Wednesday, May 27, 2020 is stuck in my head. It’s a day that’s on the hard drive of my heart and the images of that day play over and over in my mind. My eyes fill with tears every time I think of the last time I saw my mother. My sweet girl courageously battled Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for a few years and 2020 wasn’t kind to her at all. She’d been hospitalized several times but was still pushing through. Her illness escalated at full speed towards the end of March and she rapidly declined. Due to the pandemic, my sister and I were teleworking, and we took turns taking care of our mom.
Fluid had built in her legs and feet, stripping her of the ability to walk. Eventually, she couldn’t even stand. Massive swelling, constant shortness of breath, discoloration in her feet, leakage and blisters on her legs, a blocked lung, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and other issues left us broken and overwhelmed as we watched our beautiful girl deteriorate right in front of our eyes. The strong single mother who was the rock and head of our family was now confined to sitting in a recliner for two months.
My mom was taken to the hospital on May 13th. A week later, she was transferred to a rehabilitation facility. We were thrilled that she’d have the opportunity to recover so that she would come home healthy and strong, just as we were used to. I, along with everyone else who loved her prayed and prayed for her recovery and healing. I really thought it was a matter of removing the fluid from her legs along with physical and occupational therapy to build her strength to stand and walk again.
She spent six days at the rehab facility, and each day, she called my sister and me and begged for us to take her home. We didn’t understand why. We thought she was just frustrated, home sick, and ready to give up her fight. We knew she wasn’t better and still unable to walk, so we encouraged her to stay. Her doctors, case manager, family and friends all tried to convince her to endure the process from afar. Due to the pandemic, we couldn’t visit with her, so we knew that was even more difficult and lonely for her.
On Wednesday, May 27th, my mom called my sister and once again begged her to come take her home. This time, my sister couldn’t decline. We weren’t in agreement, but my sister felt she had no choice but to comply at this point. Later in the day when it was almost time to make the trip, my sister realized she had an obligation for work. She wouldn’t be able to pick up my mom after all, so I had to.
I called my mom and explained that my sister wouldn’t be able to come because she had to teach a class. I tried to convince her that coming home wasn’t the best idea at this time. With desperation in her voice she said, “Keah, can you just come and get me? Please, I’m begging you”. My heart broke into a million pieces, but this time, I didn’t decline either.
My cousin drove me to get my mom because I knew I couldn’t handle the drive on my own. Three nurses wheeled her outside to my car and my mom didn’t look like my mom at all. I hadn’t seen her in two weeks other than on Face Time and the sight of her broke my heart. But when she was wheeled outside, she smiled and said, “I’m free at last”. My sweet girl wanted to go home so badly and when she saw us, her eyes were filled with relief and hope. Her voice was cheerful and excited.
But just minutes later when she realized that she couldn’t even push herself up to stand, I watched my mother, my rock, the love and light of my life…crumble. Defeated and exhausted from the struggle of not being able to move any part of her body, she surrendered. I wept and held her face in my hands. Looking into her hazel eyes, I cried, “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I tried. I just can’t do it. I can’t get you home today. But I promise we’ll try again. I’m so sorry. I just can’t get you home”. She managed to say, “I know”.
Leaving my mother at that nursing home and seeing how heartbroken she was, is the most traumatizing experience I’ve ever had in my life. When she transitioned and left this world that Friday, May 29th, as sad as I was, my first words while on the phone with the doctor were, “You won, Mommy”.
I knew that God had answered my prayers. I knew that she was finally healed, fully restored, made new, and finally free. I knew that she had entered into an eternal rest which was God’s greatest, most amazing, precious gift to her. So honestly, that day didn’t hurt as much as that Wednesday did. I knew where she was and I knew that she was finally just fine.
Although I’ve known that for nearly five months, sometimes I can only see that dreadful Wednesday. My last day with her. The brokenness. The fear. The defeat. The sadness. The hurt. The confusion. It seemed like a brutal tease. To get her out of that place, thinking that she was finally going home, just to find out that she couldn’t even get into the car. How cruel, I often think!
That day is in my memory files. And it’s not a file I choose to reflect on. It’s not something I enjoy seeing or playing back. It’s not something I choose to rewind in my mind or in my heart, but it’s there, and I can’t erase it.
Through my mother’s illness, she chose to maintain a posture of acceptance. Never once did she complain, at least not to me. As I watched her decline, I prayed that I would maintain that same posture. I often prayed with my mom and I would always say that she had victory no matter what. And she believed that too. I do as well and since I declared that victory out loud to her, I want to live my life in celebration for her victory because that’s truly what I believe her entrance into Heaven is…a sweet victory.
Although I know that, I can’t erase that memory from my files and when it replays, it saddens me beyond words. I temporarily forget about the celebration I’m supposed to be living. That memory hurts so much, but I take it to God each and every time it surfaces and His comfort shifts my perspective.
Wednesday, May 27th was hard for me. It was hard for my mom. It was sad for both of us, but that day was also an amazing gift for us both. I had one final opportunity while she was still here to show her that I loved her. No matter how much I disagreed with her coming home at that time, I still showed up out of obedience and love. Although I wasn’t successful in getting her into the car, I’m sure the fact that I tried allowed her to feel loved, cared for, and heard. I believe she felt that she mattered and I believe that God gave me one last chance on this side to demonstrate my unconditional love for her. I got the chance to honor my mother, God’s loving, generous, gracious gift to me.
I often get caught up in worrying about how my mom must have felt that night as she was wheeled back into that awful rehab facility that she wanted so badly to escape from. Did she sleep that night? Did she cry? Was there anyone to comfort her? That’s the part I can’t get passed sometimes. But then God reminds me…Keah, you slept that night. I cried the whole drive home and then some. But I eventually slept. So I know that the same God who comforted me while I was alone in my house, is the same God who comforted her that night as well. The same God who filled me with His presence was present with my mom too.
When I have moments when I’m like, really God? Why would you let her get all the way out here just to not be able to go home after all? And God says, Keah, I let you see her one last time here before she went home. So that day really wasn’t a punishment to me or my mom. It was an exchange of the unconditional love between a mother and daughter. My mom knew in April that she didn’t have much time and she was ready. She really knew there wasn’t a point of rehab because she knew what was happening to her body. But she went anyway. She made the attempt for us. To show our family that she wanted to be here, she loved us and she wanted to try for us. That was all love. To show us her strength and determination one last time. Then me showing up for her to try to take her home was my opportunity to say, I love you too.
I didn’t know it would be, but that Wednesday was my goodbye to my mom on this side. I got a call on Thursday night that she was rushed to the hospital and was intubated. I was told that she had tested positive for COVID 19 and wasn’t expected to make it through the night. On Friday, May 29th, my sister and I read our mothers medical directives over the phone to the doctor and she was taken off all machines. And then, she was free. She was finally home.
I miss her immensely. And every day God reminds me, I am free too. I couldn’t go to the hospital and hold my mother’s hand as she laid unconscious awaiting her transition into Heaven. Because I had seen her that Wednesday, I had to quarantine. Even my sister had to stand outside her hospital room and see her from a glass window. The rest of us said goodbye as my sister Face Timed us one by one to see her on this side one last time.
As hard as that still is for me, God says to me, remember that Wednesday. Remember you saw her in person, you showed up for her, you held her, you were eye to eye with her. And He whispers His promise…you will see her again. She has victory and you do too.
Sometimes in life, those memories in our files will resurface and they seem so bad. But just remember, those files can’t harm you. God protects the hard drive of your heart and your mind and filters your perception about them through His truth and grace. Even though those memory files exist, you’re okay. Victory is always yours.