Thursday, July 13, 2017

Into the West

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As I saw the full moon rise last week, I tilted back my head and sighed into the night sky. Two full moons have come and gone since I cried in the moonlight that evening my Mom said her last, "I love you."

Weeks have passed and I have had no time, no energy, to write about this gorgeous day in which we laid her body into the earth. 

To grieve in this modern world is not easy. We don't dress in black, we wear no black arm band. We carry with us no symbol that says we are walking through sorrow. Our break-neck pace leaves no room for our break-heart needs. It shoves us forward, onto the next thing, the next event, the next responsibility, with no thought that maybe, we can't. Maybe we can't do what we did in our unbroken state. 

But we tell ourselves we have no choice. We put on our "I'm alright" face and stuff our tears deep.

School let out the day after the funeral and I have not stopped. I have not been able to really reflect on all that happened, to grieve, or even recover. All my thank you notes sit unwritten. Emails go unanswered. And I just keep tending to the immediate. 

Death is traumatic. I see that now, as scenes from my Mom's death play out in my dreams. There are feelings and places I will need to work through. I am exhausted every day and wish I could find a quiet mountain or beach somewhere to just be. To think, cry, remember, process, and sleep. 

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But if I want to grieve, I must give myself that time. No one else will hand it to me. And the challenge is that I'm no sovereign. I am a mother, landlocked by five dependent children, who are my home. They need me. And when I stop to consider it, I need them. They are good for my heart. Even if summer throws us thick into each other. And most days I can't catch my breath. Maybe in September I will regroup, reflect, and recover.

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May 25th was a beautiful day. The temperature was perfect, the sunlight soft, and each person who came added so much to what we saw and felt. 

If you were there at any of the services or viewings, may I humbly say, thank you

You carried us, you lightened our hearts, you held out your arms to us. And you truly mourned with us. I have never experienced such powerful comfort and compassion through others.

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The viewings were crowded with dear friends and family. And the funeral services were healing. 

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My Dad asked Lauren to play at the funeral. When she came to play for my Mom, she introduced us to a new song which we all loved, but my Dad loved it best.  

It was Into the West, by Annie Lennox. 

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Lauren played with great feeling and tenderness. I sat next to my Dad and held his hand. We wept through the entire song. The words were included in the program so everyone could read along. 

Below is a recording of Lauren playing Into the West. I wanted you to hear the melody. 

Read the words as you listen. Every phrase is so rending but peaceful. It describes perfectly our experience of letting Mom go. Watching the ships come for her, claim her, and gently guide her away from our shore.

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
The night is falling
You have come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore
Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All Souls pass
Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say
We have come now to the end
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping
And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

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My cousin, Suzie, sang my Mom's favorite song, You'll Never Walk Alone. She flew from Arizona to be there and she sang it so beautifully. Thank you Suzie. 💕

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The grandkids sang one of my Mom's favorite children's song, In the Leafy Treetops. We wrote a third verse for Mom, which we also included on the program.

1. In the leafy treetops, the birds sing good morning. 
They're first to see the sun, they must tell everyone.
In the leafy treetops, the birds sing good morning.

2. In my pretty garden, the flowers are nodding.
How do you do, they say, how do you do today?
In my pretty garden, the flowers are nodding.

3. In our happy family, we're thankful for Grandma.
She's first to see The Son, we must tell everyone.
Every happy family can last forever.

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Mixed in between the musical numbers were our remarks. My Dad asked each of his children to speak. Worried we would be redundant, we each decided to choose just one of Mom's attributes to talk about. 

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Rachel talked about my Mom's service and obedient heart. Sarah talked about her garden and love of nature, birds, and the outdoors. Becca talked about her record-keeping. How she kept a wonderful history of our family, as well as family history for her parents and ancestors. Deb talked about her sense of humor. Dave talked about her work ethic and how she taught us to work hard. And I spoke about her faith.
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I wish I could include all of the remarks here. But it would be lengthy. So I will just share with you, what I said about her faith.

Over 22 years ago when she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, I was 20, Rachel was only 10. I was in Israel, Dave was in Brazil on his mission, and Deb became surrogate mother to our younger sisters. I remember Mom’s voice on the phone in my room at the Jerusalem Center. “I am going to be alright,” she said. And I believed her. I did as she told me. I stayed in Israel and turned to my Savior for comfort and understanding. 

Deb told me later that initially Mom was afraid. After her first surgery, she and my Dad drove up Millcreek canyon. They found a place to park the car and Mom leaned into my Dad and just wept. She was fearful. She had no idea how things would work out. Dad held her and he prayed. Afterwards she relaxed and began to feel a sense of peace about everything. She said to my Dad, “Whatever happens will be OK.” From that point on she trusted completely in Heavenly Father, that he would do what was right for her and her family. That belief sustained her to the very end. Even a few days before her passing My Dad asked her, “Are you afraid?” She said, “No.” 

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Mom loved the story of Jairus’ daughter being raised from the dead. Deb printed her favorite verse from that story on the wall above the kitchen sink. It’s still there and it says, “Fear not; Believe only.”

After her first two surgeries, the tumor was miraculously removed. We cherished the many extra years we had with our Mom. She taught us then that faith could work miracles. But after the tumor returned and we gradually watched her lose function, we learned from her that true faith is more than expecting a miracle. It is submission. It is not turning your back on God when you have to walk a road you would not choose for yourself. It is trusting Him when your prayers or desires seem to go unheard. She did this. She submitted herself. With grace, humility, and with unfaltering love for her Savior.

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During her miracle years, as we call them, she felt the need to do something important. But she wasn’t sure what. She never served that mission with my Dad. But she did make us something we will always treasure. It’s a book of the stories of Jesus. She spent her time writing down each of the stories of Jesus in her own words. With pictures, scripture, and her testimony. All of her posterity can have no doubt where she got her strength. And in whom she trusted.

These last two years, even in the middle of heartbreaking decline, she showed us again, what it means to have faith. She never complained when she was trying to learn how to walk again; she worked so hard. She never complained when we had to lift her paralytic arm for her, when we had to heave her on and off the toilet, when we had to feed her, roll her, change her diaper, brush her teeth. Not once did she complain. Mostly, she laughed with us and said thank you. 

And I have to say for just a moment, that no one will ever know, except Mom and God himself, the scope of care, the tenderness, and the patient love, with which our Dad served and cared for our Mom. He too never complained, but was full of jokes and funny comments, all of which made her laugh. Like, when we had to change her briefs, and he'd say, “let’s roll you over for a brief moment,” or “time to frush and bloss your teeth” or after coming out of the bathroom with her, “well, it all came out in the end!”

And when I would say, “Mom, it’s time to pluck your nose hairs, and your chin hairs,” I’d get going with the tweezers and have to push her face into awkward positions and we’d start laughing so hard we’d be crying. Crying for the laughter. Or maybe crying because plucking nose hairs hurts so much! She took it all like a champ.

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On Tuesday evening we gathered as siblings to spend some time with Mom and thank her for all she had done for us. Her eyes were closed and she didn’t speak, but we knew she could hear us. 
After we each took a turn talking to her, I held her hand and said, “Mom, when someone comes to get you - whoever that is - when it is your time to go, we don’t want you to hesitate or worry about Dad, or us, we want you to go. You have endured all you need to endure. When they reach out their hand to you, take it and go with them.”

She didn’t smile, she didn’t nod, but she faintly said four words. “Okay. I. Will. Go.”

These are some of the last words we heard her speak. It took faith for her to say that. It took believing that some special angel would come to take her hand. That there would be a place of joy for her beyond that bed in the family room. And that the pain of separation we would feel would not last forever. 

The hole carved out in each of our hearts as she took her last breath will not go away anytime soon. But it will be a holding place, that will fill with joy when we are reunited with her. 

Mom passed her faith on to us. And just like her, we hold on to Christ and His promises. These words from Isaiah capture well what we believe, and what she now knows.

Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee… the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee… I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations… Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” (Isaiah 60) 

How I love you Mom.

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After arriving at the cemetery, my Mom's brother Berkley dedicated the grave. It was a beautiful prayer. He made mention that it would be a place of peace. That the birds would always sing there. That we could go there and remember, and feel Ronda. He blessed this spot to protect her body until the resurrection when she will walk into my Dad's arms once more.

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This was the first time I had seen all her siblings together, without her.

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The pallbearers were asked to lay their boutonnieres on the casket. Here is Spencer placing his white carnation atop our spray of garden flowers.

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A sweet childhood friend of mine, Kristi, brought me this gorgeous lei. She knew someone who could ship it from Hawaii, rush order, so it would be fresh and on time. It is a funeral lei. Because plumeria blossoms come from the ground, and before the casket is interred, you place them on the casket to return to the ground. It smelled of heaven and I wore it when I spoke. Such beautiful symbolism.

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This was extremely tender for me.

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Thank you Kristi.

Isn't the casket beautiful? Its mahogany wood caught the light with such radiance that day. The same radiance that seemed to grace my Mother when she was alive.
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And then my Dad stood to speak. His heart so broken. Crushed in a way I cannot understand. And he smiled. Just like you see below. He spoke only a few words. He told everyone how much he loved them. He said thank you. Then asked that everyone take a flower from the arrangements to keep at home and remind them of his sweetheart, Ronda.

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That smile says so much. It never goes away for long. It is an underline of happiness on which his world turns. Somehow, he has figured out how to praise God in his suffering. Look at the love in his eyes. Love for everyone holding him up. Love for the sunshine he claims so easily. And love for the God he knows will bring his wife to him again. I have always adored my Dad. But the last couple years I have found an admiration and love for him for which I cannot find adequate words. 

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There were so many flowers. So many tributes. My Mom would have been overwhelmed by this outpouring of blossoms.

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Deb, Will, and Lizzie.

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Even little Jack made time to smell (or maybe eat?) the daisies.

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The grandkids chose their flowers.

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Little Emma picked a rose. She brought my Mom so much joy those last few weeks.

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My Doug, whom I can't even think of losing.

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Our Keddington family.

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Dave, Shirlee, Maya and Ethen.

It was so good to finally have Dave with us.

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Rachel. She gave so much to Mom. So very much.

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Our Wray family.

Our Keddington and Kimball family.

A perfect place to lay our sweet Mom down. 

The day she died as we looked at her body, I felt a new kind of reverence for bodies, especially hers. I no longer saw them as something that becomes lifeless and returns to the dust. Our bodies are truly incredible. Deb mentioned it first. She said, "Look at this body. It carried and birthed six children. Those hands made bread for us every week as we grew up. They dug in the dirt, moved pipe, sewed so many dresses for us." 

Over the next few days we cherished her body. It was an honor to go with my Dad and my sisters to dress Mom before the viewing. She looked so pretty. Deb touched up her hair and makeup. And when they eventually closed the casket prior to the service, Liza tucked a little note into the casket only she and Grandma knew about, Rachel tied a white veil under Mom's chin then covered her face, I held onto my Dad's arm, and we sobbed. Even separating from her body was difficult. 

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Everyone hugged and spoke quietly in this sacred spot below Mom's mountain. Then slowly, they walked away and climbed into their cars. But I lingered. And as I watched them leave, a phrase came into my mind.

"Everything is as it should be." And I knew that revelation to be true. It didn't lessen the ache or the longing for my Mom, but it did bring peace. 

We had so many years with her that were a gift. She knew it. And we knew it. God had extended her life. He let us have her as long as He possibly could. Until it was her time to go. And when it was, she did not fight it or resist. She did just as she said she would. She left.

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It seems no coincidence that my Mom is buried right next to Kara's grandfather, Duff Hanks. Marion D. Hanks. Sweet Grandpa Hanks, as I called him. He married me and Doug in the Salt Lake Temple. I have written about him before. 

Kara knows loss. And she knows that God is in it. I am so grateful she could walk this journey with me.

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I love these words from a song, written by my friend Elizabeth, who lost her Dad not too long ago.

"When someone goes, they stay somehow."

I do feel Mom's presence. I go to her house and she is there. I work in her garden and she is in the dirt, the air, in her flowers and plants. I see her everywhere. And I know, she comes to us often. I know she is with us. And I know that Into the West simply means she has shifted dimensions. Just because I do not see her, does not mean she is not there.

I have heard you whispering Mom. I have felt you. I love you.

Graveside photos taken by Liz Draper 💗

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Nearer Than We Think

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Mom, look at your irises. Regal in their fullest bloom, leaning into the morning light. How you would love to be bent over them, gloves on, snipping their purple crowns to brighten your kitchen. 

You lasted long enough to breathe their perfumed scent. Deb cut their long stems and placed them in a vase on the counter just a few days before you passed. After the funeral, I pushed them into the kitchen garbage can, withered and brown, to make room for the floral arrangements that filled the house.

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So many flowers Mom. People brought, sent, and hand-delivered one of the things you loved most. Flowers. And we shared them with everyone you cared about. Your sisters, your nieces, your neighbors, your daughters.

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Oh Mom. 

I cannot believe you are no longer here to hold. 

Every morning I wake to reclaim this new, hard reality. That I do not have you next to me. The pain is always fresh - a truth that haunts me in my sleep until pre-dawn light whitens the north window and I open my eyes, unable to return to my dreams.

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I lie there for a few minutes, watching the soft light, reliving those final days with you. I can't seem to replace them yet with all the other memories. It is what I think of before I fall to sleep, what I revisit when I wake.

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Last Wednesday was the first Wednesday in two years I did not spend with you. On Sunday, when I looked at the calendar and realized I would not write, "Mom" with a descending arrow through the day, the tears came again. I had written "Mom" on Wednesdays for so many months, thankful I could spend those days, and dozens of others, serving you, doing for you, being with you.

My heart aches for you. 

I have searched out old videos of you. And new ones. The most recent are from that morning Lauren came to play the piano for you. It was February and you could still sit up in your wheelchair, smile, speak.

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Beautiful Lauren. Remember how we became friends? I met her one day in the grocery store. Saw her brand new baby twins in tow - one in the cart, one in a bjorn. She was putting vegetables in a plastic bag and I couldn't help myself; I had to talk to her. Within seconds I was telling her how impressed I was that she was out with both babies, running an errand. I knew what it took, the jostle, the juggle, the tiny baby wails.

Turned out she lived just around the corner from me and had recently moved to Salt Lake from California. Who knew we would need each other so much? She would walk over with her babies, we would talk twins, share lunch, let our littles play in the water. Who knew she would end up sharing her music with us for two hours, playing all your favorites? The hymns, broadways classics, Chopin. And four months later she would play the piano at your funeral.

God knew. 

And amazingly, Lauren knew. She knew she should offer her music to our family. She knew Dad would ask her to play at the funeral. She even knew which song we would request.

That day in February Lauren told us, "Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and about which we cannot remain silent" (Victor Hugo). A perfect summation of where we were. We cried through most of her playing. She prepared each song with such thoughtfulness and meaning. Her fingers danced across the keys with something more than goodness. It was charity. It was unconditional love. 

Below is one of my favorite clips. 

You and Dad look at each other with such tenderness as she plays your wedding song, "When I Fall in Love." And then she played your favorite song from Carousel, "You'll Never Walk Alone." It always made you cry. That song was a comfort to you when you lost your parents. And in the last year it gave you strength to walk through your final storm. You knew you were not alone.

I like to think maybe your Mom and Dad were with us that day. How your Mom loved to sing and play the piano. 

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And Mom, I want to tell you about a miracle. These beautiful photos from the day Lauren came were taken by my friend, Michelle. Days before you passed I asked her if she could send over the photos but she responded with dismay that she had looked everywhere and could not find them. 

We were so sad. None of us had taken pictures with you since that day because we knew we had Michelle's. And now, you couldn't hold your head up or even open your eyes. The time for photos was past. So Sarah said, "I'm going to pray Michelle can find them." We all prayed.

The next day I got a text from Michelle saying, "I found the photos!" All of us were at the house and we immediately burst into tears. We were so grateful. So relieved. Michelle said, "I was searching and searching and finally decided to leave my computer. I went and did something nice for someone and when I returned, they were right there. Right where I had been looking."

You were the one I always shared these kind of stories with - the small, merciful gifts, the divine happenings. 

Don't worry, Mom. I won't stop sharing them with you.

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As we entered the last week of your life, there were some difficult moments we experienced. Hard things I had to do for you and see. Things I don't care to write about. But I do want to capture most of it. 

I don't want to forget how we gathered around you, set up home base in the family room, made you the hub of our living. 

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There were always flowers on the mantle and cards from friends. There were visitors, neighbors bringing food, grand-babies, occasional tears, and lots of laughs. You laughed with us Mom, up until the very last day.

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And this man. This beautiful father of mine. How he loves you.

During your last weeks you began calling out for Dad. "Bob? Bob?" Every ten minutes or so. Usually, you didn't need anything. You just wanted to know he was there. He was your constant. If he was near, you felt grounded, safe, and secure. When we would tell you he was planting tomatoes or running an errand, you would forget and a few minutes later, ask again. 

Even through the night, you would wake frequently and ask for him. Never did he respond with agitation or impatience. It was always, "Yes dear?" "I'm here." "What can I do for you?" Even when he was bone tired. And then it was a joke. A stroke of your hair. Or a tender brush of the back of his hand across your cheek. 

It was a most sacred thing to observe. His heart was so heavy watching you deteriorate. But he moved through it with the most beautiful devotion I have ever seen.

I have learned so much watching both of you. The sacrifices you made have changed me forever.

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On Mother's Day, the kids read you letters they had written you. Their thoughtful sentiments and memories surprised me. This was their last time seeing you. Their goodbye. You didn't open your eyes much, but you listened, and I know you understood. You made such an impact on them, Mom. 

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The days that followed were reverent. 

They were holy.

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Friday evening, one week before you passed, Doug and I were putting kids to bed and I hadn't seen you all day so I told Doug I was going over to be with you for a bit. You were already asleep, the lights were off, and Dad was doing a few dishes in the kitchen. 

I sat on the stool by your bed in the quiet. Within a minute or so, you felt me there and you opened your eyes. You said with a smile, "You are so beautiful." I laughed. "I don't feel very beautiful. How are you tonight?" You responded, "I'm not well." You said that a number of times as we neared the end. You weren't in pain, but you knew you were not well. 

"You still have that light in your eyes though," I said, and we squeezed hands. 

Then you said, "Someone is whispering in my ear." I paused. "I think it's just Dad washing dishes." "No," you said. "Someone is whispering in my ear." My mind began to open and I started to believe maybe someone was there. So I asked with a whisper, "Is it someone from the other side?" And you laughed. Not boisterous or loud, but a silent, shoulder-shaking chuckle. And you couldn't stop. So I laughed too, my question mark still hanging in the air. 

You never did answer me. Maybe you thought my question was so silly it cracked you up. Or maybe someone really was there, but you couldn't tell me. I'll never know.

So I sang you some primary songs and lullabies. I held your hand. And loved you.

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When I finished I said, "I came over because you're a lot easier to put to bed than my own kids." You laughed. I continued, "But I need to head home now and make sure they're in bed."

You turned your face to me in that moment and said something you hadn't said in a couple months because your speech was sparse and usually I said it for both of us. 

You said, "I love you." And you looked right into my eyes.

"I love you too," I said, choked with emotion.

I tucked your peach blanket around you and kissed you on the forehead. I hugged Dad long and hard. And then I left. 

I cried all the way home. Drove the dark streets, sobbing. When I got home, I was such a mess of tears I couldn't go inside so I went into the backyard and sat on the swing, looking up at the full moon. It was bright and beautiful, but mournful to me. It too would soon wane in light and shape. So I cried. And cried. 

That was the last time I would hear you say you love me.

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A couple evenings later, I was holding your hand and you let go to find Becca's hand who was on your other side. You looked at her and said, "I don't know how to deal with all of this." Bec and I sat tearfully silent for what seemed like a minute. Because we didn't know either. Finally I scraped together some words and said, "You just keep doing what you're doing Mom. You're doing it just right. And we'll be here with you every step of the way."

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Tuesday we gathered again. Your children and Dad. We took turns holding your hand and telling you how much we loved you, what you'd taught us, told stories. Again, you didn't open your eyes much, but you would nod and listen. Your nurse, Susan, told us while you would lose most your abilities to function, you would never lose your ability to hear.

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I love this pic of Rach with you. She was a Savior in our family. When she moved in, she picked up caregiving for you like she'd done it her whole life. All the hardness of it. Without one bit of reservation. I know you appreciated all she did. She loves you so much Mom.

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And there's a smile. With Deb, of course. She makes you laugh harder than anyone else.

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Will came too because he was out of town Sunday. He was so tender, he could barely speak.

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Sweet Sarah. 

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We face-timed with Dave. So he could talk to you. How we missed him during all of this.

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And Becca. 

These aren't easy photos to post Mom. It is hard to look through them. But all these readers that come here have shared in your journey. They have loved you from afar. And they too have been blessed by your faith and courage. 

So I am compelled to write this for several reasons. It's the best way I know to process my grief and I want to write it down. Writing about it helps me hold on to you. And I write it here because I want to share you with others. Mingled into my mourning has been this dichotomous desire, of wanting to hold everything inside, sacred and untouched, while at the same time wanting desperately for others to understand how special you are. 

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Friday morning, the day you died, I was driving Wander Lane to your house, and I started to pray. I prayed Father would take you home that day. It was becoming difficult for you to breathe. You were no longer responsive. And I didn't want you to suffer any longer.

When I arrived, you were stable, but pale in color. You no longer returned the squeeze of my hand. Your right hand, the one that had maintained some strength, was limp. So I held onto your arm. 

I took this photo two hours before you passed. 

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Dad was sure you wouldn't last the weekend. 

I sat by your side so he could run a quick errand. While he was gone things for you changed. You choked and I had to suction your mouth. You opened your eyes in a panic, and looked at me, but you didn't see me. We called Dad and I cleared your airway and got you settled again. I rubbed your shoulder and said, "Try to rest Mom. Try to relax. We are here. We will not leave you."

When Dad returned, we could no longer find a radial pulse for you. The nurse came and she could no longer get a blood pressure. I watched the needle on her gauge fan down, never ticking once. No systolic. No diastolic. It was looking like we didn't have long. 

We called Deb. She was the only one not with us. She was driving back from Pleasant Grove as quickly as she could. "Don't delay," Dad said calmly.

And then he went into his office where he took a 1948 hymnal off a shelf and returned to you. I don't know if you understood these words, but watching him read them to you was the most sacred of moments.

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One Sweetly Solemn Thought 
by Phoebe Cary

One sweetly solemn thought

Comes to me o'er and o'er;
Nearer my home today am I
Than e'er I've been before.

Nearer my Father's house,

Where many mansions be;
Nearer today, the great white throne,
Nearer the crystal sea.

Nearer the bound of life

Where burdens are laid down; 
Nearer to leave the heavy cross,
Nearer to gain the crown.

But lying dark between,

Winding down through the night,
Is the deep and unknown stream
To be crossed ere we reach the light.

Father, perfect my trust!

Strengthen my pow'r of faith!
Nor let me stand, at last, alone
Upon the shore of death.

Be Thee near when my feet

Are slipping o'er the brink;
For it may be I'm nearer home,
Nearer now than I think.

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As our time with you grew shorter and your breathing more labored, I texted Doug. "I don't think we have long. If you can leave the kids, please come. I would like you to be here." His response was immediate. "I am at the front door, but it's locked. Will you let me in?"

He had felt a prompting to get the kids settled and come over, before I had even asked. If he had come much later, he would have missed those last minutes with you.

Becca and Rachel put their babies down for naps. Bec tidied up the family room where we were. Everything became quiet and peaceful, despite our straining for you, our anxious leaning over you, trying to make you comfortable.

Finally Deb burst through the garage door with tears in her eyes. "Did I miss it?" "No," I said and I took her hand and pulled her to you. She bent over and kissed your cheek. "I'm here, Mom! I'm here."

You waited for her, Mom. You waited until all of us could be there. Except Dave, who had steeled himself for this day, knowing he had just been with you and would not be able to come. 

Dad clasped your hand in both of his, holding on with the greatest tenderness. I put both my arms around Doug and as a family, we circled your bed. We surrounded you in watchful reverence, your body heaving its final breaths, when Dad bravely said, "Ronda... We are all here... You can go."

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Three breaths later we saw your spirit slip from your body. You were changed. You were gone. 

The separation was so utterly painful all of us immediately burst into sobs. Dad bent over and kissed you, "My sweetheart," he said through his tears. "I will miss you so much."

I couldn't be away from you. I moved closer to you and held your face between my hands. I caressed your cheeks, and all I could say in my weeping was, "Oh Mom. Oh Mom. Oh Mom."

I didn't know how we'd continue without you.

As we cried, sounds came out of me I had never heard before. Usually my crying is stifled, controlled, but it was impossible to be in control. The severing and loss were so profound. We felt the most distinct absence. You had left us. Not forever, we know. But that splitting from us crumpled me. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is one of the times during this life-walk, no one can tell you about. You simply cannot know what it feels like until you are there.

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I thought we were prepared. We had mourned your decline every step of the way. Every functional loss, every compromise in your cognition. Each was difficult. We had anticipated your going, even prayed for it. But when you left Mom, it was as if we hadn't shed a single tear over you. It was fresh grief. New grief. 

This surprised me. And it leveled me.

Dad called Dave. Hardest phone call he made that day. There was nothing to say except, "She's gone. We love you Dave." 

I held your hand and stroked your skin, all of us still bereft and weeping. Then Doug said, "Can you hear the birds? The birds are singing." We quieted ourselves and listened. Sure enough, at 2:30 in the afternoon - so unusual - your birds were singing, Mom. You loved the birds that came to your feeders. 

We opened the window wide and listened to their song. They were singing you home. Singing you out of your beautiful garden, out of the yard you spent years tending. You loved the birds and God asked them to sing at your parting.


Later that evening when they came to take your body, we cried some more. We were all standing at the front door watching them put your body into the back of the suburban when a birdsong rang out from the tree right off the porch. It was clear and beautiful and brilliant. 

"What bird is that?" Bec asked. "It's the oriole," Dad said. And it sang and sang as the suburban drove down the street.

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This was not happy coincidence. It was a sign of God's love for us. That you were alright. You were home. You were singing again, dancing again, walking with your parents. Free from the body you loved and cared for, but in the end, could no longer carry you.

As the sun began to set, I stepped outside to look at your garden, hear the birds, and listen for you.

Already, it felt lonely without you. New truth settled in my heart. This was the first time I had been in your yard without you. Without you here on the earth. I pictured your dirty jeans, your gloves, your cornsilk hair falling in your face as you dug with a trowel. And then a sense of you seemed to float over me, in and out of the sweet air, like your spirit was riding on the last light of day. And I thought, "This will be a place I will feel you. I will always find you here."

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I had a number of sleepless nights Mom, wondering how this transition would be for you. Anticipating how the end would go. I was worried. I was uneasy about it. But Phoebe Cary was right. That stream you had to cross before you reached the light was deep, and it was unknown. But God was there. He was with us. I have no doubt he was with you, as your feet slipped over the brink. And at that moment, all of us were nearer the bound of life. Nearer the crystal sea. Nearer that home of homes. Nearer than we think.

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You are ours forever, Mom.

How we love you.

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