Listen To Article
This is the second in a series of posts about my mom’s death from lung cancer in November of 2020. Click here to read about her last meal.
My mom had a hospital bed delivered to her house way before she ever needed it. My siblings moved the family piano out of her “happy place”—the room within which she spent most of her time stitching, crocheting, writing in her diary, talking to her brothers and kids and friends on the phone, having devotions, napping. The family piano went out and the hospital bed went in. And there it sat, un-slept in, but ready. Ready to receive her when the time came. This is the way she wanted it. She was ready to die and she wanted everything to be ready around her.
The time came on Monday night, November 2. Instead of moving Mom into her own bedroom, my siblings and I helped her walk the three steps across the room. We tucked her into that hospital bed, right in her happy place. My sister remembers that Mom asked, “Why are you putting me in this bed? Am I dying? Is it time?” Yes, Mama. It’s almost time.
Early the next morning, Mom asked me her Last Question. I remember sunlight catching in her blue-green eyes. I remember the slight look of confusion. Her furrowed brow. A half smile. “Who are you?”
All I felt was love as I said, “Oh, Mom, it’s me. It’s Heidi. It’s your daughter. I’m here.”
Mom had been afraid that her mind would go before her body was ready to go. Because there were tumours in her brain, we knew this was a possibility and we braced ourselves for it—noting the words she lost and how her stories turned in circles sometimes. On Wednesday, October 28, one week before her death, she made her last entry in the daily diary she’d kept since she was in her teens. Her last written words: “So discombobulated.”
When I was a girl, I had a waking nightmare about my mom not knowing who I was. She was standing in a small well-lit attic with a sloped roof and white-washed walls. I came up the stairs and entered the room and she looked at me without any curiosity or awareness. No half-smile. No furrowed brow. No question. Just a complete lack of recognition. This haunted me and became the way I thought about how horrifying it would be if, on the last day, Jesus would say to me plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoer” (Matthew 7:23).
When Mom didn’t recognize me there at the very end, there was nothing haunting or horrifying about it. Her mind and body were going away at the same time.
I bear witness to the painful fact that some of you have heard your mom, your dad, your grandparent, or your spouse ask you over and over again, “Who are you?” For me, my mom’s discombobulation was short-lived. I have even grown to treasure her last question, “Who are you?”
In a conversation with my spiritual director, I waxed a bit of eloquent – making a connection between my mom’s question to me in her hospital bed and God’s question to Adam and Eve in the garden. God’s question, “Where are you?” echoed in Adam and Eve’s lives and still echoes in our lives today. “’Who are you?’ is kind of like, ‘Where are you?’” I said to Sister Lucy. “It’s a great question. An anchoring question! All my life, I can listen to the echo of my mom asking me, ‘Who are you?’ I’m a child of God! Or, just like my mom would often say, I am Jesus’ little lamb.” (I love how Sister Lucy lets me do this and just delights in me when I joyfully make theological connections and preach tiny little sermons in our meetings.)
After a pause, Sister Lucy said something that took my breath away. “When your mom asked you who you were, maybe she just wanted to hear your answer one more time.”
Oh, Mom. It’s me. It’s your daughter. It’s Heidi. I’m here.
As children, we need to hear our parents and our Heavenly Parent speak the truth of who they are and who we are. “You are my child whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
And as our parents die, perhaps it brings them comfort to hear it from our lips, one last time. It’s me. It’s your daughter. I’m here.