Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Welcome to Service – The Action Form of Love
There doesn’t seem to be much that is positive about a loved one passing away. It’s really difficult to find the silver lining around that particular cloud.
Mama, the gentlewoman who carried, bore, raised and loved me for 45 years passed away just under 5 months ago.
During the week the family crowded into (and more or less took over) the ICU waiting room, I don’t think any of us were seeing anything but the dark clouds. As I look back on that time, however, I can finally see a glimmer of something positive. I had a full week with all my brothers and sisters and father – and a full week to reassure mama that I loved her and I knew she loved me, too.
Somehow, the death of a loved one can bring families and friends together like no other occasion. It’s strange how easily hatchets can be buried, arguments forgotten, debts forgiven. The bonding (or re-bonding as the case may be) is one that is powerful and seems so strong that it will never again break.
So it is with our family.
We had a trial run at survivorship when mama’s middle child, Mark passed away in December, 2005. As another brother reminded us, we were in uncharted territory. Other than grandparents, this was the first death to strike so close to our homes and hearts. We were taken unawares and uprepared.
There were parallels in the final days of Mark and mama. Both spent time in the ICU, though at different hospitals. Both had the whole family at the hospital for their final farewells.
Both brought the rest of us a resolve to stay connected through phone calls, email and personal visits. Both slipped peacefully away as easily and simply as stepping out of their bodies and walking through the veil.
Both knew they were loved.
After Mark passed, we siblings determined to maintain our new focus on the family. We were determined to not let life and work creep back in again and interfere with what meant most to us. We resolved to stay in touch, no matter what.
I can’t say we failed, but I think we can all admit we didn’t stay as connected as we would have liked.
In the early days of 2006, we called each other once a week, if not once a day. We constantly sent text messages of love and support, asking how the others were feeling and handling things. We’ve always loved each other, but it seemed we were much more willing to show our love in more concrete ways.
But, as it has a way of doing, life did indeed creep back in. The messages of support became more rare, and we relied on family get-together’s like Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to bring us together.
And then, mama got sick.
I had become immersed in my job and career and was at work one afternoon when I noticed my phone was vibrating a lot more than usual. I finally took a break and saw that my siblings had been trying to reach me for a few hours. I contacted one of them and learned that mama had gone into the hospital, thinking she’d had a heart attack.
By the next night, she was in the ICU, but her heart was fine. She had managed to aspirate something and was failing swallow tests. Her condition from then on would bounce from good to bad to worse to teetering on the edge between going home and going Home.
I admit, I was selfish.
When I learned mama was in the hospital with the heart attack symptoms, I told my siblings I would come up “if they needed me to”. Mama had been in the hospital countless times in her later years, and I guess I presumed this was another case where they’d treat her and send her home.
I was truly humbled the next morning when I arrived at the ICU and saw my family holding vigil in the waiting room.
Less than a week later, mama indicated to us that she was ready to go. We had brought in a miniature white board and marker, set it on her lap, and let her hands tell us what she couldn’t tell us with the respirator on. The messages she wrote in her beautiful shaky handwriting told us that her story was nearing an end.
She wrote things like:
“I’ve been miserable for so long.”
“Make sure he (dad) isn’t sad.”
The day before she died, we siblings were all downstairs in the hospital cafeteria, eating lunch. A niece of mine came down with a message from mama. “Finish your lunch, then come up, have a family prayer, then shut the door and let me die.”
We accommodated mama’s wishes. When we got that message, we couldn’t finish our lunch anyway.
Surrounding her bed, we watched in agony as mama struggled to breathe even with the help of a BiPap machine. Her eyes were open, glistening and aware as we sang “I Am a Child of God.” We then said our final goodbyes, and left the room.
The next day, life support was removed, and she was gone far quicker than any of us expected her to go. We know she lives on, even today, because of our faith, but also because of what we’ve seen and sensed in the intervening months.
So, why am I rambling about the loss of my mama? Well, I’m not, really.
This is about the loss of family connection. The feeling of a loss of bonds that were forged in the face of losing Mark and mama.
I foolishly presumed mama would come out of the hospital, just as she always had, sitting in the passenger seat of dad’s old station wagon. I foolishly thought she would be around forever.
So, here’s today’s challenge:
Don’t be foolish.
Pick up the phone and call your mom, your dad, a favorite aunt or uncle. Call a sibling your child your grandparent, a friend.
Call just to see how they’re doing.
Call just to tell them the words we all long to hear.
Call just to say “I love you.”
Thank you for reading today’s challenge. Thank you for being willing to accept and perform small and simple acts of service for others. You are making a difference in the lives of others.
Thank you for remembering that Service is The Action Form of Love.