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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.

Pause. Breathe.

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.

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

15 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Maybe she wanted to hear your answer one last time.

  • mstair says:

    You are providing great ministry here…
    Giving Thanks for You and Your Calling.

  • Tom Brandt says:

    Sister Lucy’s answer brought actual tears.

  • Judith Baker says:

    Tears, and memories. Thanks for your courageous writing.

  • John K says:

    So poignant, Heidi.
    Repetition. So it gets deep into our heart/consciousness and unconsciousness.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Heidi, for sharing your personal account of your mom’s dying. Those are heartfelt stories for each of us, the stories of the loss of loved ones. And then what we make of those accounts. I’m surprised how people truly believe the conspiracy theories in regard to Donald Trump. The election of 2020 was stolen from him. Or he’ll be back in office by the end of this year. There’s a whole story, or many stories, theories, that surrounds the greatness of Trump. And people truly believe the theory. Some are willing to stake their lives on the theory (or refuse the vaccine). Of course the greatest conspiracy theory is that of the Bible, written by pro-Jesus folk, as though it is objective truth. Feeding 5,000 people from a child’s lunch? Come on. And so many versions and interpretations of the theoretical story. And there’s the difference a 2,000 year old story can make for you today and for eternity. I feel bad for those who fall prey to the Trump conspiracy theories, as well as so many other theories. It seems as though we never learn. Blessings to you, Heidi, in your fond memories of Mom.

  • Gloria McCanna says:

    Such a precious and sacred moment. Thank you.

    “Do this in remembrance of Me,” even when we’ve forgotten who “Me” is, for Me never forgets us…..

  • Carol Sybenga says:

    Loved Sister Lucy’s question to you. Yes pause…breathe. Deeply meaningful. Tears.

  • Jenny deGroot says:

    Dear Heidi
    Our dear mama slipped into God’s presence and the mystery of Eternity last evening at 8 pm I too whispered in her ear “Mom it’s me Jenny I love you” And my siblings did the same
    Blessed to read this through my tears

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I once heard a Jewish scholar lecture on the “Here am I” that Adam could not say in the Garden. To be able to say “Here am I (hineini)” is what makes us human beings, he said. To say it to God is to be fully human. Here am I, Here I am. Abraham said it to God twice at the sacrifice of Isaac. Check how many times it’s said in the Bible. The Blessed Virgin Mary said it to the Archangel Gabriel. Here I am. The human response to “I am that I am”.

  • How wonderful. These memories of yours are bring back memories of my own. Thank you.

  • Henny Flinterman Vroege says:

    Tears here, too. Memories here, too.
    Thank you.

  • Kathy Schreurs says:

    My own mother slipped away nine years ago this week, and I’ve been pushing back the bittersweet memories of her last days. Thanks for nudging my heart, allowing me to remember, grieve, and smile as I recall simple exchanges that became both more poignant and precious as time has passed.

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