With my mother’s arm in mine, accompanied by siblings and extended family, I arrived at a pristine estate with pillars on the front porch and a lovely yard that stretched around the house. A warm welcome awaited us, with smiles and hugs, and good old southern hospitality.
“Come on in! We just want you all to enjoy this time together,” they said. “It’s important, so stay as long as you want. You just need to be together.”
As we entered the home, I noticed my father’s open casket on display in the parlor. He laid there peacefully, arms folded around his Bible, a half-smile resting on his lips.
Sobs erupted from my throat and I awoke with a start, tears running down my face and onto my pillow. I could not stop crying and reasoned with myself that this was God’s way of helping me grieve. I had been such a rock with my father’s passing – more concerned with how the grandchildren and great-grandchildren were doing, bolstered by the support of so many whose lives he had touched. Or maybe I was just concerned about my Mom. She was traveling to North Carolina to spend the winter with my brother and his wife in their new home.
I struggled with her being so far away in her condition, away from her doctors – not to mention her three daughters. But as I voiced my concerns to the Lord, the answer came in a quiet whisper – quiet, yet ever so clear, “It is as it should be.”
Her health deteriorated rapidly. The seven of us made plans to celebrate her 85th birthday together in January. Just days before our scheduled flights, we received word that Mom was in the hospital. Not only was she extremely ill, but she had been diagnosed with a very aggressive brain tumor – glioblastoma – and we were told she had only 3 to 6 months to live.
I listened in stunned silence to a recording of the consultation with the neurosurgeon as we drove from the airport. He was a godly man who had recently lost his own mother to the very same type of tumor. He was compassionate and understanding as he delivered the devastating prognosis. I marveled at the way God had prepared this physician, this time and this place, and contemplated that phrase once again, “it is as it should be.”
We walked up the stairs of my brother’s house – a big, beautiful home with pillars on the front porch and a lovely yard that stretched around the house. A warm welcome awaited us, with smiles and hugs, and good old southern hospitality (even though they grew up in New York).
“Come on in! We just want to enjoy this time together,” my sister-in-law said. “It’s important, so stay as long as you want. We just need to be together.”
Entering the foyer, my heart fluttered as I realized that although I had never been there before, this was the place in my dream. My father had made his journey to heaven nearly two years before – quite suddenly and without warning. We never got to say goodbye.
Every night we gathered around her bedside for prayer.
“Goodnight, Mom, we’ll see you in the morning,” we said, as we turned out the light and left the room. Together we determined she would never be alone and from that day forward, various family members, children and adult grandchildren, took turns making the trip to spend time with her, trying to help as much as possible. We did not take for granted this opportunity to care for such a beautiful lady – one who had spent her entire life caring for the needs of others.
Mom could no longer speak but she could laugh and there was plenty of that as we enacted a comedy of errors in our home-care efforts. I won’t mention any names but there were stories of adult grandchildren landing on the hospital bed with their grandmother on top of them as they failed to negotiate the transfer properly.
Thank goodness she never lost her sense of humor or her love for her family. How her eyes lit up whenever she heard the voices of the little ones coming down the hallway. She beamed with joy as little Addison, one of the newest members of the family, was placed in her arms.
Weeks passed before I was able to return early in March, and by then it was obvious she didn’t have much longer in this world. We continued our nighttime ritual and during the quiet afternoon hours, sitting at her bedside, this song began singing to me:
We don’t have to say goodbye, we’ll see you in the morning;
Where time can only die, life goes on!
It’ll never end in heaven, forever in his care;
We don’t have to say goodbye – We’ll see you there!
I could not bring myself to sing it to her. My brother had told me that every time she heard my voice come up on his Play List, she would begin to cry – and not just little tears. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to make her cry. Lord knows I’d done enough of that in my lifetime.
About ten days later, after several delays and schedule changes, I had to return home. I held her close and kissed her, whispering in her ear, “I love you, Mom. Give Daddy a kiss for me and tell him I love him!” She blinked once in understanding.
Back in New York the very next day, March 17th, I received the call on my way home from work. Mom had gone on to glory. It was my brother’s birthday. Bittersweet, indeed. They told me how they prayed and sang together around her bedside and as she breathed her last breath, a single tear rolled down her cheek. I sat there in the parking lot at the gas station where I had pulled over, crying out in anguish through my tears, “Why? Why couldn’t I have stayed one more day?” Once again, the words came back to reassure me, “it is as it should be.”
I don’t know that I’ll ever understand it, but there was authority in those words. They gave me peace. For in all of this my God has been demonstrating to me the beautiful reality described by the Apostle Paul when he wrote: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” or as my husband likes to say, “Our last breath here is our first breath in heaven.”
What a comfort! What a blessing to know our Heavenly Father took care of every last detail of this dear saint’s home going. What a joy to know she is healthy and vibrant in the presence of the Lord and his angels, along with my Dad and so many friends and family who have gone on before. I’m not sure why she had to endure such a debilitating illness or the frustration of being trapped in her own body without being able to attach words to thoughts. I don’t understand why we couldn’t have any of her final words to cherish – only memories of our own – but I do know this:
God is good and everything He does is good.
And whether or not I understand all that he allows – or why,
My faith is strong because in this I know “It is as it should be!”