Thoughts from My Mother\'s Deathbed

“All I could do was beg God not to let her die, to give us more time with her, at least one more Mother’s Day together with her. I have never felt so helpless in all my life.”

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
- James 4:13-15

I walked into the pizzeria to pick up dinner before community group. Time was already a little tight, so I was moving quickly. My phone rang, and I saw it was my uncle. He never calls.

“Hey Ashley, I’m sorry to bother you, but your mom’s really sick…”

At that exact moment in the middle of a dimly lit restaurant in Culver City, my life became sharply divided into two parts: the time before my mom went to the hospital, and the time afterward.

My mother had been working for an organization that assigns caregivers to elderly individuals, people sick and nearing the end of their lives, in need of assistance for the simple day-to-day things. My mom would drive them to doctor appointments, go grocery shopping for them or with them, cook, clean, bathe, and generally assist these people with whatever they needed. Many were grateful for her, and requested her services when they had notoriously fired all other caregivers. Others were harsh toward her, taking out frustrations on her as their dementia and confusion eroded social graces. It was very demanding work and my mom wasn’t in great health. She’d taken a break for several weeks and was not feeling good due to several health issues she was working through.

One thing that I and many others knew about my mother was that she enjoyed a glass of wine or two every night to end her day. What many of us didn’t know was that over time and added stresses, that glass of wine had grown to four or five per night. And none of us, even those closest to her, knew just how precarious her problem had grown.

The morning after I’d gotten that phone call from my uncle, my mother was admitted to the hospital with a case of sepsis, a serious reaction of the body to an infection. Her entire body was under attack from natural poison in her blood, and unfortunately, her organs were in no shape to fight. Her liver and kidneys had suffered severe damage due to the alcohol, and it didn’t look good.

Now I must mention that there is no one in the world who could say anything bad about my mom’s character, or speak negatively about the kind of person that she was. When I speak of her drinking problem, I speak with no harshness or judgment. It simply was what it was. We love her and recognize her beauty and goodness, while at the same time recognizing that she was merely human, and thus was as we all are: a sinner in need of a savior.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
- Romans 8:22-27

The first night that my mom was admitted was the hardest in some ways. How serious was it? Was she going to die right away? How were they going to treat her? How long could we stay? My dad, a naturally emotional guy, was heartbroken and in shock. While he knew she had a problem, he had no idea that her condition had already gotten as bad as it was, and was hating himself for not reacting sooner.

At one point I went to the bathroom and broke down crying. All I could do was beg God not to let her die, to give us more time with her, at least one more Mother’s Day together with her. I have never felt so helpless in all my life. It is one thing to hear that you should lean on God in times of suffering. It is another thing entirely to have the floor, walls, ceiling, and whole world dropped out from underneath and around you, forcing you to reach up within the free fall and say, “There is nothing to hold onto but you! Lord, have mercy!”

The first three or four days in the hospital were hopeful. She was extremely weak, but she was awake and responsive, even chuckling with us as we fed her. There was one night where my dad, my brother, and I were in the room with her just enjoying one another’s company. The first night that she was admitted, my dad felt convicted to ask for her forgiveness for some things they’d struggled with in their marriage, and when she looked at him now I saw such an intent sweetness in her gaze that my heart smiled within. Every night when we left, we made sure to tell her that we loved her.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
- Romans 5:1-5

About a week into her stay, things started to get particularly rough. She was weaker, and not responding to any of the treatments. Eventually she lost the ability to communicate, and became unresponsive. The physical exhaustion set in for us as we spent long hours and late nights by her side. More than that though, the emotional exhaustion wrecked us as each day we started with a timid hope that was tried by a roller coaster of one doctor predicting life, another death. Why couldn’t they just all get on the same page before talking to us?

Many of the people in my family are Christians, so right away we had put her on any and every prayer list we could. At one point I counted at least 6 different churches had people praying for my mom. We knew that God could heal my mom - he had the power to do so- but of course the real question was, would he?

I had more deep conversations with my family during that time than I’ve ever had in my life. No matter which family member I spoke with, inevitably the conversation would turn to God, my mom’s life, family history, faith, life, or death. We confessed, forgave, bonded, cried, and laughed in the better moments. We learned more about each other as human beings within that crucible of stress and sadness than we may have ever learned otherwise.

Eventually it got to the point where my mom was unresponsive to full courses of treatment and was in a natural semi-comatose state for several days. We placed her on comfort care measures, and she was allowed to die naturally. Just minutes before midnight on Mother’s Day 2017, my mother went home to be with the Lord.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13

There is nothing that can prepare you for the loss of someone that you love. No matter how hard you try to steel yourself or imagine the outcomes, nothing can prepare you for the harsh impact of reality and the gaping hole of loss.

For the Christian, it isn’t a “loss” in the strict sense of the word. Usually we refer to a “loss” as something that can’t be found, or something that is gone forever. Neither of those things quite applies to my mother. We know exactly where she is (heaven), and we know that we will see her there again someday. What we have lost, though, is her sweet presence, her love made manifest in our lives, and her place in the memories that will be made in our family from now on. The pain of that is deep and real, and always will be.

At the same time, the amount of blessings that we’ve had in this situation has been abundant. That one precious night that my whole family had with my mom, my dad’s asking her for forgiveness and the sweet interactions thereafter, the luxury of having her around for a few days to say our goodbyes, and my mother passing away in a comfortable, quiet, peaceful environment with her loving son by her side...these are things that some families never get. We are grateful.

By far the greatest blessing though is knowing that my mom is home with Jesus. It may sound cliche, but it truly does make all the difference in our grieving. She loved the Lord and lived her life constantly serving and sacrificing for others, especially her family. She always had compassion for those who were less fortunate. We know that when she went to heaven and she was judged by the Lord, she was able to answer that despite all of her love and good works, she had absolutely nothing to pay for her sins or earn her way into heaven, but in faith she could claim that Jesus had paid for it all for her. And because of her faith in Him, she will dwell in his house forever. She is happier now than she has ever been before or ever could be on this earth. In this we take comfort.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
- John 5:24
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