Warning: this post contains raw emotions and real talk about death and grieving. It's not for the faint of heart.
It's been a year since I've seen her face, held her hand, felt her tangible presence. It's been a year, and yet sometimes it seems like it just happened and sometimes it seems like it's been a decade.
Us moving to Charlotte, finding out we're having another baby, finding out it's ANOTHER girl(!!!), the craziness of trying to start a church, birthdays, Christmas, vacations.
I ache during the times when our girls are acting especially cute or talented or when we notice that Allie's vocabulary exploding again (she and Allie always had a special bond), and I think, "Gosh, Mom would LOVE to be here right now soaking this in." I hate that she's missing out on hopscotch and Ella's soccer games and seeing how sassy but fun Allie is--true Cris fashion! It stinks not having my Mom to talk to after I've been up all night with sick children to encourage me and remind me that this will be in the past soon. She was great at holding back unsolicited, outdated parenting advice. I miss the joy on her face that I saw when we brought the kids to see her and she soaked in how her baby was now somehow a mommy herself. Parenting small children without Mom is just harder.
But as much as I hurt still, I'm overwhelmed by a sense of thankfulness.
I'm thankful for the five years we had together between her diagnosis and the end of her battle with Pulmonary Hypertension. Along with her physical changes, she changed spiritually and emotionally. Brandon and I were talking this morning about how special that time was. It felt like we squeezed 30 years of heart-to-heart real relationship into 5. We became more than mother and daughter, we became friends, confidants, prayer partners even. Our time together wasn't taken for granted anymore. We knew there was a chance that it would be short-lived, so we took advantage of the opportunities to spend time together and make them count. Not everyone has a reason to stop and recognize how precious life is. So many take it for granted, but we didn't take those 5 years for granted.
I am so thankful for that.
I am so thankful to have been able to see my dad step up in ways I would have never imagined. His faithful sacrifice was so endearing, so inspiring. As her primary caretaker, he learned more about Pulmonary Hypertension, administering Flolan, and patient care than most nurses. He gave and gave and gave, even when it wasn't easy. Mom was still Mom...although she was sweeter MOST of the time, the bulldog Cris who used to be so important at huge law firms was still itching to have control over something. She couldn't control what was happening to her body, so she many times overcompensated by trying to control things like how the books were arranged on the shelves, how her sandwich was made, how the bills were paid. Dad graciously accepted more than most people would, and at least tried to accommodate her wishes. That was hard. I know because during my visits, he would get a break and I would take on that role, and if the Spirit of the Living God wasn't in me at times, I would have probably caved. But that is just how she was, and who can blame her for wanting to keep her grip on something, anything...as the rest of her life was slipping through her fingers. So I am so thankful to have seen my dad stay true to his wedding vows, to never give up, to sacrifice so much until the very last moment.
I am also thankful that in this year, he has had a lot of healing take place. I can't imagine the grief he feels over losing Mom, but the fact that he can get on his always-dreamed-of Harley Davidson and go for a ride to think, cry, clear his head...worth every over-priced penny in my opinion. Their friends have stepped up in wonderful ways to support him and love him and keep him included as much as he feels up to it.
I am so thankful for that.
I am so thankful that things happened the way they did on the night she passed. I had received a call from her hospice nurse letting me know that she had been taken to the hospice house that afternoon and she was in a lot of pain, and had been put on strong doses of morphine. I knew that the hospice house was only used for two things: to give the caretakers a little rest or to have constant high-quality care during the last days of one's life. I spoke to Dad that day who told me that he would keep in contact with me if things seemed to be spiraling downward anymore. Otherwise, he didn't want us to have to make the big effort to pack up two kids and drive down just to wait indefinitely. She was such a fighter that no one knew how things would turn out. That night after dinner, Brandon and I had been talking about what to do and the girls were up later than usual. Brandon said, "you know what, let's just go. At least you can sit with her, give your dad a break, and be there if anything happens." So we packed, got in the car, and drove down there, arriving at 11pm. I relieved Dad at Mom's bedside so he could get some rest. He hadn't slept in 2 days.
My time at her bedside was short. I sat in a chair and read my Bible and prayed and journaled and listened to Kari Jobe. I praised God for opening Mom's eyes to see who He really was, for drawing her to himself, and for securing her eternity by his sacrifice. I praised Him that this wasn't the last time I would see my mom, but that I could rest in knowing where she was going. It was truly a time of worship...hands raised, tears flowing as I felt His presence so strongly in that room. The nurses had told me she was in crazy pain, and as the morphine wore off, she would come to because of the excruciating pressure on her lungs and pain in her body. They said it could take weeks for her to pass. So as I was praying and journaling, I felt led to ask the Lord to have mercy on her and us...
And right as I wrote that the most amazing thing happened. Mom opened her eyes and turned her head to look at me. Though she had not been coherent all day, I could tell that she knew I was there. She tried to sit up. She started to take off her oxygen mask. I stood up and leaned over her, stroking her hair and whispering, "It's okay, Mom...it's okay. You can go be with Jesus. Just go be with Jesus, Mom. I love you, Mom." The fear in her eyes dissipated and she relaxed, closed her eyes, and I could tell the end was near. I called Brandon to tell him to wake Daddy up. Thankfully the hospice house was just minutes away from their house. He made it just in time to say goodbye. It was a precious, priceless moment.
The sense of relief and peace that washed over us was strange. The battle was over. She had won. Sort of. She finished well. She was at that very moment probably being told by Jesus, "well done, my good and faithful servant. You have finished your race, you have won the prize...the prize is Me." We had finished that battle well, too, loving and serving her to the best of our ability. The first thing we did was ask that she be unhooked from all the tubes and wires she was chained to for so long. She was finally free from all of that.
I am so thankful it happened that way.
Yes, as difficult as this year has been, I have much to be thankful for. I'm thankful for the growth that's come in the grieving process...the closeness of God that I feel when I'm brokenhearted. I'm thankful for the wonderful memories that remain etched in the fabric of my mind as I think of her. I'm thankful each time my girls bring up Grammy, and I'm thankful that they can watch firsthand how someone who is anchored to the Rock of Christ grieves with hope. I'm thankful that life moves on, albeit differently. I'm thankful for the wonderful support from our family and friends who have rallied around us during this difficult year. And I'm thankful for a God who brings beauty out of ashes.