She’s dying, the voice boomed in my head. I know Lord, but please, don’t let her die like this! Please Lord, before you take her, help me to put her some place where she can lie on clean sheets and be taken care of and loved. Help me prepare her heart to receive You and Your kingdom, for Your word says that You desire that none shall perish but that all shall have everlasting life.”
I still remember that conversation with my Savior and I still remember where I was at the time. I was turning the corner from 109th street onto 500 West and I was on my way to work. It is a conversation that has left an indelible mark on my heart and on my life.
I knew at the time my mother’s death was imminent, but I could not bear the thought that she would die in such deplorable conditions, feeling unloved and uncared for. Every part of my heart and soul pleaded for her salvation, and for her comfort for the time she had left.
As I continued to drive the tears welled up in my eyes at the thought that my mother’s life was near its end. How do you face losing a parent? How do you go through the rest of your life without that relationship? Those were thoughts I just could not face at that time.
“The Lord has work for me to do,” I said out loud to push the pain down deep.
My mother was 60 years old and she stood all of 5 feet tall and weighed well over 400 lbs. Somewhere along her 60 years of life, she lost her zeal to live and hid herself in a 8X10 bedroom. Maybe it was the premature birth and death of a son or the many loved ones that had gone on before her including her oldest daughter in a terrible car accident. Or, maybe it was the many years of alcoholism and smoking cigarettes that had taken this terrible toll on her petite frame. Whatever the cause, she now was diabetic, had emphysema, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. Her weight was so dangerously out of control, she could no longer move comfortably. She was too big to shower or bathe herself and was beginning to loose control of her bodily functions.
I walked into my parents home on that morning with the intent of the Lord in my heart. My eyes were His as I scanned the condition of their home and especially the room she had hidden herself in. The stench of body odor was thick and the room itself was covered in dust, garbage of food crumbs and diet Pepsi cans, and old used insulin syringes were laying everywhere on her side table and the floor. The bed sheets she lay in were covered with urine and feces. The sight was appalling and the smell was sickening and my heart was wrenching. How could we have let this go this far, I asked myself.
Mom was asleep again which was all she could manage to do for herself. She seemed to be sleeping 18-20 hours a day only waking to struggle to the bathroom or to feed and medicate herself.
“Mom,” I whispered as I gently touched the side of her arm, hoping not to startle her but to gently wake her from her sleep. She opened her eyes,
“Hi Mom, it’s me, Marilyn. Can you wake up a little, I would like to talk to you.” She started to gently rock her legs from side to side which told me she was awake. She still had her eyes closed and only mumbled incoherently.
“Mom, I think we need to take you somewhere where you can be taken care of,” I started. No response came from her, just the gentle rocking of her legs.
“Mom, you aren’t doing well and we need to take you to the hospital.”
With her eyes still closed she mumbled, “I’ll be fine, I just need to rest.”
‘No mom, your not fine, let us help you,” I pleaded. Still, no affirmative response.
I walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen where Dad sat at the kitchen table. My dad was four years older than my mom and stood about six inches taller and also weighed well over 300 lbs. He too had high blood pressure and at the time was struggling with falling asleep all the time.
“Dad, we need to do something about mom, she sleeps most of the day, this isn’t good for her, she needs help and we need to do something.” Dad heard the desperation in my voice and moved uncomfortably in his chair.
“I don’t know what to do with her,” he said, “All she wants to do is sleep and she can barely make it to the bathroom. This morning she didn’t make it to the bathroom at all and I have been cleaning diarrhea off of the dining room carpet all morning. It’s not her fault, I know she’s sick, but I just don’t know what to do for her.” He looked exhausted and broken. He too, seemed to know her time was near.
“I’m going to call Cheryl and talk to her. I think we need to place her in a hospital or a home where she’ll be taken care. She is not going to last much longer like this, Dad.”
“I’ll go along with whatever you girls decide. I just don’t want to be the one to make that decision,” he said and he lowered his head.
“I’m going to call Cheryl tonight. If she agrees with me, we’ll call mom’s doctor and ask him what we need to do to get her placed somewhere.”
“You girls do whatever you think is best,” he said.
Mom and Dad’s relationship over the years had changed and even though they fought and disagreed most of the time, as they approached their golden years they had become quite comfortable and accustomed to having the other around. It was a relationship of companionship and to each other the thought of not having the other to talk to weighed heavily on their hearts.
Okay Lord, what do I do next? I’m so scared! How will I ever find the courage to go through with this? This is my mother! Please don’t leave me!
I called my sister that afternoon. I knew she would not be surprised by my suggestion.
“Hi Cheryl, it’s me, Sis. I wanted to talk to you about Mom. She’s really bad off; sleeping 18-20 hours a day and only getting up to try and make it to the bathroom and to feed and medicate herself. She’s a mess, Sis, and slowly killing herself. I really feel we need to do something and I want to know how you feel about this,” I said.
“Mom’s been slowly killing herself for years,” Cheryl started, “She has signs of manic depressive behavior and probably should have been taking something for it a long time ago. The last couple of times I’ve been there she hasn’t even come out of her room. She doesn‘t even come out to eat; Dad brings her a sandwich or a bowl of cereal. I‘m worried about Dad too, he falls asleep in mid-conversation and while sitting up. He is under a lot of pressure trying to take care of Mom and he‘s probably not getting enough sleep.”
“I think we need to put her somewhere. She’s not taking care of herself and I don’t want her to die in that awful mess,” I jumped in.
“How do you think we should do this?” Cheryl asked.
“I’m not quite sure. I thought one of us could call and talk with her doctor. Maybe he can make some suggestions. Would you be willing to call and talk to him,” I asked, “you’re much better at asking the right questions.”
“I’ll call him first thing in the morning,” she replied.
“I’ll wait for your call and then maybe we both can go talk with Dad and prepare him for what we need to do.”
“You know neither of them are going to like this,” she added.
“I know, but something needs to be done,” I said.
“I’ll call you as soon as I talk to her doctor” she replied.
“Thanks sis.” And we both hung up the phone.
Oh Lord! When did all of this change? When did my parents and I exchange rolls? How do you parent your parents? Does every child sign up for this at the end of their parents life? Lord, please don’t take her until she is prepared to see You face to face. Give me the time to introduce her to You. Give me the time to love her the way that You love her.
Within a couple of days, a plan had been put together. My sister, Cheryl, and I would meet at mom and dad’s house on Friday and send for an ambulance to pick mom up and take her to the hospital where she would be evaluated and eventually placed in a nursing home or rehabilitation center.
When Mom arrived at the hospital it saddened me to see that even the doctors and nurses didn’t want to come near her. She was dirty and smelly and the rolls of flesh that had covered her frame was raw and infected from sweat and not washing herself. She was in pain and uncomfortable and not very cooperative. All she wanted to do was go home to her filthy room and lay on her tattered bed.
“I need to get up. I need to stand on my legs,” my mom would cry out. Standing helped relieve the pain that had settled in her legs. Because of her weight, it was very difficult for her to move to change positions and it was also difficult for the hospital staff because it always required the help of several people. It embarrassed my mom horribly when several maintenance men were called in to help lift her into a new position.
While everyone else was trying to avoid her, there was one nurse who was empathetic and tender. I told Mom God had sent her an angel of Mercy. Unfortunately, the nurse didn’t stay with her long. She was an E.R. nurse and Mom was being moved upstairs. Mom’s stay at the hospital lasted about three weeks. She was medicated heavily because of the many things that were wrong with her. After three weeks of testing the news was very grim. Because of the infection and lack of activity and over medicating herself, some of her organs had started to shut down. The doctor didn’t have much hope for her recovery and suggested she be placed in a home for her remaining time where her meds would be monitored and her diet controlled.
Lord Jesus, use me with this time left with my mother to introduce her to Your unfailing love, Your great kindness and glorious mercy. Give me the words to speak and the faith to believe Your promises. Please, Lord, take my mother into Your loving arms and hold her and keep her there.
Those were the first steps taken in a three year journey to help my mother change her life or ‘gain life’ I should say. The journey was a difficult one for everyone involved; the family, the doctor, the hospital and the home she was placed in. There were so many things that would be uncomfortable for my mom. For one thing she had not ventured any farther than to her doctor’s office for more than three years. So being in a home twenty seven miles from anyone was frightening for her. But because of her rebellious attitude, the local homes would not accept her. For mom, the anxiety was not just being so far away from home but also being around people of a different race. Because of the era and place in which she grew up, she had to face and overcome her prejudices that were instilled in her since she was a little girl.
“I can’t go there, there are colored people there!” she whispered to me one day.
“Mom, they aren’t colored people. They are nurses and aids that take care of you, besides, you don’t have a choice; you can’t go home and this is the only place that will accept you,” I reminded her.
I walked into that nursing home at least three times a week to sit with her, take her for a walk in the wheel chair, and sometimes we would even get into loud screaming matches because she thought she could convince me she was O.K. and she could go home. Leaving her there was the hardest thing I had to do with either of my parents. And as nice as the facility was, I will never get over walking in and seeing the twisted life in their beds and wheel chairs and most of them with no family to visit them. It saddened me deeply that at such a young age my mother was there with those who would never see the outside world again.
My mother spent almost six months in this nursing home facility. She worked hard in rehabilitation, learning to walk and to manage her personal hygiene. The six months gave my husband and myself the time to teach her and tell her about the loving grace of the God who created her. She had a lot of questions and she seemed to soak in all the answers. Before her time was through there, she accepted the Lord as her Savior and developed a personal relationship with the One who gave her strength. My mother became calmer in her attitude and clearer in her memory and in her goals. Her goal was to walk to the front door of the nursing home. And if she could make it to the front door, she could go home and go home she did.
I praise You, Lord, for the mighty God You are. I praise You for caring enough about my mother to save her life to give her eternal life. You are an awesome God!
Her time after going home only lasted a little over a year. In that time she made many trips to the hospital because of the emphysema. Twice she was put on life support and twice she came off of the ventilator. I remember talking to my mother the morning before she passed away. She told me she hoped she could be here when the two great-grandbabies would arrive, but didn’t know if she could make it. That evening she was rushed to the hospital and died in the ambulance.
Of course my mother’s death saddened me deeply and I miss her terribly, but I am so grateful to a loving God who heard my plea to remove my mother from her filth and to prepare her heart to receive Him. I will never forget my mother or the journey we shared together. And I’ll never forget the One whose strength I relied on to see my mother to her end. Thank you, Lord Jesus!
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