“Ma’s not well, you best come quick.” We boarded a plane a week ago yesterday.
Minnesota welcomed us with one of the biggest snowstorms of the season. And although the official start of spring is less than two weeks away, the frigid monster has sunk its icy teeth and refuses to leave.
My-oh-my how things change in such a short while. Ma was sitting up smiling and talking the Sunday we arrived. Now, sweet mother Mary can barely move her arms. And she’s all but stopped eating and drinking.
Her food is the consistency of applesauce, and she only eats a teaspoon or two a day. She’ll ask for cold water and sips a little at a time through a straw. A congested cough follows each sip. Her water intake is about a cup a day.
Her words are not much more than a gargle. However, in spurts she’ll talk clear as a whistle, and then nod off to rest. Sometimes she speaks of the here and now, and other times she talks of things far and away that have no earthly meaning as far as we can tell. Some say it’s the medication and others say it’s because she’s hovering between this world and the next.
She’ll usually recognize a new visitor. Her eyes will pop open; she’ll smile and whisper their name. Her arms will raise a few inches and then drop back to the bed—a sign that she wants a hug.
Most of her time is spent sleeping.
Her breathing is less than rhythmic. Her chest rises and then drops all at once with a quiet groan.
For us, the days have become a revolving door between visiting and attempts to eat and sleep. At times they all collide and we eat and sleep and visit all at once in Ma’s room. Some are running on empty with little to no sleep, driving back and forth to visit and spending nights on watch while still somehow managing to maintain jobs and responsibilities.
Sweet Mother Mary is not the only one suffering from the pangs of death. The entire family swings pendulum style over deaths door. With each pass sliding a little further down grief’s fraying rope. Each heart tries to hold on but the gravity of the moment pulls and burns and rips the heart raw.
Everyone hangs by a thread and hopes for hope.
The thread of denial at first blurs the vision and slips into anger and blame and division. Guilt and regret over words and deeds, said and unsaid, done and undone pull like an anchor tied to the heart. Back and forth, swinging the emotional gamut; twisting and clawing in search of an emotion that won’t sting.
Sweet Mother Mary dangles by a thin thread as she rests and waits and hopes and prays.
Someone sees another rope—another strand. It hangs loose beside—not over—death’s door. It looks thin and weak and impossible to reach.
The little strand beckons. It has the word, acceptance, woven in its fiber.
One weary soul calls to the other. Together they work and in unison they swing toward the rope of acceptance.
One by one they let go of grief unraveled and grasp the strand that looks so weak. And as they do, a strange thing happens. The thin strand grows thick and strong and easy to hold. They help each other cross from grief to acceptance and climb down beside death’s door.
Sweet Grandma Mary smiles at their efforts. Peace rests in her soul.
Her greatest prayer has been for her children to love each other as she has loved them—her greatest fear is that they wouldn’t. She learned the prayer from Jesus—it’s the same one He prayed before He passed through death’s door. That we would love each other as He loves us. (John 17)
When the children stand united by Love, death doesn’t look so scary.
“O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” echoes from behind the door.
The words of Jesus ring like an anthem, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.”
Standing at the threshold of death—life becomes clear. No earthly treasure can be carried through—only what the heart can store.