One year ago, on this day, my mother died in my arms. That is not a metaphor, nor am I speaking figuratively. My mother quite literally died in my arms. And the crazy thing is that I’d been praying, begging even, for that moment to come. And I don’t feel guilty about that, not at all. You wouldn’t either, if you’d been there for her last days on earth.
You, like me, would know that some things are worse than death. That a lot of things, actually, are worse than death. And that triple negative, metastatic breast cancer that has spread to your liver and then to your spine, slowly causing you to be paralyzed yet still able to feel every single bit of the pain, is one of those things.
You’d also know that painkillers, used correctly, can give you back the person you love, however briefly. I’m completely aware that these days, painkillers also steal people away, sometimes. But one month before her death, when we finally realized how much pain she was in and the doctors finally treated her for it, her eyes lost the wild look that they had acquired and she was able to sleep when she needed to but most importantly she was able to be herself and be present with the ones that she loved. For that gift of time, between Christmas of last year and the end of January, I will be forever grateful. That time was bought with twelve-hour time release morphine, among other things, but it was time with her nonetheless.
And I am beyond thankful for that. I am also thankful for palliative care doctors, who understand that death isn’t the worst thing, who try to help people just not hurt and let you move beyond the false hope of the next treatment being the one that will be the cure, if you can just survive it. I am thankful for the hospice nurses who understood that as well. I’m thankful that they took that understanding and gave it arms and legs and hands; that they were willing to do things such as come over late in the evening to administer a pain relief patch when she could no longer swallow. I am thankful for hospice nurses for a myriad of reasons that I can’t even put into words.
But I’m especially thankful for the life of my mother, and for her faith that was so strong that even as she faced the end of her life, she was telling people about the peace that she felt. She was ready to go, and I am so, so honored that I got to be there when she did. I felt her leave, as I held her to my chest so that the hospice nurse could tend to her physical needs. When her spirit left her body, I knew. I knew it as certainly as I’ve ever known anything in my life.
I told my daughter yesterday, as we held each other and cried about what today means, that maybe we should think of February 6 as Grandmother’s Heaven birthday. As the day that she finally met Jesus face to face.
As the day she heard, at last, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy!” (Matthew 25:23) Because if anyone was ever good and faithful, it was her.