PATHWAY TO HIS PRESENCE
I never thought I could live in this world without my mother. That’s why the way God loved me through her passing will always be a beautiful, thankful remembrance.
I was teaching school and visiting her in another town as much as I could. At 94, she was in the nursing home, and my heart felt drained of joy because I could not take care of her myself. My plan was to take her to her home and stay with her after school got out for the summer. Roy was fine with that, and so I made my plans. However, Grace spoke to me suddenly and unexpectedly one afternoon in my classroom. Everything changed after that.
While sitting with a small group of kindergarteners, concentrating on their lesson, I heard a distinct voice deep inside.
“Go to the office and get a substitute for a half day tomorrow, and go see your mother.”
I had not planned to go the next day. I had just been there. I was going to wait a few days. But, because of the enormous love of God prompting me through grace, I made plans to go.
I immediately got up and did what the voice inside told me to do. The next day, I taught until noon and then left for my home town of Valdosta, Ga., about 45 minutes away. When I walked in my mother’s room, the scene had totally changed from when I had seen her last, which was only a couple of days before.
A hospice nurse was in Mama’s room, and she looked at me and said, “It’s grim. She only has a few more days. Okay?”
I stood by Mama’s side, talking to this dear lady whose life had so influenced mine, and I could not stop the tears. I asked her if she was hurting anywhere. She said she wasn’t. She was just tired. There was actually nothing wrong with her, except that 94 years of living had caught up with her. The hospice nurse brought no comfort. She had this agonizingly painful habit of putting okay at the end of each of her sentences.
“Everything is grim. Okay?”
“She only has a few more days. Okay?”
“I’m going to give her this medicine, and take her off of that medicine. Okay?”
“She just needs to rest now. Okay?”
I cannot begin to tell you how irritating her “okay?” was. She had the worst bedside manner I had ever known.
As for me, I was a total basket case. The reality of my mother’s death loomed over me like a heavy wave that was about to burst into a tsunami. I stayed by her side, just kissing her cheeks which always tasted to me like peppermint. Her food had been reduced to the mush they give patients who cannot chew. It was a terrible ending to the life of the mother I adored. And the hospice nurse with “Okay?” only made matters worse.
Sometimes I sat. Sometimes I stood. Always I cried.
Suddenly, prompted by a nudging within, I stood and walked to my mama’s side. I leaned over her. I was her baby, and she had known always how hard it would be for me to let her go.
But, it was time to let her go. I surprised myself with my words.
“Mama, I will be okay. Aren’t you ready to go join Daddy?”’ She said a weak “Yes.”
Of course, I was crying so hard when I said those words that she likely knew I really would not be okay. But, I said them. She heard them, and then I sat back down.
An overwhelming and beautiful rainbow of love began to envelop me. I believed then and I believe now that this was the Spirit of God holding me as my mama was getting ready to leave.
She put one hand in the air and began to move it as if trying to touch something. I don’t know what she saw, but I do know it was the Lord’s mercy reaching down to her.
And that word, mercy, began to move inside my soul. Mama did not need to linger in this world. As I kissed her and left for home, I asked the nurse how much longer she might have.
“Three days, okay?” I wanted to report her to somebody … and soon!
I only had a substitute for that one afternoon, so I headed home to prepare for teaching the next morning. All the way home, I prayed for mercy for my sweet mama.
I had no sooner walked in the door than my sister called. She had just gotten a phone call from the “okay?” nurse.
Mama was gone.
My reaction startled me. I immediately raised both hands in the air and said, “Thank you Lord for mercy for my mama!” Then, I walked all around my home praising God that she did not have to linger any longer in this body that had served her so well, but was now no longer of use.
However, for the okay nurse, I had other thoughts!
But Grace said … let that go.
And so I did, for the moment at least, but I struggled inwardly with her bedside manner for weeks to come. In the overall scheme of things, however, she was just doing her job, and I had more important things to concentrate on.
I wrote and delivered Mama’s eulogy. What an unbelievable honor.
To this day, 18 years later, my heart has Mama’s ending on earth emblazoned on it. I got to be with her shortly before she died. I got to tell her what I never ever in a million years would have thought I could do. It was all right for her to leave me.
It was beautiful and perfect. Mama had one foot on earth and the other in heaven, and I got to watch. I am so very thankful.
And, as for the “okay?” nurse? Well, I couldn’t let her ruin the glorious moment when I was given the awesome privilege to let my mother go and to see her reaching for something on the other side.
That was our moment. My mama and me.
And nobody – NOBODY – not even a hospice nurse with an irritating habit, can take that away from me.
The Rev. B.J. Funk is associate pastor of Central UMC in Fitzgerald. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.