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Living to Die

July 25, 2017

It is the 5th of July. Despite only a 3-hour flight, I’ve devoted most of the day to travel. Finally, after almost 12 hours of driving/waiting/flying/waiting/driving, I make it to Hospice House. Surprisingly, this is my first time visiting a hospice location. Although hospice was very helpful with my father’s last weeks, that situation was very different.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

Main sign for Hospice House

The lobby is beautiful. With fireplaces and chairs, it reminds me more of a relaxed hotel than a hospital setting. There is a tiny chapel off to one side, and a beautiful stone list of donors, decorated splendidly with a carving of a great blue heron in flight. But, I barely notice it.

Hospice of Citrus County Donors Mural

I make my way, of course, to the wrong end of the hall. It is relatively late, although not at all dark, yet, and very quiet. When I get to the other end, I quietly inquire for my mother’s room number, describing the various ways she might be named. Addie Wilcox? Rachel Wilcox? Wilcox-Fortini? Mom’s legal name is Rachel Adeline Wilcox, but she never liked her first name, so she was Addie to nearly everyone.

Room 12. Give us a few minutes, we’re getting her cleaned up. So, I wait a few minutes for the nurses to finish. Finally, I get to see Mom.

“Oh!” she greets strongly, “My ugly son!”

“Ugly?” I exclaim in disbelief, “Compared to Paul or Aaron? I don’t think so!”

I last saw Mom in October, when Sarah and I had a long-weekend visit because, as Sarah insisted, “Your mother is not going to be alive forever. We should see her while she is well.”

A motley crew at Charlie's Fish House, October 2016

A motley crew at Charlie’s Fish House, October 2016. Yes, that is how my mother smiles, a genetic gift from her own father.

Now, not much later, Mom is markedly older. She looks tired. She is painfully thin, massing definitely under 45 kg. Her speech is slow, but clear. I also discover she can’t hear me unless I speak very loudly. She’s good at covering this, but her responses to questions she pretends to hear are often non sequiturs. (Later in my stay I will tackle this problem and diagnose a bad hearing aid, and come up with a good-enough-for-this-lifetime solution.) However, she is “all there.” Her mind and memory are, for the most part, intact. This is something of a disappointment to me, as I was hoping to be able to re-frame a few minor incidents from my childhood. This won’t be the case.

Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild

Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild

I know, given the hour, that Mom will be tired, soon, so this visit will be short. There is one complaint Mom mentions at least once a day, and today is no exception: “I don’t know why the Lord still has me here, but He must have some purpose. I just wish I knew what it was.”

I understand her impatience to meet the Savior. She knows the time is soon. She is nearly 91. In less than a year, she has gone from driving interstate, living alone in her own home, and being in near perfect health, to having trouble walking, needing in-home care, and frequently visiting the hospital. The past two months have been particularly difficult.

My children often claim that Grandma will outlive them. This joke, which we have enjoyed for years, doesn’t seem as funny this week. I can’t keep a few lines from a song in The Muppets Take Manhattan, out of my head: “Saying goodbye, why is it sad? / Makes us remember the good times we’ve had.” The brain does strange things at times, as I will discover tomorrow.

I don’t know, of course, if this will be my last visit with this woman of many children: Four biological, three adopted, 87 (we think) fostered. I wonder if, sometime between my leaving this night and returning in the morning, my mother will go from seeing the object of her faith “in a mirror, dimly,” to “face to face.”

All too soon, Mom slips into a quiet sleep, and I drive the rest of the way to her house, navigating through tears, to where my sister Cindy is “holding down the fort,” as Mom would say.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV) 

To be continued …