Posted by: R M White | 06/10/2009

Passing On of a Wonderful Woman

Well, we took off on a trip last week – a week ago Sunday afternoon to be exact. We knew the outcome of this journey to Alabama ahead of time because it’s been a long time in coming. My husband’s mother was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease and we’ve all been involved in this place called ‘waiting’. Waiting is something very few of do well. Waiting usually involves some pretty negative feelings like frustration, impatience, even worry. Especially when it is concerning the health of yourself or a loved one. We wait for diagnosis, for treatment, and eventually, for the inevitable … death. We knew it was imminent and even though we knew it was getting close, no one could put a time frame on Jerlene’s passing from this life to the next.

For weeks we thought her next day could be her last. We traveled quickly to get to her the first time we thought this. We arrived at the hospital on a rainy evening and found her weak but stable. She ‘rallied’ for another go-round, cheating death of its sting. All in all, it was a good visit. We were a part of getting her settled back at her home. We helped the sisters take care of the ‘situation’ and were able to listen and even advise. We had the opportunity of finding Jerlene in some lucid moments where she knew us and acknowledged our presence. We found closure in that visit – when we said our good byes after a few days we knew it could be the final good bye. Sad but reality and it was ‘okay’. We felt good for having gone. She hung on for weeks again before we thought ‘this is it.’ Very early one Sunday morning, I take a phone call – it’s for my husband – the girls believe it is a matter of hours, can he talk with Mom? He does, he prays with her, shares words of love and affirmations of a life well lived and feels he has said his ‘good-bye’. She surprises us all – even her hospice care givers – for weeks to come.

Finally, June 2 we leave for her home again. Nine hours’ drive and we don’t know if we’ll find her still with us when we get there. She was – just barely, and for that night once again the family gathers. We sing, we pray, we tell family stories. We take turns sitting at her side. We listen to her breathe, we feel for a steady pulse, we anticipate the outcome. She is unresponsive to our talking to her. She is unresponsive to any touch. It has been 14 days since she has eaten or drank anything. Hospice is in awe. How can she still be with us? But she is. We love her, we care for her. Family takes turns sitting by her side, lovingly touching her hands, face, arms, fixing her gown and hair ‘just so’. Relishing her very existence – this woman who gave birth to five – all who are in the room with her, plus me, her daughter-in-law and grandchildren and greats come and go. Three of her siblings (there were 7 in all – 2 have ‘gone on’) are with her. She is surrounded in love.

Another night passes – this is incredible. I get up through the night to check on her. In the same room as she the others are sleeping in chairs and makeshift beds – the sleep of the exhausted. Four times I have awakened and come to her – she is making noises and showing signs of restlessness. Morning light finds her daughters and sisters taking turns by her side until finally at 12:40 P.M. her oldest sister call us all to her – ‘this is it.’ There are at least 8 of us standing beside Jerlene, touching her as she takes her last breaths. So peaceful.

And then, we’re all touching as well , hugging another, holding on and one of the sisters asks Lowell to lead us in prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, it is a plea for comfort, and it is a recognition of God the Father. We are crying the cries of bittersweet release, of unbelief, of reality, of gut wrenching sadness.

Family starts driving in from around the country side. Before long, someone said we had over 30 people in the house. Paying respects, bringing food, supplies, and love – so much love.

So much love.

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