Beneath the crinkled paper that had become my mother’s skin, I could feel her bones and tendons. Since her stroke she had lost a lot of weight. Her left-side weakness had stolen her ability to swallow and the use of her left arm and leg. On the small chance that a feeding tube might give her time to recover the ability to swallow, Mom chose to have one inserted. Teckla and I prayed faithfully for her recovery, not because we could not accept her death, but because starving to death or drowning in one’s own fluid seemed a terrible way to die. We prayed she would end strong, in God’s way and in His time.
But in the last weeks, holding her hand or arm felt like touching a husk—a ragged shell about to be laid aside. Her stroke came in the midst of my own pilgrimage to faithfully pray for the sick. Once I was half-way out of the hospital when I remembered I hadn’t prayed for her. I went back and prayed. I often asked Mom if she wanted me to pray for her. She always said, “Yes.” Sometimes with great difficulty she would croak, “Pray for me.” After prayer, I often asked if she felt better. She always nodded yes, but I could seldom see any improvement in her condition.
Whether it was the stroke or just approaching death I don’t know, but at night she would suffer the restlessness common to those with dementia. She would pull at her hospital gown and covers. Her arms and legs would jerk. Twice this restlessness caused her to pull out her feeding tube. The second time this happened, I had to go to the emergency room and ask her if she wanted to die or have the tube put back in. She said she wanted it back in for “a while.” She seemed to have some sense that it was not yet the right time. During this time, my brother Larry flew out from Massachusetts and spent many hours with Mom. He too prayed for her healing and for a strong ending.
Toward the end she because less responsive to questions. Sometimes I would wrap my arms around her and say over and over, “I love you. You are a good, good Mommy.” For a while she had the strength to pat my back gently. Each touch broke and healed my heart.
The night before she died I laid my hand on her forehead and prayed again for the strength and life of God to enter her body. She had been restless so I spoke peace to her body. I had clear sense that beneath this husk, there blazed a spirit strong and peaceful. Her body relaxed and her breathing got slow and easy. About five the next morning, she died.
So were my prayers for her answered? I don’t know. She did not end as strongly as I had hoped, but we avoided any long state of unconsciousness that would have required us to decide to end her life. She was until perhaps the last few days aware of our love and presence. She didn’t suffer much. All of this good.
Also good and maybe important is that her sons ended strong. We prayed for her and loved her until the end. Larry and I share the conviction that Jesus still heals and desires his followers to heal. On this journey toward doing the works of Jesus, it is clear that we have to move past all our need (sometimes demand) for answers.
Both Larry and I are analytical to a fault. We can debate theology and philosophy until stupid. Nothing shuts up theory and opens the heart like praying for your mother. Our experience with Mom has helped us to faithfully obey Christ’s command to pray for the sick even if we don’t see the sick healed every time. Obedience is better than perfect understanding.
We must be willing to say, as I have here, “I don’t know.” I am simply clinging to my heavenly Father and saying, “I love you. You are a good, good Father.”