This is about what I learned when it comes to life as a result of my Mom’s illness and death. This is a personal reflection I want to do on the one month anniversary of my Mom’s passing. One month ago, today at 6:24 in the evening, my family was broken. These are some lessons I have learned as I reflect back on the situation and what I wish others would learn from me.
“Death is a path, one which we all must take.”
“Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.”
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
John 14:2 RSV
I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on what I learned about life as a result from the illness and death of my Mom on April 1, 2017. As I have processed and thought back on everything I realized that there are some take aways that I hope can be passed on to younger people or those who find this blog while searching about some of the stories I have written about. In this period of grief as I adjust to the reality that my Mom is gone there is a lot I have contemplated. So as I reflect on life for the last four months these are some lessons that I have learned.
Honor and Respect Your Parents
This is the first and most important take away that which is on my mind. Parents should always be respected and honored in life. After all when I was younger they put clothes on my back, gave me food, and helped me with life, in the good or bad situations. Mom and Dad were there for me when I was growing up. When my Mom became ill I realized the severity of it when I walked into a hospital room in December of 2016. My Mom is to be respected because she is my Mom. Knowing the illness and what was happening I had to honor my Mom and be there for her. In my situation distance could not be a factor. I had to help her and be home to support her both in the hospital and home. When your parent gets ill you have to step up and support them. They are your Mom and Dad after all…why wouldn’t you do such a thing? I placed a lot of stress on myself by how much I traveled. Plus I had to arrange my finances to accommodate the situation. But one should always honor and respect your parents. In this case I wanted to respect Mom and that came through. Not just to Mom, but to the family, friends and even neighbors who told me later on. But the most important aspect I learned from late December until April 1, 2017 is that Mom had to be honored. Her entire life she is to be honored but especially in the last stages of her life.
Life is Short
Life is short and it often goes in ways that we often do not think of. Life is funny because at some times it seems long and yet in other times it seems like 2 years passed before you know it. The concept of time changes as one ages. But one thing I learned is that you do not take life for granted. Travel to Europe when you are in good health. Enjoy that alcoholic beverage while your body can do so. Engage family and friends while they are still around. Don’t say, “Well, I’ll contact Jim tomorrow…” because the reality is that Jim may not be there tomorrow. Life is short, remember that and think of your family, friends, job troubles, and more in that perspective.
Much of What I Write is Stupid in the Context of Death
This one also popped in my head when I was traveling back to Washington, D.C. I have written about a lot of difficult situations from Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania to Acts 29 Redeemer Arlington and Fellowship Memphis. I am not going to tell you what happened there, you can go to the directory and look up the information on those places. But I thought to myself that it is stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, that conflict in those places are dragging on and unresolved. All this talk by many of these pastors and churches on being “gospel centered,” wanting to teach that Gospel, etc… and yet many of these places can’t do the basics of the Christian faith. Writing some of the stories I have done is foolish when you think of what the church claims to teach, how it acts, and how it can’t admit its error. But its stupid to have these situations drag on and consume life, as life is short. Some of these places that I have written about are absolutely evil.
Family is Redefined in Illness
The family unit can be incredibly adaptable. Family can change during illness and will be forced to change in the process of death. My Mom used to cook, clean and do laundry and more. When she became ill my sister stepped up and did that role. With my Mom’s death my sister has become the leader of the family. She is helping Dad with things around the house and stepping into the shoes that Mom once filled. Family is adjustable and in order to survive it has to adapt. I thought a couple of times as to what John Piper would have said to my sister running the house, and helping my Dad with his clothes and more. I thought of how my Dad has deferred to my sister at times and lets her call the shots. For many advocating a complementarian form of fundamentalism this would be unheard of and wrong. And yet its how my family is dealing with a curve that life has thrown us. A healthy family changes to the situation and that is what happened both in my Mom’s illness and then afterward with her death. The nuclear family which many evangelicals cling to is not grounded in reality.
Illness and Death Bring out the Best and Worst of People
People respond to illness in different ways. Some people get squeamish and have problems and others did not. Recently I heard a story from someone who became upset because as their Mom was dying a loved one who lived close didn’t visit as much in the hospital. This person was very fearful of the hospital and found it uncomfortable, and avoided it. When a severe illness is playing out you will learn a lot about a person by how they respond to the situation. My sister rose to the occasion and took care of Mom. She fed, changed wound dressing, checked insulin, took her to the doctor, helped her with the restroom, washed and bathed, cooked for my Dad, paid the bills, and more. The situation was so stressful for my sister that she lost 15 lbs in taking care of my Mom in four months time.
When my sister needed help I made myself available to her. My sister a couple of times asked me to call her and remind her to check Mom’s insulin during a difficult scare. We had to get through a 24 hour period on one weekend, after which we would get a new glucose meter. I stayed up late and called my sister. Then I got up in the middle of the night to call and remind her to check Mom. My sister and I were so close during this time that at 4:00 a.m. or so just as I was getting ready to call, I received a text saying Mom is okay. Then I called in the morning as I was getting ready and all was well. My sister needed an outlet, she needed someone to lean upon. I stepped up and became that person. When she had a difficult time with getting through to the doctors, I called. Knowing she needed support as much as my Mom needed care, I put myself in a difficult position and traveled home. Flying back and forth from the East Coast to the West Coast is not at all easy, but you step up and do it. I also supported my sister with a couple of notes, warm texts, and a couple of CDs. Illness and death results in some people stepping up to carry the heavy burden that exists.
Love is the Answer
In contemplating the situation there is a lot that can be said for a child’s love of their Mom. My love for my Mom was deep. That is why grieving is so hard to do. Love is being there for a parent when they need you. For me it also meant dropping everything and flying across country on the spot because you want to surprise and help Mom. Love is easy when you can talk to Mom, and kiss her forehead. Love is beautiful when you have a son crying and holding her Mom’s hand because she is cold and asks for you to warm it. Love is much more than that…these are some of the situations that I recall.
- Love is feeding Mom and telling her to take one more bite. And Mom laughing and saying, “Okay…”
- Love is thanking Mom each day for the way she loved, and raised you. Thanking her for the values she installed. For the sacrifices she made in raising me, and forgiving me when I was foolish, stupid or an idiot at times.
- Love is wheeling your Mom, in a wheelchair through a doctor’s office.
- Love is helping Mom get her pants on when she is on a portable toilet in the front room of the house and the medical transport arrives early for a doctor’s appointment.
But there is another aspect to love to, love is also hard when life is hard. And yet that love is to be given when it is necessary. Love shows itself in the following situations.
- Love is feeding your Mom when she has no idea of who you are.
- Love is giving your Mom glucerna when she is having delirium and trying to bite your finger. Despite what happens you still try and feed Mom.
- Love is having profanities shouted in your face and still engaging her even when the person is saying over and over “shit, shit, shit…”
- Love is being at the bank paying a mortgage when you get a text that Mom wants to see you. So one drops everything and heads to the hospital. Bills take second place to helping Mom.
- Love is being uncertain of how the day will go, and yet you hope for the best and prepare for another day in the hospital, even though you are exhausted and drained.
- Love is hearing your Mom cry in pain as the nurses are changing her fentanyl patches. As unpleasant and hard as it is…you stay close by to be near Mom.
- Love is knowing the medical equipment and talking with the nurses so frequently you start to become the nurse in a way.
- Love is being at the hospital at 12:30 at night because Mom is having problems breathing. One stays until the situation is stable and Mom is okay.
- Love is being woken at 5:00 and told that Mom is in the ICU, and going to the hospital when you are dirty, half asleep and tired.
- Love is staying and being with your Mom as she is dying. You are watching the blood pressure drop to zero, the pulse change, and the heart stop beating. Love is being there in that dark difficult time to tell Mom, “I love you..”when you are falling apart.
One thing I will say is that I have a sense of peace in knowing that I gave Mom 110% as she was ill. In light of how things went I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did all that I could and showed Mom love in the end. My conscious is clear, and I have peace knowing what I did. Its a gift I gave myself but working hard for my Mom is how Mom raised me.
But love plays out in other ways especially in support of the family. Love is the following:
- Love is doing the dishes every night.
- Love is cleaning out the fridge and washing it.
- Love is hugging Dad and my sister when they are down.
- Love is going on walks with Dad and the dog. Love is going out with Dad at 1 or 2:00 a.m. when the dog wants to go out.
- Love is calling the medical company and having all medical equipment removed after the death. You feel sick to your stomach but you don’t want people to be reminded of Mom’s illness. Love is going through of all medical bandages and supplies and detonating what is appropriate and properly disposing of unused medicine.
- Love is helping to clean out the storage unit and throw away junk and get rid of items that have built up to get a control on a situation.
- Love is hearing what your Dad wants to do in regards to travel and planning that to become a reality for him.
Leave Nothing Unsaid While you Have Time
When I was with my Mom I told her how much I loved her. How much I treasured her, and that I would be there for her. My Mom told me for years that I didn’t call enough, well that was wiped away in this illness. I came home so frequently that the neighbors and family friends noticed. During this time I wanted to communicate all that I could to Mom. I said all that I could, and held nothing back. While I did say all that I had to say, after my Mom died now I am thinking of other things I wish I could have said. Questions I could have asked, and more. My advice to anyone who reads this is the following. Say all that you need to say to people you love. Commit to and respect them, work out problems and issues. Don’t hold back, and communicate all that you need. When death comes its often too late to say what you need to say; so say it before hand.
When You Lose one Parent Your Relationship with the Remaining Changes Significantly
One of the things I have learned is that when you lose one parent, your relationship to the second one grows much closer. I knew Mom would die one day, just not this soon. I spoke with a couple of people recently who told me that their Mom was still hanging out laundry at 92 or 95. My grandmother lived to 100. I thought we were going to have more time with Mom, but that is not what happened. Now that Mom is gone, I am calling Dad daily. Checking in on him and hearing how he is doing. I need to send him some cards in the mail and work at that as well. I never took my Mom for granted but I want to cherish as much time as I can. I want to give him purpose and love, and something to look forward to.
You Learn Information at Funerals you Never Knew
When I was at my Mom’s funeral I had people I hadn’t seen in years that showed up. I also had people that showed up that I did not know who they are. I had a couple of people who I spoke with who told me some stories of my Mom and I heard stuff I wished I knew. One thing that stunned me is that one of Mom’s friends came up to me and told me that Mom was happy and proud of who I turned out to be, and was pleased that I flew home often to see her. I cried when I heard that because sometimes Mom didn’t know who I was. But to hear stories like that from old neighbors, friends, people she grew up with and more.
What is Normal When it Comes to Grief?
I feel lost..the other day it hit me that today is the one month anniversary of Mom’s death. I dreaded today, just as I dread Mother’s day. I have been asking myself what is normal when it comes to grief. Grief is unique and hard. Losing ones Mom is especially hard. I want to call her now but I can’t. At any moment I feel like she will call me or shoot me a text. The grieving process is different for everyone. Some people may react strange, my advice, is to be kind to them. Others will have mood swings and realize how frail and fragile they really are. I throw this last point out as I just asked myself this the other day. I spoke about it with my sister and we both are asking…what is normal now?