Stairway to Heaven

It was a beautiful day.  The sun was bright in the sky of blue and breezes blew softly by the patio.  Whenever I passed the screen door, wind-chimes that dangled from the outside roof twinkled with melodies so dear.  Family gathered by my mother’s side.  Not many.  My father together with my sisters and brothers.  Mother sat upright in her favorite rocking chair, determined not to die in the same bed she had spooned my father in for over 56 years.  It was her last unspoken gift to him.  To this day, I’m not sure he ever got the connection, that final bit of will in her…but, I knew.

Mother’s chair of soft burgundy velvet, a gift from my sister years before was small and shaped to fit her itty-bitty body perfectly.  For as long a I remember, it sat under a rose-colored lamp.  The same one that shined above her petite head of wavy, graying hair where she knitted ruffled christening gowns for grandchildren, read her Bible daily, and hand-stitched needlepoint quilts for all five of her children grown.

The day was long as my mother struggled between this world and the next.  Her breathing became more labored while rays of sun stung the milk-blue of her eyes.  I remember finding dark glasses to fit her tiny face.  Finally, her body seemed to rest in preparation for her journey to Heaven.  Between comforting her and dispensing medication, my sister and I wandered out to the back of the yard where we prayed for God to take her while tears fell to our toes.

That evening, our family sat around the family dining table of walnut colored wood.  My father’s seat was the ladder-back chair directly in front of my mother’s resting spot.  So close, he could feel the warmth of her body while smelling the scent of her breath.  Softly we spoke, reminiscing about the years gone by.  We laughed about little things while listening to Mother’s favorite music from dark speakers connected to an older CD player in the foyer, nearby.

It seemed to be the first time in a week that we had time to sit down together.  Minutes to share love and respite from the emotional toil of a soon-to-be, finality.  Fluted paper plates in a Thanksgiving theme held our dinner of take-out tacos made of  golden corn. Shredded green lettuce, yellow cheddar cheese and red salsa on the side.  Between bites, my father’s hand reached behind his chair to gently touch the nape of my mother’s neck.  A silent gift of love and loyalty from him to her. What message was in that simple touch? Their many years together would be ending soon.  How my heart ached for this humble father of mine who wanted nothing more than to love my mother forever and always!

Joining hands in prayer, we asked God to ease my mother’s suffering.  Peaceful lyrics continued to give us a sense of strength in the background while wind-chimes of brass and glass danced to music a few feet away.  So close were the sounds of our voices together with the melodies, that I wondered if my mother could hear all that was comforting and familiar to her?   If so, perhaps it would help her transition into God’s afterlife?

A few minutes later the phone rang.  Wiping his hands free of taco crumbs, my father answered it.  On the other end was my youngest brother, who lived about an hour away. He was of course, calling to check on Mom.  In that very second we learned that she was gone.  “Oh, my God,” my father said, in anguish.  Through tears, my ‘baby’ brother responded, then. “Dad, I had a feeling.  I just knew…..My other brother, who was with us let out a the most terrible wail.  Deep and guttural like the cry of an animal.  I shall never forget it.  His heart shattered into a million pieces, scattering them to the wooden floor below.

By then, my mother’s soul was surely being carried by Angels to the Stairway of Heaven.  Instinctively and without thinking, I removed the clear, stiff oxygen tube from her soft, delicate nose.  It was no longer needed and she hated it so.   At last, my mother could breathe freely on her own.

She Breathes Freely with God in Heaven Above.  I love you, Mom.



The Day Before Her Last

*Originally Posted on 11/19/2013

My mother’s yellow roses are wilted now.  Edges of curled brown buds barely cling to their coffee-colored vines.  They bend ever so slightly to the left or to the right from evening temperatures turning oh-so-cold.  Within a day or two, they’ll have to be cut down in final preparation for next spring.  Yes, gentle spring when life begins anew.

Early this morning, I opened my patio door to breathe in a gust of fresh fall air.  It slammed me hard and quick.  High in the sky was a still bright moon, spectacular in sight. Then, clouds moved in to shadow it with a thin veil of grey, giving it an almost ghostly appearance.

Three years ago today was the day before my mother’s last.  It was the most painful one for her living on this earth.  The worst for her loved ones to bear.  The hospice nurse told me to gather my siblings and so I had.  After they arrived, I anticipated scenes from a movie, I guess.  The ones where sisters and brothers take turns having private time with their dying mother.  It was not to be.  In the same manner that a new parent recognizes the cry of their newborn, caretakers know the difference in their patient’s signals and signs.

It was too difficult for my mother to speak near the end, and so she did not try.  We had our own way of communicating without saying a word.  She lay on her side, trying to lessen the pain, I suspect.  There, her slender hands were open to me.  A slight inward movement meant, “Come closer, I need something.”  Perhaps it was an extra bed sheet or slight sip of water?  An outward turn meant, “No more, I’ve had enough.”  Occasionally, she moved her hands back and forth.  “Please don’t touch me,” they silently said.  “My body hurts me so.”  A hand rising abruptly meant, “NO!  Do not let anyone come near me.”

My mother’s cooling touch guided me towards granting her last wishes.  As arduous as it was for loved ones to understand, she couldn’t bear to be seen in such a deplorable condition.  She wanted peace, to be left alone.  Without time for explanation, I became the designated gate-keeper, of sorts.  It was a role I did not choose.  Rather, it was chosen for me.

I don’t remember how I became my mother’s caretaker.  My father was of course her, “Number One,” leaving my middle sister with other roles to play.  I was simply there to keep charts, dispense medicine and give the proper answers to intuitive questions.  I had done it for many years while raising chronically ill children.  I was good in a crisis and could pocket away emotions if only for a minute…..much like a doctor or a nurse must do.

The time spent with my mother as a caretaker was a privilege I will forever cherish.  Through wordless gestures a lifetime was discovered that I’d never known before.  It was the very last thing I was able to do for her.

The very last thing……

Clouds Across the Moon

The Innocents

I never know what I’m going to write about on any given day.  The tips of my fingers slightly touch the keys of my keyboard, ultimately printing words that appear on the screen. 

Invariably my post portrays portraits from the past, Lessons Learned from living with Chronic Conditions.  Not today.  When I shivered under bedclothes last evening, it wasn’t the drop in temperatures that kept me from falling asleep.  Images from CNN flashed through my head as I rested upon my pillow.  Entering my dream state, miniature golden keys unlocked sealed hidden doors to render unimaginable images from the Philippines.  Massive destruction, miles of devastation, and bloated images of lifeless bodies were everywhere the cameramen could shoot.

Husbands lost wives, wives lost husbands and children had become orphans.  Anderson Cooper profiled a woman whose family had sought shelter from the storm in a bus, now violently flipped over, lying on its side.  When the surge washed over her family’s ‘safety net,’ she lost her husband together with six children.

Watching Mr. Cooper’s report, my eyes welled with tears.  If it had been me, I’m not sure how I would have gone on with life?  Yet there she was, walking through piles of rubble in bare feet, carefully covering her dead loved ones with the finest plastic garbage bags she could gather.  To her they were gifts of dignity.  Treasures others did not have.   All the while she searched for three dead children, not yet found. 

Entire families had been swept away with blackened sea mud and painted wooden sticks of what thousands used to call “home.”  Before the typhoon struck, people of the Philippines were happy and surviving.  They made a life and living in a land they loved.  For many, the ground beneath their feet was the only soil they had ever run their fingers through.  

As of yesterday, people who have survived don’t know where to go or what to do.  If they want to leave, how do they get out?  There is no working airport.  

On television I heard deep gutteral wails as young and old cried tears of unknown grief.  Far too many have nothing left, nowhere to rest their weary bodies or weakened minds.  

These people, no different from you or I,  have not been given the most simple of commodities in order to live.  Food, water, shelter, or medical care.  Some of it has arrived, but there is no way for it to reach those who so desperately need it.  The survivors of the typhoon are miracles.  They know this to be true.   Yet, they ask themselves, “How will I survive the aftermath?” 

 In the end, what hurts my heart the most are portraits of the Innocents.  Children’s faces, their dark eyes blank and wide in shock, hang tightly to any parent left.  They are too afraid to let go.  Tiny toddlers clutch their mother’s weeping bosom for comfort.  Newborn infants suckle their emaciated mother’s breast for life to sustain them.  Sadly, milk may not produce another day.  I fear for these children, the lambs of God.  What will happen to them tomorrow or the next day, or the day after that?  

The situation in the Philippines will not render itself better anytime soon.  It’s going to take a lot of  time, work and effort from all around the world.  In the interim, people are dying every single day.  People like you and me.  Your children and mine. 

 When I woke this morning, my husband tuned the television to CNN.  The news I watched the night before was not a dream.  I knew it before I fell asleep…I know it now.  I grieve for the people of the Philippines.

I ask you to think of them.  To light a candle, say a prayer and help in any way you can.


The Circle of Life

It was news no one wanted or expected to hear.  “Your grandmother has cancer.”  Not long after I discovered a new life within me, my mother discovered  she was losing her own.

My mother has  since passed away from cancer.   I now understand the emotional pain she must have endured when her mother was diagnosed with the disease.  Today, many cancers are often treated as “chronic conditions” to be lived with for a lengthy period of time.  No one but God knows how long the time stamp will be.

My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with late stage, ovarian cancer.  It was a particularly aggressive form of the disease and difficult for doctors to treat.  Month after month my mother, together with her two remaining sisters watched my grandmother slowing slip away from them.  She lived for nearly two years after her diagnosis.  It’s never long enough…………

My grandmother was a remarkably strong and defiant woman.  She fought the war of cancer with courage as any soldier would.  I remember going to the Elks Club for Mother’s Day Brunch in May of 1988.  Our hope was that she would enjoy the aroma of the party-pink carnation pinned to her breast, feel the warmth of the Arizona sun shining upon her face, and be without pain for one entire day.  Just “one.”  Instead, she tightened her thin arms around her mid-section, a sign and signal that all was not well.  She tried her best for our sake, to take a bite or two.   Then the pain of cancer came, not allowing many a morsel to melt upon her tongue.  As triumphant as she fought, her calculated opponent was winning the battle.  My grandmother raised her white flag, saying she wanted to, “rest.”

Two months later I gave birth to my second son, the last child I would ever carry.  He was a big boy, weighing in at 9lbs, 4oz.  I was blessed that my grandmother was well enough to see the two us.  My mother brought her to the hospital shortly after my son was born.  Sweeping him up from his bassinet, she gently lifted a limb to exclaim, “Oh, look how long his legs are. He’s a beautiful boy, a linebacker for sure!”

15 months later my mother lost the woman who birthed her, warmed her by the stove, and worked two jobs when the “ways of the world” warned her to stay home.  What did I lose?  A lady who hid a parcel of strength in my pocket for the future.  A woman who taught me to shuck peanuts at Tiger stadium while she drank a beer.  A feisty gal who boxed ‘bigger’ boys when she was young, yet wore high heels to work at the discount store.  Sadly, my baby sons lost their great-grandmother, a lover of “little lambs” who they later knew only through scrapbooks pasted together by generations who came after her.

The Circle of Life.

My maternal grandmother holding her newborn great-grandson in 1988. Presenting him with his first birthday cake on July 16, 1989.

My maternal grandmother holding her newborn great-grandson in 1988. Presenting him with his first birthday cake on July 16, 1989.