I stood for a few minutes and watched her sleep. With every little twitch I expected her to open her eyes and look at me and say “Hey, son!” This would be followed immediately by, “How are my babies?” The “her” I am referring to is my mother. The babies that she would’ve been referring to had she stirred are my children, 10 and 5, one boy, one girl. I came along a little late in my parents’ lives, especially with it being 1969. They would both turn 40 years old within six months of my debut in this world. This Friday, July 1st will mark their 61st wedding anniversary. To my knowledge, it will be the first time since 1950 that they won’t sleep in the same house on their anniversary. Notice that I said the same house, not the same bed. In all of my 42 years, my parents have slept in separate beds in different rooms. Four children and a 61 year marriage would seem to indicate that it had nothing to do with a lack of fondness for one another. I don’t remember ever asking why this was the case. It’s just the way it’s always been. It’s the way it will always be. My mama became a resident of Wetumpka Health and Rehabilitation one week ago today and it’s unlikely she’ll go home with my dad anymore.
So, she slept. I didn’t stay for long. Only a few minutes. Long enough, however to recognize how our roles had been reversed from that spring night in March 42 years ago. I pondered the countless times mama had probably watched me sleep over the years. From those first days when I was a newborn to the last few days I lived at home before I got married and moved out. How many times might she have stood at my bedside and prayed for my health and safety or that I’d make wise decisions in whatever season of life I happened to be in. I probably let her down more often than not, at least in that respect. I hope I did better as I got older.
My fifth grade year was a rough one. I was at a new school in an area where we knew almost nobody. My classmates weren’t exactly lining up to befriend me. Just the opposite, actually. At least that’s what it felt like. I cried a lot and pretended to be sick a lot. Anything that would give me a chance to leave that place and just go home. I left home every morning looking out the bus window watching mama wave to me until I couldn’t see her anymore. The bus trip home in the afternoons was decidedly happier. I knew that as soon as I got off the bus, ran across the yard, and busted through the door of our little house that there would be as many Little Debbie snack cakes as I wanted and as much chocolate milk as I could drink. For a 10-year old boy, an Oatmeal Creme Pie and chocolate milk was a salve for the soul. Actually, mama giving me those things was what gave them their power.
After I got divorced in 1995, mama did her best to comfort me. She cried with me and assured me that everything was going to be okay. I suppose I didn’t realize it at the time, I was too focused on my own pain, but the divorce hurt her, too. She never lashed out or expressed any anger toward the woman who would soon be my ex-wife, only sadness that things didn’t work out. It was at mama’s house that I finally decided to take off my wedding band. She took it and put it in a drawer somewhere. I’m not sure what ever became of it after that. It was at mama’s house that I would open up the envelope containing the papers that said I was no longer married. I cried again. She comforted again. Mamas are good at that sort of thing.
She was able to attend when I married my wonderful wife, Gigi. She smiled a lot and was happy that I’d found someone. She might have even been a little surprised that I’d found someone. She did, after all, live with me for 23 years. I remember her excitement and joy when I told her she was going to be a grandmother for the sixth time in 2001 and then a seventh in 2006. She has been a model grandmother to her grandchildren, all seven of them. She has loved and pampered and spoiled them just like she was supposed to do.
From October, 1951 until March of 1992, she was a mama with at least one child living in the house with her and my father. That’s a long time. Almost 41 years. She cooked and cleaned and washed clothes and, during the years that I was that child at home, took care of my dad and me. We’d have been in a pickle without her. We probably would’ve starved to death with a pantry and refrigerator full of food. She cooked everyday for us back before every house had a microwave. Cube steak, fried chicken, hamburgers, salmon patties, mashed potatoes, and, for me especially, LOTS of french fries and scrambled eggs. Not at the same time. I never remember hearing her gripe or complain. She was doing what she was called to do. A faithful preacher’s wife, she taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and made sure the Lord’s Supper was ready on fifth Sundays. She ironed and swept and worked tirelessly, all the while singing hymns from one of the Baptist Hymnals that were always close at hand at our house. Mama did things the way mamas ought to, with lots of love, grace, mercy, tenderness, and patience. It’s sad to see a woman who was once so lively and vibrant be rendered utterly helpless by arthritis, dementia, and, well, just old age.
As I said before, I stood and watched her sleep for a few minutes. Her breathing was somewhat labored but she looked peaceful. I put my hand on hers for a moment before turning to leave and that’s when the tears came. It seems so unfair for one who has selflessly done so much for so many, so much for me, for so long to be confined to a bed, unable to hear, unable to walk, unable to do even a tiny bit of what she did so well for almost 80 years.
I walked out of her room and down the hall past the nurses’ desk. I stopped to thank the nurse on duty for taking care of my mama. She assured me that she would continue to do just that and she gave me a reassuring smile as I turned and walked away. I believed her.
I believe her still because I know that God is faithful even though I am not. He promised He would never leave His children. He hasn’t left me or my sisters or my father. He hasn’t left any of my nephews, nieces, or my own children who call my mother “Mawmaw.” And He hasn’t left mama. As believers, we have access to eternal hope and to peace that passes all understanding. I experience that peace every day in the midst of this. I rely on the hope that no matter what happens, even death, that this world is not the the end and death is not final for the believer. Whatever ails my mother now will soon be healed. Not necessarily in this life, but most assuredly in the next. Whether that happens in six months or six years or even longer. She will walk again. If there’s cooking in Heaven, she’ll do that again. She’ll know exactly where she is all the time and she won’t get confused anymore. She’ll also sing plenty of those hymns from that old hymnal just like she did when I was a child. Only then, she’ll be singing them in person to the One who died so that she, and all of us who know Christ, can live forever with no more tears. What a day that will be.