God blessed me with the gift of a godly mother, a blessing that would impact my life in innumerable ways over the six decades we shared. Raised as an only child after my baby sister passed away, my bond with Mom was strong and multi-faceted. She could be a firm disciplinarian, but she was also my best friend and closest confidant.
When my 39-year-old husband, Ray, passed away suddenly, Mom and Dad moved to Georgia to help me and my then 7- and 10-year-old daughters navigate life without our beloved husband and father. In the ensuing 24 years, my daughters, son-in-law, and three grandchildren also benefitted from her selfless, unconditional love and unwavering faith.
I couldn’t imagine life without her. As a child, I would sometimes hope we’d die together in an accident of some sort. Little did I know then that a day would come when I’d sit by her hospital bed and plead with the Lord to take her Home. But it did.
Unlike my husband’s sudden, unexpected loss, I lost Mom bit by bit over the last few years of her life. Tiny but determined, she continued to take care of her home and loved ones even as arthritis and osteoporosis took a greater and greater toll on her physically. Then came some red-flag moments signaling a decline in her mental abilities— her request for help balancing her checkbook even though she’d worked in banking for years, the inability to successfully bake a cake she’d made countless times over 50 years. Those moments alarmed and saddened me.
Gradually, our roles shifted as I assumed more caregiving activities. Mom would often tell others, “I don’t know what I’d do without Patsy. She’s the mother now.”
Or she’d tell me, “Thank you for your help. I can’t ever repay you.” I’d remind her, every time, of the years she’d invested in my children and me, lavishing so much love and care on us, and that if we were keeping accounts, I’d be the one forever in her debt.
Bound by love, we knew there was no record-keeping between us. Yet, there was a growing sense of sorrow as we experienced our changing roles and limits on what we could do together.
I began to pray Mom wouldn’t outlive her mind and that there would never come a day when she wouldn’t know me, a painful trial several of my friends have faced with their dear mothers.
The Tipping Point
Early on the morning of April 20th, Dad called to tell me Mom had fallen and most likely broken her hip, one of the things we’d feared the most. I rushed to my parents’ house, a mere two miles from mine. As we awaited the arrival of the EMTs, I attempted to comfort both my parents, all the while trying to quell the panic rising within me.
After assessing her condition, the paramedics carried Mom, cradled in her sheet, to the waiting ambulance. I wanted to believe she’d make it back home, but seeing the pain on her face and knowing how fragile she was, I silently conceded it was unlikely.
Still, my dad, daughters, son-in-law, and I focused on the goal of bringing Mom home. We agreed to surgery to repair her hip, arranged for a 24/7 caregiver, and had the necessary equipment delivered to my parents’ house.
We took turns staying with Mom at the hospital. We saw things I wish we’d never had to see, things I wish she’d never had to undergo. Mom was rarely still, constantly fidgeting and rearranging herself in her bed, begging to get up and go home. Bruises from the trauma of the fall, the surgery, and multiple blood draws, spread across her paper-thin skin and converged as large discolored masses.
Mom’s mind wandered, only occasionally connecting with reality, and she often talked to or about people who weren’t there. But God graciously answered my prayer— there was never a time when she didn’t recognize me as soon as she saw me.
We sang, prayed, comforted, and prayed some more. Days passed with no improvement. Confronted by a hoard of gut-wrenching decisions, Jehoshaphat’s prayer became my mantra, “Lord, (I) don’t know what to do, but (my) eyes are fixed on You” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
The Lord faithfully went before us, directing and redirecting our steps. And He used Mom’s misery to allow me to release her totally to Him. “O, Lord, please don’t let Mom suffer anymore. If we can’t bring her home, please take her Home to be with You.”
Ten days after she fell and barely 24 hours after being transferred to a tranquil hospice facility, the Lord granted my request. Mom drew her last breath, surrounded by loved ones, and passed peacefully into the presence of her Savior.
Over the years since Ray’s sudden death, I’ve wondered which is easier— to lose someone without warning or to watch them slip away. Witnessing Mom’s decline confirmed what I supposed all along— there is no easy way. On the one hand, every moment I had with Ray was typical, unclouded by the specter of death. But I didn’t get to tell him goodbye or how much I loved and appreciated him, something I was able to do with Mom multiple times over her last days. However, it came at the cost of images that haunted me for weeks before finally beginning to give way to those of Mom smiling and well.
No matter how it comes, death hurts because it wasn’t part of God’s good plan. Neither were aging, illness, dementia, or disability. But God doesn’t leave us alone in our misery. Our suffering Savior understands what it’s like to endure the hardships and failings associated with our flesh (Isaiah 53:3-4). Joined with Him in a fellowship of suffering, we are also assured of an eternity with Him where there will be no more pain or tears or death (Philippians 3:10-11, Revelation 21:1-4).
And so, in a mystery barely understood by believers, much less the world, we grieve with hope, rejoicing even as we sorrow. For we know our loved ones who’ve died in Christ are safe in His presence, and we will most certainly join them when He calls us Home.
About the Author:
Patsy often refers to herself as “Gardening Grammie,” a title encompassing two of her favorite pastimes. Widowed at age 38, she was blessed to be gainfully employed all the years she spent raising two daughters on her own. When her 30-year corporate career ended, she returned to school to study horticulture, a passion born of caring for the garden her husband left as part of his legacy. Patsy started her blog, Back 2 the Garden (patsykuipers.com), to tell others of God’s great faithfulness. Last year she realized a longtime dream when she compiled a number of her stories into a book, Be Still, Quiet Moments With God in My Garden. Patsy is a member of Grace Covenant Church in Dallas, GA, where she serves on the Women’s Ministry Committee and leads women’s Bible studies. When Patsy isn’t writing or playing in the dirt, you’re likely to find her spending time with her beloved grandchildren or catching up with a friend over a cup of tea.