The post below was written by Jim Herrema December 7, 2016. Such a treasure as they remember a wonderful life their mother lived and created for each of her children. We are grateful for Jim’s willingness to share his thoughts.
The old woman reached deep into her lungs for each breath, any of which could be her last as she lay in her bed, unaware of her surroundings as the room still held a few of her devotees, family and friends, who were gathered near her. The small room in the assisted living center that she and her husband have shared for the past two years has had over three hundred people come through in four days. Her husband, a man four years her senior, expresses himself through an active and lively mind. His demeanor is engaging even in these circumstances, and to see him jabber with the visitors, one can’t help but notice that he, more than his guests, perhaps, is the catalyst that has formed the bonds between them.
The old man cries unashamed as he pulls himself out of the Lazyboy recliner that can no longer hold him in its pillowy comfort, and he shuttles across the room with his walker. He talks to the old woman before reaching her, “Ruthie, it’s me, your husband. I’m coming back for another kiss.” He bends over and kisses her open mouth and cries a little more and tells her he loves her. Observing the sight of painful love, one wonders if it is too holy a thing to share, or if stepping in the hall might be the appropriate action. But how do we learn from the elderly if we deny ourselves the privilege of being with them in their private moments, made public by the simple fact that we are now caring for them as they once did for us?
Yes, my mother was dying from the stroke she suffered five days ago, one week and one day before her ninetieth birthday, and it is my father who cares for her still. I am one of six children born of their passion. I have lived under their tutelage, at times by a stick, at other times forcing me and a fighting brother to sit crammed together in the same chair until we could get along. They cared, and the crowded room now is symbolic of their home where they took in hurting people and gave their time and their food and their money. They shared their lives over an open Bible where they found writings of love and compassion more than evangelical swords of conflict, the end result that people who entered their home knew they were welcomed and they might find something divine through human love.
I carried the image yesterday of two women who, the night before had been standing, then sitting, then kneeling by my mother as they talked and carried on and adjusted the pillow and put a soft scarf under her hand that lay across her chest. Then more straightening of the scarf and more talking, low tones, not secretive, but too low to discern from across the room where I was sitting with my dad. We both sat watching my sisters tend to my mother. It left me feeling like our old family – back home as kids, just being in the closeness of the same shared space – “nothing” time, just hanging out, being together, straightening mom’s covers or looking at pictures that we have been gathering for the inevitable day of public visitation. Priceless. Being together. Bringing memories of a happy home.
Four brothers flanked by two sisters was the arrangement, and life has sent us, as it does most grown men and women, on different paths, not often intersecting. We have been fortunate to all be together so often these last days. My dad has never been left alone, and Lin, the youngest has had sleep-overs with ma and pa, so that my dad would not be alone if my mom took her last breath in the night.
4 am this morning marked the end of a beautiful life of a beautiful woman.
I love you, Mom. Don’t forget to put in a good word for me and save me a seat.