From Death to Life

Once again grief roars into our family.

I keep wanting to pick up the phone and call her. Then I remember. She left us Saturday. Transitioned from death to Life. My precious 98-year old mother has longed for the day when she would see Jesus face to face. She’s eagerly awaited that great reunion with my father, who preceded her by eighteen years. Saturday evening her prayer was answered.

Mom and Dad’s Wedding. Her beautiful sister Mary is the bridesmaid on the left; Dad’s brother Jake is his best man. Mom’s brother, Irvin, is the ring bearer.

Mom lived independently until about a year ago when she moved into an Assisted Living Center. Over the past year her hearing has declined significantly so that conversations were often difficult, both in person and more so, on the phone. I treasured those moments when I saw her personality shine through her twinkling eyes, young again because of a shared memory, a laugh, a thought.

Mom could laugh – at herself or others – but never unkindly

Mom’s mobility also decreased significantly. Her legs were weak and she first needed a walker. Then she got an electric scooter which was wonderful in helping her get around the Manor and to meals in the dining room. More recently, Mom was usually in a wheelchair when she left her room.

A month ago Mom fell and broke her ankle. She’s been in a cast since, which limited her mobility even more.

I have so many precious memories with Mom.

She was a wonderful cook and homemaker. My brothers and I thought we were so clever when we came up with our own riddle:

Q: “What does Mom always look for and never hope to find?”

A: “Dirt!”

When I was quite little I spilled a glass of milk from my high chair. I expected a scolding. Instead, Mom picked up a towel, said “Oh well, that can be fixed,” and began wiping up the spilled milk.

I received Christ as my Savior at the tender age of eight years. But as a mid-teen I faced doubts–had I said the right words and was I really now a part of God’s family? When I finally confessed my fears to Mom, she helped me understand that God knew my heart. I didn’t need a specific word set if I acknowledged my need for forgiveness of sins and a Savior. She showed me John 6:37 where Jesus promised “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” And my soul was at peace, knowing I was accepted in the beloved.

Mom modeled love for Jesus Christ and for others. She was hospitable, gracious and kind. She was gifted with a beautiful, classically trained soprano voice and taught vocal lessons for many years. Whenever I couldn’t be home on an Easter Sunday I knew Mom would be singing “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah in church.

She modeled the disciplines of a walk with God–she loved reading her Bible, doing her Bible study and praying.

When my father died eighteen years ago, Mom refused to wallow in her grief. Deep as it was, she continued to meet with their friends, to enjoy their Sunday school class and church, and to invite others for a meal or conversation. One day not long after Dad’s death, I took Mom to a shopping center–I can’t recall why. As we walked and talked I told her I wished I could take her pain.

Gracious as always, she turned to me. “Carol, you have your own pain.” Despite her grief, she could look beyond herself to see my need in the loss of my beloved Dad.

Later, when both Mom and I were widowed, we took several overnight trips together. Our conversations during those times were deep, fun, meaningful. We talked about whether she had any desire to remarry (she didn’t, although she had a valued male friend for several years). We talked about my hopes and desires for my future. We explored other geographical areas.

We enjoyed seeing movies together.

Going to lunch together.

For many years Mom, my brother Arnold and I enjoyed singing trios together, until both her voice and mine waned. For a time we sang in the same church choir and I loved how her voice next to me challenged and improved mine.

Mom with her sister Mary, their brother Irvin, and me

When I was a child our family enjoyed family nights every Friday. Mom was our resident Chinese Checkers expert and winner. When my youngest brother, Bob, was five we taught him to make the popcorn and that was his job from then on. Since we didn’t have a television ’til I was in high school, Dad bought a movie projector. He and Melvyn often went to the city library and selected 16mm films we could enjoy as a family. Mel and Arn enjoyed playing with the movies–and watching downhill ski segments reversed so skiiers flew uphill backwards gave us big laughs!

Mom still enjoyed playing games until the last week of her life. She was part of a Wednesday night Rummikub group at the Manor. She loved it when she could win one or two games, and enjoyed the mental challenge and competition.

She loved her husband, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with all her heart and prayed for us faithfully. Her deepest desire was for her family members to know, love and serve the God she taught us about from our birth.

With the corona virus outbreak it’s been very hard not to be able to visit Mom in person. Bob and Sheila, Don and I have talked to her through her room window. But no touch, no hugs. Last Monday and Tuesday Mom told me she just didn’t “feel right” and was extra fatigued. Tuesday night an ambulance took her to Kaiser. Bob and Sheila and I waited in the parking lot, unable to enter the ER. Every 20-30 minutes one of us would check at the door for updates. Finally Mom was admitted and, because her x-rays showed spots on her lungs, she was isolated for two days awaiting results from a COVID-19 test. Mom did, however, have pneumonia and a serious case of sepsis (blood infection).

When the COVID-19 tests came back negative, Mom was admitted to end-of-life care and was allowed one visitor at a time. Over the next three days Don, Bob and Sheila, Mel and I spent time loving her, holding her hand, telling her it was all right to go Home. Arnold, unable to travel from Kansas, was with her on FaceTime.

I had the privilege of spending Friday afternoon, night and Saturday morning with her. I read Psalm 23 aloud and croakily sang several hymns, often breaking down in tears. I held her hand and kissed her and told her how much I love and appreciate her and that she would soon be with Jesus and Dad.

Saturday afternoon Bob spelled me and sent me home to rest. He loved on her too; and at 6:19 that evening she took her last breath on this side of eternity.

To use my nephew’s phrase, I am heartbrokenly grateful. Grateful for my mother’s long and loving life; for having her in my life for so many years; for her freedom from pain and suffering, limitations and loneliness. Grateful for God’s promise that because Jesus lives, I will be reunited with Mom when He calls me Home. And heartbroken because I want to pick up the phone and hear Mom’s voice, to hold her and hug her one more time.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:21

I love you Mom. Give Dad a big hug for me, and I’ll see you both soon.

20 Responses

  1. Kathleen Schults says:

    So beautifully written Carol. I had to wait a while before I could read your tribute since I knew I wouldn’t be able to control my tears. Helen was very special to me and I will miss her beautiful smile every Sunday. Love and hugs.

  2. Rochelle Bruegger says:

    Oh Carol! What a beautiful tribute to your mom’s life, her love for our Lord & your entire family! Your words to describe your life with her are so special & I am so thankful she is with our Lord & your dad! Thank you for sharing this! I am sorry I never heard her sing here on earth! But, one day…..

    • carolnl says:

      Thank you Rochelle. I really appreciate your comments. I look forward to when we both join Mom in singing in glory! Love you.

  3. Fritz Buschman says:

    That is a beautiful memorial, Carol. I was privileged to know your mother. She was always so friendly and loving.
    You have many of her qualities. Frank and I send our love and prayers to you and Don and your family. Fritz

    • carolnl says:

      Thank you dear friend. Mom was so glad to know you. Don and I so appreciate your love, listening ear and prayers!

  4. Robin Crest says:

    What a beautiful remembrance of her lovely, special Life. Thank you for sharing it with me. You are so much like her and it has been such a privilege to have known you both together. Blessings to you and Don.
    Robin

    • carolnl says:

      Thank you Robin. So lovely to hear from you, and I appreciate your kind words so much. Hugs to you from Don and me. How is shelter in place in Texas?

  5. Sue Swain says:

    Reduced to a puddle of tears, as you so well describe your precious mom, and the closeness and intimacy you all had with her. “Heartbrokenly grateful” says is well.

    I am so sorry, Carol that you can’t pick up the phone and hear her sweet, comforting voice.

    I love you. Wishing I could hug you, listen to you, and weep with you.

    Suzie

  6. Cathy says:

    Beautiful and worthy tribute to your lovely mother! I will miss her terribly at your social gatherings.

    • carolnl says:

      Thank you Cathy. Your comment means a lot to me. I do hope we can have more social gatherings down the road. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself as you shelter in place. Are you working from home or at the office?

    • carolnl says:

      Thank you Cathy. Yes, she was the “grounding” for us all after Dad passed eighteen years ago.

  7. Sonya Newman says:

    Such a beautiful tribute to your beautiful mother!
    Carol, may your memories of life with her bring you so many smiles and may our Lord hold you closely in His comforting arms In this deeply difficult time.
    Sending you love.

    • carolnl says:

      Thank you Sonya. You have been through so much in the past two years and I pray you too are feeling God’s comforting love. We do smile at some of our memories with Mom. She has been such a beacon in my life. Hugs!

    • carolnl says:

      Sonya, thank you so much. You understand grief and the need for God’s comfort so well, and so your comments are especially meaningful. Hugs!

  8. Drew Froese says:

    I didn’t want to stop reading your reflections. With tears in my eyes I was smiling the whole time. Thank you. Love you.

  9. Andreas Riedel says:

    Lovely words,Carol. A pleasure to read and to feel the love in each of the words and memories. She had a good life with a wonderfull family. Stay blessed,dear Carol. 😘
    Andy
    P.S in German i may find the better words for my feelings…sorry

    • carolnl says:

      Andreas, you are doing just fine with your English! Thank you. Don and I remember our times together in Alaska with deep fondness. I appreciate your words and thoughts and wish you God’s blessings!

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