A couple weeks ago I posted the above photo and wrote, “On days like today, when the roofline blends in with the sky, and my sister and I cry heaving tears on the phone as we talk about hospice, about my brother saying goodbye to our sweet mom, and the notable, heartbreaking changes in her, I decide we will keep our wreaths in the windows. As long as we can. With a hope that things will stay a little longer, just as they are. Some things are evergreen.”
Playing through my mind were the words to one of my Mother’s favorite songs:
“Don’t be afraid of the dark…
At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky…
Though your dreams be tossed and blown…”
And what followed, at least on the screen of my phone, were the most beautiful comments from you – friends and family, far and near.
From my sister Bec, “We are evergreen; with our eternal family.”
From my friend Ally, “Those wreaths are like The Everlasting Life who connects our families forever.”
From Allyson, “Your mother and your relationship with her are evergreen.”
So I have kept our woodland berry wreaths hanging in the windows. Symbols to me of those truths and relationships that never die.
My mother’s health took a nose-dive right after Christmas. She became unable to help transfer herself to the wheelchair, was choking and aspirating when she would eat or drink, so she stopped eating. Her speech became slurred, and she became less coherent of what was happening around her. It was heartbreaking to watch.
My brother, Dave, who was in town, would make her crépes, fill her water jug, or help her into bed. After every tiny act of service, he would gently put his hand on her shoulder and say, “I love you Mom.” At one point she was so weak, he and my Dad had to literally scoop her body up like a baby and place it in the wheelchair.
Dave built a shower for her in the bathroom, complete with detachable hose, children’s pool, curtain held with a hula hoop, and a pump to pump out the water. He would sit and read to her, which I know was comforting to her. And yet, with every new day she seemed to be slipping further away.
One night I sat on the couch and held my Dad’s hand while he cried.
I took these photos on our Keddington family day. Right before she started to decline. She was remarkably alert and spunky that day.
Note the red bow in her hair. Some mornings it takes us a while to get around to doing her hair. On this morning it was sticking straight up. We had a good laugh as Bec tied a red ribbon round her wild hair. Mom handled it all with a big smile, like the amazing sport she is.
I love her eyes.
That evening, Doug took most the kids home, but Ali stayed with me to finish cleaning the kitchen. My Mom was lying down on the couch when we bent down to kiss her goodbye, and she just started talking, about how beautiful Ali was, not only on the outside, but on the inside. How she could see what Ali would look like when she was grown up.
“I could watch my children and grandchildren all day long. It makes me so happy. I look into the eyes of my grand babies and it’s as if we’ve known each other a long time. I look at your girls, Cath, and I can see what they will look like as teenagers. So beautiful. This weekend was like looking into the eternities for me.”
Baby Jack was in Sarah’s arms, reaching out to touch my mom’s face, smiling at her, as if they really had known each other a long, long time. It was a visionary moment of sorts. I felt she could somehow see us continuing on, linked together as a family, even after she was gone.
When we walked out to the car, Ali said to me, “Mom, I could feel the spirit when Grandma was talking.” And my heart immediately swelled. “Me too,” I said. And we talked about what we had felt.
Some things do last beyond the now.
Some things really are ever green.
And God, in all his grace and goodness, for some reason, decided to honor our prayers. He allowed things to stay as they were, a little longer.
We thought my Mother had suffered another brain hemorrhage, which was causing her rapid decline, but in calling the oncologist, he felt it was due to tumor growth and swelling in her brain so he started her on a steroid, which helped immediately.
For the last three weeks, my mother has been eating again, able to remember things, to talk, laugh, and hold a pretty good conversation. She is still weak when it comes to transferring from couch to wheelchair, and she is sleeping more than usual, but we are managing. And hospice nurses and therapists come regularly, on-the-ready for anything we might need.
We know the steroid is a temporary fix. Eventually the swelling will overtake the dexamethasone, but for now, we are grateful for every day with her.
My Dad called her siblings and encouraged them to come see my Mom while she was still able to talk and know they are there. They set their busy lives aside, and came. From several states. To spend the weekend with their oldest sister.
When Berkley walked in I had all kinds of flashbacks: reunions at the farm, pull-up contests, waterskiing, and so many great times. I thought how lucky we were to grow up with these good people as part of our childhood. They encircled my Mom with love. They laughed, talked, and brought with them, faith. The same trust in heaven their parents taught them to have.
It made my Mom so happy. She said, “After all these years we still care about each other and make time for each other.” I thought my Grandparents, Marv and Lorraine Wray, would be mighty proud.
As for Christmas at our house, we finally got our tree lit the week before Christmas.
The kids built a snow fort in the backyard. Little did we know there were piles and piles of more snow coming our way.
Eliza was asked to make 25 of these red paper stars to hang in the gym for our church Christmas party. Bless her heart. She did them all by herself and was happy about it. I thought they were the perfect touch.
We saw the candy windows downtown.
This one made me laugh. “Selfie Stick.”
On Christmas Eve we went skiing with the Arvy clan, per Arvy tradition. First time in 12 years for me and let me tell you, I was nervous, nervous Nellie about trying out my new skis. But the snow was amazing, and after a few runs I started to get the hang of it again. We skied until the lifts closed and to my relief, I finished the day with both ACLs still intact.
Nativity reenactment at my parents’ house.
New pajamas for these yahoos.
And on Christmas Eve, baby Jesus was placed in the crèche. (I love this original art piece by Samantha Lehnardt. Hand delivered one afternoon with lots of love. Check out her stationary and prints @lionheartpaper.)
Christmas morning was full of anticipation and an unusual amount of mid-morning waking. A different child was up every hour from 2AM on and I about lost my mind by 5AM, after putting kids back to bed again and again. By 11AM I had to lie down for a nap.
For the first time ever, they sang “Here we sit like birds in the wilderness… waiting to go DOWNstairs.” Rather than UPstairs.
A penny skateboard for Gordy.
Stuffed penguin for Spence. He LOVES his stuffed animals.
A camera for Sami. And a little black kitty.
Polaroid camera for Ali.
And a desk for Eliza.
Santa, however, could only leave her the chair. The desk was coming via Pottery Barn, because it was the one she liked best, and he said their shipping department wasn’t nearly as good as his elves.
Kitty craft for Sami, from Gordon.
Pokémon cards for Gordy from Mom and Dad. Seriously, the rage with Pokémon is lost on me. The boys and all their friends are WAY into trading and collecting these cards. Usually I try to get excited about my kids toys but the Pokémon craze, even after reading the cards and trying to understand, remains a mystery to me.
Ali and Sami got pinboards for the rooms from Mom and Dad.
I finally printed all our Chatbooks. A starting place at least, when it comes to printing our family history and organizing photos. Everyone LOVES sitting down and looking through them. And this commercial that went viral? Funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time! Oh, how I could relate. You too?
Ali was the best Secret Pal to Spencer. She went above and beyond in her daily service for him. Someday I hope he understands how lucky he is to have a sister like her.
Sami made me this pillow in her sewing class. I love everything about it and I keep it on our bed.
I gave Doug this keychain with Steven’s signature engraved on it. How we missed Steve over the holidays.
Santa left a vegetarian thank you note.
And Doug got me brand new, shining metal cookware from Williams-Sonoma! Our old non-stick pans were flaking off into our food. (Let’s just say my mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving looked like they had extra pepper in them. We had to throw that batch out.)
And one of the best Christmas gifts of all? This amazing snow storm. We woke to a foot of new snow on the ground. Eliza, of course, was the first one to venture out.
Doug has done a whole lot of shoveling this winter.
When Dave was in town, we had a Keddington family ski day. This Texan only skis once a year but he can still hustle down the slopes like a pro. I could barely keep up. Here we are at the summit of Solitude.
We put these rookies in ski school.
And the girls skied with us. By the end of the day, all of them had made big gains in their ski confidence. Liza (above) is kamikaze on the hills. Sometimes I watch her go down ahead of me and she doesn’t even turn! Just rockets straight to the bottom. That girl is crazy and she loves speed. Lesson I learned with her? The trees really do have trolls. Do NOT follow Eliza into the trees. Tree trails are for kids. Not unsuspecting adults with long skis.
It was a good ski day.
Found Spencer like this one morning. Sound asleep, in a penguin hug.
On New Year’s Eve, which was Steve’s Birthday, we met at the cemetery for a balloon release. His daughter Abi’s idea. We brought red and white balloons because Steve was an avid Ute fan. We sang happy birthday, then let them fly.
I hope he saw and felt the love.
I was so touched when these darling granddaughters saw their Grandma crying and pulled her into a hug. Held on to her. Cried with her.
For Christmas we gave Renae this necklace. The “Mom, I love you” is in Steven’s handwriting. With his 6 year old signature on back.
My most caring friend, Gaylyn, who has known more loss than a mother and grandmother should, brought this card over one afternoon. I keep it on the hutch in our dining room. I see it and I believe it. And I know she believes it. I trust one day it will be true.
One evening I had Spencer in the car and we decided to drive past this tree I had heard about in our local cemetery. Wow, was it worth the stop! It has been called the “Tree of Life” and it was absolutely stunning. A beacon of light against the dark landscape.
And just as that tree of life stands as a symbol that light always masters the dark, our wreaths quietly speak to me of things eternal. Of relationships, of family continuing on, round and round, with no end. And I am leaving them in our windows.
They make me happy. They remind me that God hears our pleadings. That some things really are evergreen. And that his plan is full of grace.
I can trust in it. In his precise knowing of what my mother needs. And in the timing of it all.
I can take those days when I walk around with a pit in my stomach wondering how it will play out, wondering how I will let her go, and give it over to Him.
There is nothing else for me but trust. That his light will fill all the dark corners.
As my friend Emily wrote, “May there be light shining from every window of your home.”
And on this snowy evening, there is.