At 12:55am on Wednesday the 10th of October in the year 2012 my mother passed away. I was with her when she went and so were my adult son and daughter. My sister had gone home to get some rest and my brothers had not yet arrived.
It was the third night of our vigil and I was exhausted. I had gone to bed in the room provided for us by the nursing home and left my son and daughter to sit with Mum while I grabbed a couple of hours sleep to keep me going. My son came knocking on the door and said he thought it might be time so I put on my bright, aqua coloured, dressing gown and rushed to her side.
She looked at me and, for the first time in three days, I think she actually saw me. I will always wonder if it was what I was wearing. Did she think she was looking at the sky on a sunny day? Is that what got her attention?
My mother had picks disease, a form of dementia, and it gradually took away everything she valued most. She had always been a very private woman. She radiated pride, dignity and independence. In many ways she was quite reserved but she had a wide circle of friends and she was very sociable. Dementia stripped all of those things away from her as the years passed. When I arrived at the nursing home the only sign of life left in her was her breathing. She couldn’t speak or move and she didn’t seem to be seeing or hearing anything. I couldn’t be sure she even knew I was there until her last few minutes.
Now she was looking right at me. If I moved her eyes followed me so I leaned over and looked into them. As we gazed deep into each others eyes I felt she was trying to tell me something but I have no idea what it might have been and I can only hope I guessed right.
Earlier in the night we had turned off the light above her bed leaving the light over the opposite bed to light the room. We thought it would be gentler on her eyes but, as soon as we did that, she became distressed. We turned the light back on and she relaxed so we wondered if she was afraid of the dark.
My mother was a born again christian but she lost that too as dementia took hold. Even when she was her normal self she did not seem to worship the same God I did. My God is the God of the New Testament. A God of love and forgiveness. Mum’s God appeared to be the God of the Old Testament. A harsh and demanding God who was all about laws, sacrifice, and punishment.
I know death is nothing but the doorway to heaven but, perhaps, Mum wasn’t so sure now that her time to pass through it was close so I did everything in my power to reassure her.
As she took her last breaths her firstborn child was stroking her face and telling her everything was going to be OK. Her first granddaughter was holding her hand and radiating love and comfort while, further down the bed, her first grandson was also radiating love and comfort as he gently stroked her knee.
When she took her final breath we held our own breath and waited to see if she would take another but the seconds ticked by and we gradually realised she was gone. I asked what time it was and my daughter checked. She told me the time and then we waited a few more seconds. We couldn’t believe she really was gone. I tried to check her pulse but she was so thin I was afraid I’d break her.
When I realised we weren’t going to be able to tell if she was really gone we called in the nursing staff and they felt for a pulse and said there was none.
We left the room so they could prepare her body for the undertaker. When I went back in she was on her back with a single pillow under her head and, on one corner of the pillow, sat a red flower.
I sat with her until the undertaker came and, the whole time, I kept checking to see if she had started breathing again. I watched as they gently slid a sheet under her body and wrapped her in it. I stayed with her as they lifted her onto their trolley and covered her with a cloth and then with a waterproof cover. I walked beside her all the way to the hearse and I watched as they loaded the trolly into the hearse as gently as if my mother was still alive.
It started to rain as soon as Mum died and I think the rain was angel tears. I think the angels were all weeping with joy as they welcomed Mum into heaven. I think they were so glad she was finally going to find love, joy, peace, understanding and forgiveness. Those things were all pretty scarce in her life from start to finish so I hope and pray, with all of my heart, that they are outlandishly abundant in her afterlife!
I didn’t always love my mother this much. She made a lot of mistakes over the years and I held all of them against her for a long time. It wasn’t until I went to university and studied psychology that I developed an understanding of her and finally realized she was as good a mother as she could have been under the circumstances. I can’t forget all the things she did that hurt me but I have forgiven them. My son thought I hadn’t forgiven because he heard me remembering and he suggested now was the time to forgive her. I told him, and my mother, there was absolutely nothing to forgive as far as I am concerned.
Even if I had any lingering grudges it would take a harder, colder, more inhuman heart than I have to think that she wasn’t punished enough. If seven long years in a nursing home feeling (as she wrote in a notebook) “like a dog having to beg all the time”, losing everything that matters to you, being taken care of by strangers, being visited by strangers because you don’t recognise family or friends, being in constant pain from arthritis or whatever it was that caused the deformed bones in her knees, and a long drawn out death was not punishment enough for whatever she may have done wrong then I don’t know what would be!
Mum left a tape behind. It was recorded at church when she was still her normal self. It was her Christian testimony and, if I remember correctly, it focused on her own battle to forgive the wrongs that were done to her and what she gained from forgiving those who hurt her. I don’t know if the tape would even work any more but I know for certain Mum would have liked to see it played at her funeral. I suggested it but the suggestion was rejected and I didn’t insist. Mum once told me she would come back and haunt us if any of her children fought over anything when she died. If I had insisted there would have been a fight. I asked to have the tape given to me instead. I will listen to it and, maybe, I’ll get my kids to play it at my funeral instead!
I wasn’t the greatest daughter. I caused a lot of heartache during the years I couldn’t forgive my mother and I wasn’t as frequent a visitor to her in the nursing home as I should have been. I asked her to forgive me for that during the three nights that I sat with her. I’m sure, if she could have, she would have said she forgives me.
Rest in peace Mum. I have a way still to go before I pass through the door to heaven but you closed your eyes to the sight of my loving face and opened them to the sight of Gods loving face some time out there in the future. You deserve all the happiness I am sure God is giving you right now and I look forward to seeing you enjoy it when I join you there!