My mom can’t talk any more. But she can still teach.
A week ago I got the call I’d been waiting on for the last year. It was time. Mom wasn’t eating and they couldn’t wake her up. It seemed that her 4 year battle was finally about finished.
So I hopped on the first flight out of Montana and made it to my Ohio home the next evening. Just like that I left my busy, messy, hectic life so I could sit and just be a daughter that waits.
My first full day here, Mom perked up. She woke up every hour or so and struggled against her heavy eyelids to have her eyes sparkle hello. For a few minutes we would have our quiet chats. Me with my updates and mom with her loving glances. Eventually she would have to give in to her stubborn eyelids and just lay there next to me.
I don’t know how much she was taking in about the world around her, but I know she was still trying to respond. Even with her eyes closed she would use her few working fingers to squeeze my hand. My morse code is rusty, but based on the effort behind each attempt I interpreted her messages to mean something like “thank you for being here with me” and “I love you very much.”
Every day since, Mom has maintained a puzzling combination of improvement and decline. She’s more alert and at times still tries to interact with the people around her. But at the same time she’s still not eating anything. And now there are shivers of pain that were not normal before.
Is she getting better or getting worse? No one really knows.
I think Mom just likes messing with us. For all her years of being prim and proper and respecting authority, this woman deserves a few days to break the rules and prove the doctors have no idea what’s going on. At least, that’s what I like to think she’s doing.
In reality, every day we say goodbye to another aspect of Mom. 3 years ago it was her short-term memory, last year it was the ability to walk, this past winter we heard her last words, and now this week we say goodbye to swallowing and even, I think, her precious hand holding.
It’s a terrible thing to see your loved one die in pieces. Every lost ability is mourned and only prompts the reality that more severe losses are to come. We’re at the stage now where I wonder, “what more can she possible loose?” But as soon as I ask it, another new handicap is quick with the reply.
What life is left for my Mom while she waits for death?
There – in that question about the value of a languishing life – is where I’m sitting and learning by my mom’s side.
Every day, every minute, every struggling breath mom is losing more control over her life… and teaching me how to surrender to receiving.
Mom was the woman you couldn’t get to slow down. If she wasn’t doing lesson plans for her students, she was cleaning the house for her family, or cooking meals for a sick friend, or planning a service project for her sunday school class. You could not get her to stop giving to others.
But today, my mom’s contributions are limited to occasional eye contact and an infrequent hand squeeze. Others bathe her, feed her, prop her up in bed. Others change her in the mornings and tuck her in at night. Others read her Bible to her and turn on music for her and choose what Netflix reruns she gets to watch.
It’s hard to see this vibrant woman trapped in a deteriorating body. Her aims in life were so noble and it’s felt like her life’s purpose – showing Christ’s love to others – has been taken too.
Or has it?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
2 Timothy 1:9
(God) who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.
When I read these Bible passages I hear a whole lot of receiving. Receiving grace, receiving a holy calling, receiving salvation through God’s Son.
Here from her bed, unable to move or speak, mom is teaching me the art of receiving holy love. She is showing me our humble part in simply accepting the grace of our compassionate Savior. He knows we can’t earn His love or ever come close to repaying His service and yet we get to sit and moment by moment receive His constant gift.
She is still showing Christ’s love to the world around her. She’s showing how much we need His love. How constantly He grants it. How powerfully it sustains us. And how faithfully it will guide us home.
Her body is weak, but her symbol is strong.
And very soon, when we’ve learned all we can from her last lesson, she’ll get to go be with Christ and receive the fullness of His love and healing.
But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
This last lesson has been a hard one to teach. But she’s doing it so well.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.