and I guess, neither are we. So you come here, too? I observed a woman who had raised a family and had a very loving husband, and I watched each day as he came in and had dinner with her, pretending that everything was the same. But she was not only in the throes of Alzheimer’s, she had a debilitating illness that was crippling her with severe arthritic symptoms that left her unable to do anything for herself. She had to be fed by her husband when he was there. His valiant efforts to keep his love for the woman he once knew were very taxing as he watched her shriveling away before his very eyes. When do you take the rose out of the vase and throw it away? I often wondered what he went home to. And the day came when those visits got fewer and farther between...and they eventually came to a sad end...though she was still alive. Encased in a shriveled body that resembled little of the wonderful human being that she had been only a few years before, she was a prisoner to what was left. Whenever I was there and saw her, I made it a point to try to engage her in conversation, to make small talk, anything to help her have at least one moment away from that horrible world.

And I remember another lady who had the sweetest disposition. A devout Catholic, if you had met her, you would have thought that she was a nurse just working there, but with time, the effects deepened her journey into the fog, and she eventually lost all resemblance to those outside of this place. There was not a day that she did not mention her prayers, her faith, and I was always impressed with her spiritual calmness through this challenging world in which she now resided. But, within a few years, I saw her getting closer to her Creator, her mental state becoming so much a part of that fog that she was demonstrating that she would soon join the others who seemed to leave here quickly. All too often, I saw the end drama, the gurney, the ambulance in the driveway, the prone body with a sheet completely shrouding what was left of the dash between those two dates on the tombstone. And this lady, devout as she was, was slowly shedding the cloaks and vestments that had controlled her every waking moment. One day, I heard her coming down the hallway in the wheelchair that had taken the place of her freedom to walk. She was scooting along using her feet, the arms and hands no longer knowing how to maneuver this vehicle, and she was yelling at some foe in the fog. “Kiss my ass!” she kept yelling sternly to no one in sight of the world I saw. I was shocked at first, knowing how devout she had been all of her life. Is this what we do, I wondered? Do we just give in to what was always really there just beneath all the veneer of social constraints? This evil disease robbed people of their dignity, and I saw it daily each time I came in there.

There are stages to Alzheimer’s, and those who are new to it, get prepared, because the first one is denial. But you cannot run from the fog. You are standing still, and it is moving, not the other way around. It is coming for your loved one, and there is nothing you can do about it...NOTHING! You can waste all the time you want to by living in denial, but the day will come when you enter the next level—necessity. Necessity will rap hard on your door. You will not be able to ignore the visitor, because you will have had all that you can handle, and then some, to keep your own sanity by that point. The guilty thoughts that at first were banished slowly become ones that you entertain in the “what if?” category, and eventually, the what if becomes “how do we?” and finally, “when can we?” No one can single-handedly take care of someone who is advancing into the robber’s world of Alzheimer’s. One can only watch as more and more of the person they loved is robbed of everything they once were. First, it is that they constantly repeat themselves, telling the same story again and again, having no idea that they just told you that funny anecdote. But, then comes the misplaced items, the long drives in the wrong direction, getting lost on simple roads they drove so often. They start to cook something and walk away, leaving dangerous situations like a hot stove. But this is the easiest time, the worst is yet to come. I have seen so many people who thought that they were going to keep their loved ones at home, even hiring nurses to stay around the clock, only to be defeated when the disease advances and takes away much more of the person they once knew. Even worse, I know of cases, all too common, where the person was kept at home, wandered off, and died while lost. Whenever guilt led Resa to express the idea of taking Mama home to live with her, I had to remind her of how difficult it was just before we put Mama in there. I would have to tell her that she would no longer have a job, no longer have a social life, and that Mama’s health care needs would be all-consuming. As much as we both hated it, Mama was where she needed to be, because she would be watched twenty-four hours a day by trained medical staff. And that thought comforted us times. Funny how guilt, compassion and doubt all combine to ruin your resolve from time to time.

Mama At Resa's House

Thanksgiving, 2010, Resa brought Mama to her house for dinner.
Thanksgiving, 2010, Resa brought Mama to her house for dinner.

Thanksgiving 2010

Mama at Resa's for Thanksgiving dinner, the last time this would be possible.
Mama at Resa's for Thanksgiving dinner, the last time this would be possible.

Despite it all, Mama would live out her remaining chapter as a full-time resident in a locked Alzheimer’s ward. During the first stages of Mama’s long decent into this darkness, Resa would often take her out to have her hair done, or to take her to dinner, sometimes to her favorite restaurant, anything to ease the sadness of Mama’s plight and Resa’s pangs of guilt, but no matter how good Resa’s intentions to cheer Mama up, the long ride back to the institute was the most depressing part. Regardless of her condition, Mama seemed to know where Resa was taking her, and it took a tremendous amount of skill and downright lying to get Mama back into the building. It was even more devastating when Resa had to go past the turnoff that led to Mountain Hill Road. Mama could still recognize that place, the road that led to home for so many years, and she would become visibly sad to see it going past, Resa taking her somewhere else that somehow registered in her brain as where she was going now. Mama would drop her head. This sorrow cannot be described, even by a skilled writer. There are simply no adjectives and adverbs that do this pain justice. May you never experience having your heart put through this. I lost track of when it reached the point, but the day came when it was no longer advisable to take Mama out of there. It would be too disruptive, change was painful, and she needed a steady routine that meant the walls of this dreadful place would have to be her tiny world, and we would have to come to her...she would never be able to come back to us.

Mama was ambulatory for most of the time she was in the institute. She loved to walk the halls and meet the other patients. The first couple of years, Mama made friends, even found a boyfriend who thought she was gorgeous. We accepted this, because this was Mama’s world, and whatever made her happy was all that mattered to us. To see her smile was so much better than the alternative, and we saw enough of the “alternative.” The alternative was when the fog lifted temporarily, and like the other patients who were at this early stage, she wanted to go home. I remember one day, I was coming up on the elevator to the second floor where her unit was, and I could hear Mama wailing, and yelling, alternating between the two. I knew Mama’s voice, and I knew that plaintiff cry. Anyone who has a mother has heard them when they are heartbroken, and there is no mistaking that painful sound. Instantly, you know who it is and what it is. The elevator door opened, I turned to my left to see Mama at the front desk giving the nurses an earful, pleading with them that she needed to go home. She was a mess. Nose running, eyes filled with tears, broken! There was no strength left to fight, because Mama was frail now, in her early eighties, and it was taking a lot out of her just to stand there and tearfully plead her case. I can almost cry just remembering that moment. All I could think of was that I had to help her stop crying, to feel better, and to get her mind off of this immediately. “See, I told you he was coming,” said one of the nurses with relief and cheer. It was Sunday, and I always stopped by after church. I saw Mama turn to see that I was indeed there, and as I put my arms around her, she leaned on my shoulder and sobbed. “Come on, Mama,” I reassured her, “let’s go get some coffee and enjoy this Hershey’s candy bar.” I would always bring Mama her favorite candy, a Hershey’s chocolate candy bar, the biggest one they had. Slowly Mama stopped crying, and I joked with her to get her smiling again. The only wonderful thing about Alzheimer’s is that the crying that had so wracked her body just moments earlier was soon forgotten. She would never remember it again...and I would never forget it. Heartbreaking sadness in your mother has a way of etching itself onto the walls of memory.

One of the realities of Alzheimer’s is that you can visit all you want to, but they cannot remember that you were just there. I remember once, all of us were in the room with Mama, my sisters, Connie, Sandra and Resa, my brother, Gill, and Mama’s sister, Nancy. It was such a joy for Mama to see all of those familiar faces all fussing over her. Nancy thought it would be comical to duck behind a curtain and have one of us ask Mama if she had seen Nancy anywhere. Much to Nancy’s consternation, when we asked Mama had she seen Nancy, Mama replied that she hadn’t seen her. I still remember the puzzled look on Nancy’s face. Nancy, Connie and Sandra all lived in New England, and they didn’t get to come down but a few times a year, so they did not see the subtle changes like Resa, Gill and I did, because we were in there all the time. We three were not surprised that Mama could not remember that, only seconds earlier, Nancy was standing right in front of her. Eventually, birthdays and holidays lose all significance. Birthday cakes and Christmas cards are made for us. They become wishes that will never be fulfilled, wanting so much to see memories return, a smile on their face to show that they know it is their birthday, that it is Christmas, but they just sit their looking at you and enjoying the fact that you are there. Your presence is really all they need. Gradually, you will lose the adult and gain a child, and Mama was no exception to that rule, either.

2016 - Nearing The End

The last year of her life, Mama's decline was very noticeable.
The last year of her life, Mama's decline was very noticeable.

Mama's Chocolate Candy Bar

Mama loved her Hershey's candy bar, and I never failed to bring her one every time I visited.
Mama loved her Hershey's candy bar, and I never failed to bring her one every time I visited.

With time, Mama stopped walking and took to a wheelchair. Her legs swollen badly, Mama looked as if she would become a victim of a heart attack, and we were concerned. Resa ordered medical tests, but even with medications and eventually adding special stockings to her life, Mama’s legs never changed. Resa began to hate the institution where Mama was originally placed, and after much discussion, she began to look for any place that could give Mama the life that she deserved. Resa felt that the nurses in this place were too careless and compassionless. Telling her that the aides in there were underpaid and overworked didn’t help, and Resa eventually found another place near the city where she worked. There were less patients, and Mama would probably get better treatment, at least that was the original belief when she moved Mama there. But, no place is really ever home when you are not in your own home. It was not long before Resa saw problems even with this institute. Still, I don’t blame her one bit for moving Mama there. It was visibly better than the first place, but there is one consistent theme in nursing homes...they are for profit. Once you get this in your head, you can see that, no matter how lovely the literature that welcomes you on your first visit, the staff will usually be underpaid and overworked. More than that, many of these workers are transient and lack true compassion. They are there because it is the only paycheck available. Oh, there are the heroic ones, the ones who truly care. You can see it in their eyes, in their smiles, the way they genuinely respond to every patient, but they are few in number and often are beaten down by the money managers who need to turn a profit. I can sum it all up by saying this, if you love your relative who is in there, don’t miss a day of checking in on them, and do it unannounced and at any and all hours of the day. Resa was in there every day at lunch time, and she was in there right after work, often staying until Mama went to sleep at night, tucking her in personally before heading home completely exhausted and worn out. Resa cared for Mama like no one else could, and even when Mama began to lose her ability to speak coherently, she always recognized Resa and knew to expect her to visit. We were blessed in one thing, and that was that Mama still recognized all of us when we came to visit, even Connie, Sandra and Nancy. Mama even recognized Nancy’s husband, James. And our visits always made her light up with the biggest smile, God did she ever light up! “Hey!” she would call out, “Come on over here and sit with me.” Sometimes, she would say, “Well, look who’s here,” always with a happy smile. Mama was at peace in her world. It was seven years in, and the fog had removed the memory of so many things, even though she would occasionally mention Daddy and ask where he was. I would tell her, just like I did the day he died, that he was at a ministerial meeting. I knew that memories were the best excuse, and Daddy had often attended these meetings, some with her and some without her, but the words “ministerial meeting” were familiar ones, and this always worked to get her to the next subject and off that very painful one. Mama and Daddy had been so in love with each other, that I often wondered what would happen to Mama if Daddy went first. Had she not been sedated by Alzheimer’s, I don’t think Mama would have lived a year past Daddy’s death, such was her absolute need for him. In this sense, Alzheimer’s did us a favor and let her mind lose that pain. Still, from time to time, even after seven years, Mama would still mumble his name and ask where he was. Ministerial meeting, change the subject, and we were fine. That was the routine, and I had used it for seven years now. Looking back, I am convinced that, as Mama was nearing her time to cross over to where Daddy was waiting, I honestly think that there were times that she was literally seeing him standing there.

Mama's Constant Friend

The last year of her life, Mama love caring for this baby.  It was seldom out of her arms.
The last year of her life, Mama love caring for this baby. It was seldom out of her arms.

Resa had bought Mama a baby doll that looked very real, and Mama took to keeping this baby in her arms at all times. She would talk to the doll, cooing as if he were just the most beautiful baby. Baby and baby, asleep in each other’s arms, often that is how I would find her when I came in. Many times, I would call one of the relatives and put them on the phone, put the phone to Mama’s ear, and she would have a good conversation, always ending with her asking when they were going to come down. Mama had always done that, and she still did so, even though toward the end, she only mumbled in the way Alzheimer’s patients do in the last stages. They lose the ability to make sense when they speak, and you rely mostly on body language and smiles. They listen mostly, speak with unintelligible words and smile. Mama smiled a lot when we there. I would often take out my phone and play some of the music from her era, her favorite being Cab Calloway. All I had to do was say “Hi De Hi De Ho,” and she lit up. She was instantly transported back to the time in her youth when she attended a concert by Cab Calloway at the RKO Theater in Boston, and he sang that song. Mama had often delighted in telling us about the zoot suit he wore that night, the big fedora hat, and how he came “struttin’ out on stage,” imitating him as she described the fun. She would still light up and move to the music when I played Cab Calloway for her. And I never failed to bring her that special chocolate candy bar.

Mama And Her baby

Mama dearly loved children, and she thought the lifelike doll that Resa bought for her was real.
Mama dearly loved children, and she thought the lifelike doll that Resa bought for her was real.

Mama was failing now, and the last two weeks, she tended to sleep more. On Sunday, I stopped in to see Mama. Resa was there in Mama’s room. Mama was propped up, her bed elevated, Resa watching over her like a nurse, and a worried look was what greeted me when I came in. Mama’s eyes were closed, and I saw all of the years that she had lived written on her face. October 13th, 2016, Mama had turned 90 years old. So many years ago, her mother had died from high blood pressure at the young age of 47. My grandmother had fallen over in church and was gone just like that, and for many years after, Mama would often tell us kids that she, herself, would never see 50. Mama worried about that all the time, so when Mama finally turned fifty, I jokingly told her, “Well, Mama, what are you going to do now?” And we laughed. Mama had lived longer now than all of her family, her father, her mother, aunts and uncles, strange how that works. But this was indeed Mama’s last birthday, and we all began to sense that. The appearance of wear on my mother’s face was evident now as I looked at her. She opened her eyes briefly when she heard my voice, and I waved the eternal Hershey’s candy bar at her. Today was different. She closed her eyes and continued to just lie there. I felt that this was a change for the worse, and maybe Mama wasn’t just feeling sick. Resa was worried, she desperately did not want to put it into words, but her face said Mama was dying. Resa was right.

Mama Loved Music

Even near the end of her life, Mama would still clap her hands to good music.
Even near the end of her life, Mama would still clap her hands to good music.

One thing Mama always loved was Pentecostal music that was upbeat and lifting, and she loved nothing more than to be in a church service that we Pentecostals call a “gulley washer,” meaning one where the church is alive with praise and worship. Only Pentecostals will know what that means, and I cannot aptly describe it to outsiders. Just know this, if you are ever in one, hold on to your seat. I remember that, back at the beginning of all of this, before we put Mama in the institution, and we were going over to visit Daddy in the hospital, I was playing some Pentecostal music on my car stereo, and Mama said to me, “You know, just once, before I die, I would love to be in a real gulley washer service somewhere.” She never got to go to a church service, but there was a group of Pentecostal African Americans who came in on certain Sundays to sing and worship with the patients, and Mama always enjoyed that. Resa had asked them today if, after they finished with their service in the main lobby, if they might possibly come down and sing a song for Mama in her room. And they did. The ladies in the group laid out a light blanket, completely red in color to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ, and they spread that blanket over Mama like she was being covered with love. They began to pray for Mama, and Mama heard them, occasionally opening her very weak eyes as if to say that she greatly appreciated them being there with her and for her. And they began to sing. The song they sang was true Pentecostal, a gulley washer kind of song, and several times Mama opened her eyes again. I know it gave Mama great comfort to hear it. All I could do was stand by Mama’s bedside and watch as God gave her her wish one last time. There would be no miraculous healing. Even the sister who prayed over Mama leaned in to tell her, “Sister Nellie, you’re going to be going home to be with the Lord, and we’re praying that His angel watches over you and guides your spirit as you go home to be with Him when He calls.” They all prayed, and I silently joined in, knowing that the end was definitely coming, even though we did not know how or was coming.

The Last Week

Mama's last Sunday, the choir sang for her, and here Sister Johnson is visiting with her.
Mama's last Sunday, the choir sang for her, and here Sister Johnson is visiting with her.

The choir left, and Sister Johnson and her daughter, Carolyn, came into the room. Sister Johnson was only a few weeks younger than Mama, had been like a sister to her all of the more than fifty years they had known one another, and she approached Mama from the side of the bed. Placing her hand on Mama’s hands, Mama opened her eyes so quickly, Sister Johnson apologized and said, “Oh, my goodness, my hands must be cold.” Mama looked at Sister Johnson knowingly, but never spoke. They just communicated like they always did in such moments, and Carolyn whispered something to Resa about how Mama was doing. The room was solemn, we spoke lightly, and Mama seemed to be resting.

On Tuesday, Resa called me to tell me that they were moving Mama to hospice, that it would not be long now, and I left work to head there. I wanted to be with Mama when she passed. She was in a beautiful setting at hospice. What a beautiful place it was, we all agreed that it was a shame that she could not have spent all those seven years in a place like this. Seven long years! So many thoughts went through our heads, but you put the guilt away long before you get to this point in the journey. There just comes a time when you realize that there was no escaping, no altering, no detour, and here we were, somewhat relieved that Mama was going to finally be free from this prison, this curse, this thief who had mercilessly robbed her of so much joy. Two days later, Thursday, I left work early to join my family there at the hospice center. Nancy was standing out in the hallway with her little dog, Daisy, held close to her. With a serious look on her face, Nancy said, “The nurse said that it would be only minutes now.” I wondered why she was out in the hallway instead of in the room with her sister, my mother, and I understood that Resa had asked for everyone to leave the room for a few minutes while she had some last words with Mama. Maybe Resa wanted to ask Mama to forgive her for putting her in there back at the beginning of all of this, or maybe she just wasn’t thinking that everybody was related to Mama, too, but who knew? All I knew was that my mother was about to die, that I had just gotten there in time, and I headed for the room where Mama lay dying. Resa was absolutely heartbroken and was lying on the bed next to Mama, holding her and sobbing, “Mama, oh Mama!” The impending loss was unbearable for Resa. I walked over to the other side of Mama and began to gently caress her shoulder while I placed my other hand on Resa’s shoulder and did the same, just to let them both know that I was there and to try to comfort them. There was nothing more to say to Mama that I had not already said over the years. Now was not the time for me to start trying to find a subject that had not been covered, to try to think of something that I had forgotten, as if someone where packing for a trip and you reminded them, “Oh, and don’t forget…” No, it was painfully obvious that I was watching the final good-bye. I bent over and kissed Mama gently on the forehead. Her eyes were closed, her mouth was slightly open, her breathing shallow and labored, and I silently prayed the God would not let my mother suffer any longer.

Nancy was standing over on the other side of the bed next to Resa. I could tell that, although Nancy was silent, she was watching intently and very much participating in the moment with an equally heavy heart. As a young girl, Nancy had watched helplessly as Death took her forty-seven-year-old mother, and she had done the same again when her baby sister died at twenty-eight. Then, years later, her father died, and only a few years ago, she had sat on the edge of the bed watching as her older brother breathed his last breath. Now, Nancy was losing her oldest sister. I don’t know if watching the death experience makes us any less heartbroken when the end comes for a loved one, but I know unspeakable grief was written on Nancy’s face. I stared at Mama, concerned about her labored breathing, not wanting her to endure any more of this. Like so many of those patients that I had witnessed over the years when they turned to me with anguished faces and asked, “How do I get out of here? I’ve got to go home,” I, too, now wondered where that “door out of here” was, and how did any of us find it for Mama so that she could go home? But God holds the key, not us. We are all merely observers.

A week earlier, Mama had told me that she saw Daddy, and she pointed to where he was standing. I sensed now that it was no longer a delusional memory like she had occasionally alluded to over the years, but that Mama was actually “looking over” to the other side. I don’t know where the words came from, but I leaned over to Mama and lovingly said, “Mama, I know Daddy is standing there waiting for you, and I know the Lord is ready for you. We love you, Mama, but you are free to go.” Almost as if Mama needed to be told that she no longer had to worry about taking care of us, it was over... Mama was free, she was gone.

Mama's Funeral

Mama was laid to rest next to Daddy. To the right is Nancy and Connie with Daniel, one of Mama's grandchildren.
Mama was laid to rest next to Daddy. To the right is Nancy and Connie with Daniel, one of Mama's grandchildren.

As I sat next to Mama’s bed, there was a certain relief that her suffering was over, and I was thankful that her passing had been relatively peaceful compared to what might have been. For those who watch their loved ones go through this sad journey into the “long good-bye” of whatever name you want to put on this human condition that does not change its destruction if you change its name, you will do your best, and your best will never be enough. Guilt will always follow you like a pestering child, mocking everything you do and say. I hope that you will try to find some comfort in knowing that, when you’ve done your human best, you have done all that you can. And know this, nothing you can do will ever slow or prevent the inevitable journey. Accept each day as the inch-by-inch walk that takes them further away from where they used to be removes what once was. You will never turn this around. Just make them comfortable, visit often, and when you leave after you visit, each and every time you leave, don’t say good-bye. Instead, always, always, always say, “I’ll be back.” “Good-bye” is final, and it causes them to have an unnecessary fear of being alone, of not seeing you again, but “I’ll be back,” softens the pain of leaving. Show affection as much as you did before this journey began. You’ll get a lot of smiles. Talk to them the way you always did, because they still understand you, even if they can no longer express that.

And don't be afraid to remember them, to speak about them, to talk about the good times you shared while they were here. My mother had a lovely singing voice, and she seemed to know the words to every song from those fabulous Forties. She would sing to them when they came on the radio, and now, when I hear one of those beautiful songs, I stop and remember Mama.

Mama cooked and cleaned for all of us for many years. When we were children, she changed our diapers, bathed us, clothed us and fed us. She was our constant and most attentive nurse when we were sick. Mama would have marched into Hell without batting an eye to rescue any of us from peril. As children, we never thanked her enough, so maybe, just maybe, God gave Mama seven years of being cared for in all those ways, to rest, finally, while others took care of her. God knows, she certainly deserved it. Someone once noted that, one by one, the umbrellas that once covered us are removed until, finally, we are the umbrellas. All of my great-grandparents are gone, all of my grandparents are gone, and now, my parents are gone, too. No one stands sheltering me anymore. My turn will come to face the end of this journey, but I know this, if you surround yourself with love, love will be there to the end.


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