Gradually, it became obvious that something serious happened when Mom fell. Initial X-rays discovered a small bleed on her brain. However, doctors could not determine if a small stroke caused her to fall, or if falling caused the bleeding. With bleeding stopped and no life threatening conditions, she was released from the neuro unit and admitted to the rehabilitation floor of the hospital.
"Rehabilitation" - a hopeful word. Mom would receive the care she needed to rehabilitate, get back on her feet, ambulate safely with her walker, be her old self again.
But that wasn't happening. Her words lacked her usual focus and humor. She often refused to try to walk or participate in therapy. She didn't care much about eating. It was almost pleasant to hear her complain about the coffee, revealing she was aware of her surroundings and wanted something better. Her sad, slow movements made me want to hit "resume play" to jump her back into action from this suspended state.
Her son, my husband, pleaded with her to comply with physical therapy so she could gain the strength and stability needed to go back to her apartment. We began to wonder if she was afraid to go back, to be on her own and subject to falling. The alternative wasn't much better, but we avoided talking about nursing homes. It seemed too threatening. Perhaps we were not ready to face that possibility either.
I ran out of things to talk about during visits. News about family, church or the weather got little response, except for an occasional sigh, or a despondent, "That's nice."
One evening, I took our Episcopal prayer book with me. Southern Baptist Mom bought it for us as a wedding present 30 years before. She joked then that, "It's a used one. I read it." I held my breath until she smiled and added, "There's scripture in there!"
As the brilliant orange sunset cast a candle-like glow through the west window in Mom's room, I began reading the ancient service of Compline. The rich text invited quiet reflection at the end of another long day of struggle and loneliness. Mom seemed to take to Compline from its opening: "The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen."
As the "officiant" I could choose from a variety of prayers and psalms. Mom's love of angels prompted my selection.
"Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessings be upon us always..."
It became an evening practice for us to pray together through Compline. So soothing it was to hear God's promises and invoke his presence to, "Tend the sick... Give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous..."
Softly, she would say thank you and pat my hand before I left. Her gratitude was a blessing that still warms my heart.
I am grateful too for those evenings of worship together. They stretched on for more than a year - not every night, but many. Eventually I knew that her life on earth was ending. What a profound privilege it was to spend time so much time in prayer with Mom before she left this place forever.
The experience provided a glimpse into God's plan for us to be united to each other in Christ. Bound in human love is one thing. Even more glorious are lives wrapped in communion with each other in our Creator and Savior. This is the blessing of the church. May we lovingly seek that unity, desired for us by Christ, so that this closing prayer of Compline be granted: "The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless us and keep us. Amen."
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