For the past eight years my siblings in the DC area have been closely traversing the rocky road of terminal illness with our Mother. They have done a yeoman’s job caring for her through experimental treatments, a variety of medical plans and a host of doctors. The past year has been more down than up and the past six months have been totally crazy. Since January I have been to DC four times, each time thinking she was at the end. Our Mother was the poster child for mind over matter. I’ve never known anyone as strong-minded (stubborn) and determined to be in control of her life.
I’ve been using “roller coaster’ as a metaphor for the family’s journey with Mother and I believe it is accurate. Like a roller coaster ride, there have been high highs and low lows. Things have moved quickly and things have chugged bumpily along. And just like the roller coaster, when the ride comes to a very abrupt stop, there is a sense of disorientation. The ground feels unsteady. The stomach may feel queasy and the heart still skipping a few beats.
The past five days are a microcosm of the past six months. Friday morning, after finding that Mother had fallen during the night, my sister called 911 and she was carried to the hospital. Within the day we were told what we already suspected – Mother was terminal and death was imminent. She would need to go back into hospice (this would be the third admittance – the first one she discharged herself). On Saturday, we had multiple discussions with the medical staff and struggled with when to have the medicines that were helping her body function, turned off. She was alert off and on, understanding when we told her that she was very ill and that the doctors didn’t think she would make it. ‘What’s new?’ she wanted to know. She was okay with being in hospice — after she went home first. On Sunday, Mother was alert and complaining about being bored, asking if she were expected to just lay in the bed. We wondered if we had made the right decision and if she planned to prove the doctors wrong with yet another come-back. By Sunday night the next ICU doctor had information that conflicted with what we had been told the day before. On Monday, Mother was less aware of who was in the room with her. She had conversations with folk who were long dead in between sleeping fitfully. By Tuesday she was agitated, calling Grandma, having conversations with Daddy (complete with rolled eyes). She greeted me with a ‘hi baby’ when I came in but after that she didn’t know I was there. She was clearly in another place or on her way. It took much longer than we anticipated but she was moved to a hospital hospice space in the afternoon. This morning, without much ado and with none of us standing over her, Mother slipped away, the conclusion to a five-day roller coaster ride or the culmination of an eight-year ride.
It’s easy to think that those of us who know the Lord would be (should be?) exempt from suffering or watching those we love do so. However, believers aren’t exempt from the swirl of emotions that riding a roller coaster brings. Despite knowing God is the driver around every curve, over every hill and during every breath-taking drop, believers do not get a free pass from experiencing strong feelings after the ride is over.
When the ride comes to a conclusion, you still need to find your footing and that can be difficult. This applies to every person regardless to whether you are riding with someone for whom the trip is final or if you are there as support. Ultimately, death is a solo flight. When the ride stops, both the passenger on the Eternity Coaster and those waiting at the station, must know where they will find themselves: on solid or shaky ground and with God or not. Don’t take a chance. Know for sure.
RIP Claire. I love you and thank God for you.