Ten Days On

Today is ten days since Mom passed away.

It’s been an uneven road. For the most part, I think, I’m doing OK. There are moments, though, and there are days that are better than others.

For instance, the other day I saw a trailer on TV for the new Disney movie, The Nutcracker. Oh good, I thought! Mom loves Disney, and she certainly loves The Nutcracker–she always used to collect nutcrackers, in fact. She’d love this, I should…take…her…oh yeah. Huh.

It’s little reminders like that that keep cropping up. Mary and I went to the funeral home to pick up Mom’s cremated remains, and we were stuck in the traffic created by the construction on Route 29 out by the nursing home. Boy, I’ll be glad when this construction is over, I thought…then it occurred to me, I won’t have to drive over here anymore. Oh yeah. Huh.

In these moments of sadness, though, it’s still been possible to find joy. Remember, joy isn’t happiness: there’s not much to be happy about in this at all. But joy is a product of God: it is the security, serenity, and yes, joy, of knowing God and knowing his grace. I can still find joy, in the absolute conviction that Mom has attained the healing that escaped her here. She has a glorified body now, one that works when she wants it to, one that won’t cause her to fall or develop infections, one that’s free of every trace of Parkinson’s Disease. She can run and play with her dog, Kep, in ways that she never could here. And she has claimed the prize of faith.

joy

There is much to be done, administratively, that will be tiresome. There are the dark moments when I wish I could just hear her voice again, or know that hopeful look she would give when I visited. Or take her down to the fish pond one more time. But I also know, she is experiencing the restoration of all things. And in that, despite the darkness, I can take joy.

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It’s Not Goodbye, Mom

My mom, Sandy Stoddert, 76, passed into eternity Saturday night.

Mom had struggled valiantly against the effects of Parkinson’s Disease since 1985…yes, for 33 years, and since she was 43, she’s been dealing with it. She fought to keep her independence as long as she could, taking in home-based aides for the last five years she lived in her home in Vermont. Then in 2011 she admitted it was time for more help, and she chose to move to Virginia into an assisted living home in Woodbridge. But the disease kept after her, and in parallel she began developing a series of infections that later would weaken her kidneys to the point they couldn’t cope. Just before Christmas 2016, she moved into her nursing home, and it’s there, surrounded by those who have cared for her, that she died.

I’d seen this coming for awhile, although the actual end was a little faster than I’d expected. She developed her final infection in mid September, and this time her kidneys didn’t respond. Her brother, and my sister, each came down to say what they needed to say to her last weekend.

Then it was my turn.

You see, when my dad passed ten years ago, the decline from his surgery to his passing was only six weeks, and much of it was spent in hope of recovery. But when it became obvious that his story wouldn’t end well, I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye. It was more about me, more about asking forgiveness for my own shortcomings, than about him and what was about to happen.

Enter God: he got my attention in one of the class lectures last week. The professor had in someone to talk about her call, and what she does (she’s a chaplain at a hospital in Kentucky). And when she started talking about the four things she wished everyone had the chance to say to a loved one who’s dying, I really sat up and paid attention.

I used that, then, as the basis for my own talk with mom last Wednesday.

  1. One, I forgive you. I forgive you your role in my parents’ divorce and what that meant to me at the time, I let all that go.
  2. Two, please forgive me. Forgive me for all the times I didn’t show you love, when I put myself first.
  3. Three, here’s what you meant to me. You gave me your love of reading and books, your love of history and government, and you were the one to make sure I got to church. And so here I am, a senior executive in the government and trying to follow Christ as he leads into this new adventure…and yeah, I wrote a book too.
  4. Four, I love you, and it’s OK to go. The last words I heard her say to me were on Monday, when she said she was tired. And so I told her it’s OK, we’ll be fine. My sister and I are doing OK, and all the grandkids are launching into their own lives just as you’d want them to. Go ahead and rest. Go find your beloved dog Kep, and play with her again. And take hold of the healing that we just can’t get for you here. Oh, and by the way: I love you.

Three nights later, she passed away. Go in peace, mom, and savor all the restoration that’s available now in Christ. I’ll see you again soon enough.

(PS: Here’s her obituary.)

Mom’s Ailing

I’m having to come to terms with the fact that my mother perhaps has very little time left among us.

About ten days ago, she developed an infection that affected her kidneys, causing them to be ineffective at metabolizing sodium, among other things. This is at least the third such infection in the last 14 months, and it got to the point this week that my sister and I have put her on a do-not-resuscitate, or DNR, order. She’s eating less, and at one point this week refused her medicines. The palliative care nurse practitioner noticed she looked a little sad Tuesday, and asked if Mom felt she was beginning to transition home. She nodded.

Large parts of this, of course, feel like when my dad was ailing ten autumns ago. He went in for open heart surgery, came out of that, developed complications, and slowly sank over the next six weeks: in mid September, he had surgery, and by November 6, he was gone. What feels the same is the slow-motion horror of the train wreck you can see developing and are powerless to stop.

It’s so much different from when Mary’s dad passed this summer, largely unexpectedly. And what feels different from my dad to my mom is that we’ve had 32 years to see this coming. Mom’s Parkinson’s Disease has reached a pretty advanced level, and so it’s entirely foreseen that some complicating factor will start to work on her. Still, it’s not easy seeing her drift away, unable to communicate well, weakening.

And yet, I have to confess to a certain peace about this. Perhaps because it’s been developing for so long, but also perhaps because of what I know. I know, for instance, that I’ve done all I can for mom, and so I really don’t think whether she knows I love her is in question. And all the more, I know there is a restoration of all things that awaits her. There is newness, wholeness, beyond anything we can imagine. Mom will be restored, not only to how she was before the PD afflicted her, but also to what she was always intended to be, in a resurrected body free from everything. This is the promise in Christ: this is the fruit of his resurrection, opening the way for us to follow him into glory. We don’t follow Christ because we get eternal life: we get eternal life because we follow Christ. Makes all the difference in the world.

The medical team hastens to say that the new antibiotics are working better, her numbers are improving, and in any case, it could be some time still, months even, before the end. But for the first time we are talking about an end, which in turn gives me hope for a new beginning. Alleluia...come, Lord Jesus.

 

Sudden Hard Turns

She got the call today, one out of the gray,
And when the smoke cleared, it took her breath away.
She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me.
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon.

–Mat Kearney, “Closer to Love”

I got the call myself this past Wednesday morning: my mom has been taken to hospital. I knew she hadn’t been feeling herself the day before, but I didn’t expect it was this bad. Kidney infection. I rushed over to the ER feeling anxious, more anxious than I had expected I would. She was asleep, and really groggy–not waking up. I was alarmed but the staff reassured me she was sleeping well, and needed rest more than anything.

Over the last few days we’ve learned that the infection had seeped into the bloodstream (boo) but was a bug that was very responsive to basic antibiotics (yay), so it should be on the easier side to treat. She’s still in hospital as I write on Sunday afternoon, four days later, and may or may not be released tomorrow.

But I’ve also come to appreciate how fragile my mom really is now, at 75 and after three decades with Parkinson’s Disease. Her mental acuity is duller, her speech is quieter, it’s harder for her to put into words what she’s thinking. There’s no way she could manage her own care now, and the move into a nursing home, which I’d kinda didn’t want to do last year, turns out to have been a good thing.

At present, the kidney function numbers and the blood test numbers are all moving in the right direction. This doesn’t appear to be more serious. But, of course, when it’s your mom, and it’s a hospital, you start to think about such things. Fortunately, I can say (at least today) that unlike my dad, there isn’t anything I haven’t said to her yet that I need to. And so in that regard, the idea of perhaps having to do this drill over something more serious someday doesn’t leave me with the feeling that I have unfinished business. Having the call come that my mom is in the hospital was a sudden hard turn that threw me on Wednesday. But it wasn’t as hard a turn as it could have been. For that I’m grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day?

My mother has had Parkinson’s Disease since she was 42. For the most part, the last three-plus decades were fairly benign to her, but this year finds her in a nursing home and wheelchair-bound. In photos from her high-school days in the late 1950s, she sits demurely, legs crossed at the ankles; today, that lifelong habit means she trips on trying to stand up, or walks unsteadily instead of with a firm base.

Each year for the past few, our Mother’s Day tradition has been to go out–I’ll take her clothes shopping for a new summer wardrobe, then we’ll get lunch or dinner out. And each year, it’s gotten progressively more challenging to accomplish: first adjusting to using the wheelchair, then, as her voice has gotten softer and her words less distinct, trying to listen for what she wants among the racks of clothes at Kohl’s.

This year’s wrinkle was that she hasn’t been as hungry, and so she didn’t want to get a meal after shopping. And while we never did anything extravagant–maybe just going to a diner, or out for a burger–it was still something I missed being able to do this year, and one more piece of evidence of how her long, slow fade continues.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

With each passing year, my mother becomes more a reflection of her former self. It’s painful to her, and to me, to know she is fading. And yet I can take heart, that while outwardly she is wasting, one day, Jesus promises, he will make all things new, and all the brokenness will be stripped away, and she will be like that teenaged girl once again.

Until then, we wait, we help her in and out of the car, we struggle to maneuver, and while we are sad at what changes each Mother’s Day brings, we can at least take some joy in being able to share one more holiday with her.

The (Long! Slow!) Fade

Last time I alluded to some challenges I’m facing in my family. Over the last month to six weeks, my mother’s health has taken a turn. She’s only in her seventies, and has had Parkinson’s Disease for nearly half her life. For the most part it was a minor annoyance for most of that time, but about eight years ago it began to jump up and reduce her ability to care for herself. That led me to move her into an assisted living home about six years ago.

Lately, she’s been getting weaker, and falling more often, leading her assisted living home to be alarmed that she’s beginning to exceed their ability to care for her. So now I find myself in the situation of once again searching for a care facility for her. This at the same time that several other significant events are happening in other parts of the family and work, all clamoring for scarce time.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength,” Paul wrote to the church at Philippi (4:13). There’s two ways to read that, depending which half of the verse you emphasize. First is the idea that I can do everything, as long as Christ is with me. There’s a lot of truth in that. And emphasis on the second half reminds me that it’s Christ who gives me strength. I can’t handle everything that Mom’s declining health, my job, my family are all throwing at me all at once. At least not alone. We hear often that “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle,” but that’s wrong. What Paul’s verse reminds us is that the truth instead is that God won’t give me anything I can’t handle with him through Christ. I have to surrender to Christ and God’s will in my life for me to be able to see something like this through.

I certainly pray that this latest twist in my mother’s health isn’t a harbinger of more to come, and that her descent into whatever it is that PD will have in store for her is a long, slow fade instead of a sudden decline like my dad’s. I also pray that Christ be with me throughout this ordeal. It’s a mad, mad, mad time to be me. At least I’ve learned the lesson that I don’t have to think it’s all on me: I have help beyond compare when I truly place myself in Christ’s hands.