I hope you will find comfort and an outlet for your emotions in this post, as I share what it was like as my mother drifted away from leukemia in March 2010. It is excerpted from my book, Navigating Life's Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey, which I wrote while grieving the loss of my mother. I feel that she is my spiritual co-author, allowing me to birth this work in the midst of those intense emotions of loss.
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We should feel sorrow, but not sink under its oppression.
Seems like a lot of the TV movie dramas of the 1960s and 70s portrayed some band of travelers journeying across a desert in a faraway land. I watched these shows, mesmerized by their bravery at undertaking such dangerous treks. Periodically, one of these travelers would stop to get their bearings and in a flash find him or herself sinking in quicksand. One moment they’re standing there and the next the ground beneath them gives way and down they go. Fellow travelers would try to pull them out, throwing ropes or grabbing their hand. Some were saved, some were not and still others were pulled down with their sinking companion.
I saw that as I watched my mother die, crossing the bar slowly.
For months my mother had complained to doctors about extreme fatigue until she could hardly move. Her primary care doctor had run a series of tests that were inconclusive, then finally decided to admit her to a local hospital in late June 2009. Further examinations and laboratory procedures revealed the leukemia in my mother’s body. Once she was diagnosed— things moved fast. She was transferred to a larger hospital in Richmond that was also a cancer center. Many treatment protocols and lots of prayers were thrown her way; one or two caught hold. Numerous rounds of intensive chemotherapy, accompanying medications for infections and other side effects are what she endured during a two-month stay in this hospital. With constant family support, my mother fought back hard through mind and body. My sister and I camped out at the hospital and our brothers and uncles also maintained a steady presence. Finally, a third bone marrow test for the leukemia was clean. Everyone was ecstatic— crying in the joy of her beating this ugly disease. She could come home and things would slowly return to what we knew as normal for our family. Thank you Lord for answering our prayers. Another line of life was extended to our mother.
But it wasn’t over.
An underlying condition took control of my mother’s body and a slow and painful transition began. Multiple doctors’ visits along with more medical procedures and drugs to save her defined the next few months. A couple of more hospitalizations, a last minute major surgery and then…it was over. Heart stopped, life support pulled, stopped breathing— gone. Ushering her through those final days…then hours…beckoned every grain of my being.
It played out like a bad movie.
The next wave of going and grieving started; planning her funeral, having her homegoing service, moving through the glorious and painful memories, and then ultimately facing this altered family structure. Traveling on without her has been surreal for me. I continue to wonder, What has happened? Where is she really? I felt a need for answers.
A couple of weeks after my mother passed I was at home in my kitchen when I heard something fall inside the doors to the pantry. I thought it was odd since I hadn’t been in the pantry to disrupt anything. When I opened the doors I saw a packet of coffee on the floor. I couldn’t figure out why it’d fallen. As I thought about this – in a flash, it hit me! These were the coffee packets I would bring back from my hotel rooms during business trips. Knowing how much my mother loved a good cup of coffee, I would then bundle the collection and take these packets to her. Wow, that packet of coffee falling was a sign from my mother that she knew I would understand. I smiled and found comfort. Gone? No way. An altered presence in a better place, yes.
Tragedy and death for those who are a part of our families and love journey can come quickly or slowly. We will be sad, then sadder, sinking into the somber of night.
How do we come up out of this kind of sorrow?
We have to believe and know that ‘by and by’ the pain will lessen. In the meantime we reflect and mourn. Cherishing special moments of my mother’s final days sooth and sadden. In those ticking away times, I continued to pray for an encore of God’s miracle, spending as much time with her as possible. She and I recited poetry and sang spirituals in her hospital room. My mother especially loved poems and I remember hearing her recite the words by heart to a number of them throughout the years. At that time, her body weakened from surgery, pain and disease with barely an audible voice, she mouthed the words anyway —to the song “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” and the poem “I think that I shall never see a poem a lovely as a tree”. She eventually stopped talking or even moving her lips as those last few days ensued.
Once the life support was removed all of us her children spent the night at the hospital. As the next day approached, we started making other letting go preparations and others went off to those tasks. I stayed with my mother until she took her last breath, and as a friend of mine noted…my mother had been there when I took my first breath...the circle of life.
Mourning remains hard for me. Looking for comfort in the time tested songs of my faith relieves some of my angst. One of the hymns I asked the choir to sing at my mother’s funeral was “It Is Well With My Soul”. The words in the song that speak to my needs are:
“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.”
My mother is travelling on a new journey—an eternal one. And I’ve got more to see here. It is and will be alright.
We will too navigate those sands of time one day.
Excerpted from my book, Navigating Life's Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey. Available at: amazon.com or https://www.createspace.com/3485635