My dad died over 25 years ago.
When he was suddenly hospitalized, my older brother and I went down to Pensacola and, within two days of our arrival, he was gone.
He and my mom owned a fifth-wheel trailer, spiffed up to the nines, in which they lived and traveled, working with other retirees in the Mobile Missionary Assistance Program (MMAP) to help churches, camps and orphanages with construction, renovation, and remodeling projects. MMAPers were provided a place to set up, electricity, and sanitary services, but their work as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and handymen, as well as their living expenses, were all donated. My dad was having the time of his life, and I think my mom enjoyed the ride.
It’s funny how life works. For the most part, my dad was the strongest and healthiest of all the men in their MMAP troupe, yet his body was the first to give up.
My mom had no intention of or interest in marrying again. They were both only 75, but she couldn’t see herself with anyone else. I think she liked the solitude. The loneliness? No. Of course not. But her sewing and needlework projects and regular church involvement kept her connected enough with others to abide the darkest of times.
On April 13, she’ll turn 100.
I haven’t seen her since August when we hoped to enjoy an outdoor visit, separated by a 6-foot table and two face masks. But her 30-second memory limit, together with a bright sun and the ambient noises of nature were too much for her and, within about 10 minutes, she started to cry and asked to go inside. It was hard to see her so miserable.
My mom lives in the loveliest of places, about an hour and a half from both me and my brother. She’s lived there for over 18 years and is known by one and all. She used to do all kinds of volunteer work for both Fairhaven and their nearby church. She pushed wheelchairs to dinner and chapel. She designed, printed, and sent out birthday cards and letters of encouragement to other residents in distress or pain. She organized the big-print library and kept it tidy.
Almost 3 years ago, I was performing my usual computer clean-up (“Mom, did you click on that?”) when she slowly reached into a desk drawer, pulled out a small, framed picture, and timidly asked Who is this?
“That’s your older brother, Justin.”
“I had an older brother?”
I should have known something was going on, but I blamed the gaps on my failure to be clear or slower paced. But the 8:00 p.m. trip I made to Rockford because she refused to stay in her room alone overnight meant she had to give up living independently.
The hardest part for me is that these past almost 3 years have offered her little peace and not much happiness. She seems delighted to see me each time I visit, even the times she had to be reminded of my name. But her smiles are weak and, more than anything, she misses having purpose.
I don’t think she’s much trouble, although I’ve heard reports she can be a little ornery when the staff tries to get her to do something she’s not particularly inclined to do. She spends more and more time sleeping or sitting with her eyes closed – even during our weekly video calls.
But during the past 25 years, and 18 years, and 3 years, the only thing she has really, truly wanted is to see my dad and Jesus. Oh, some people I know resist the suggestion that we pray for death, but for my mom, I think of it more as relief and joy.
There have been a couple false alarms about her decline in the past – but this past Tuesday, during our virtual visit, there was no response to my voice or the prompts of her care-givers. When I mentioned my plan to bring a cupcake and some flowers on her centennial – we’ve been offered limited compassionate visits – the hospice provider gently mentioned I might not want to wait that long.
When I dip into the darkness of I don’t know what my job is, I ask myself should I make the trip?
- She’ll likely not know I’m there.
- I’ll see her for minutes at best.
- A lot of people will be involved/inconvenienced and taken away from the care of others in need because of the pandemic precautions they have to take.
And, honestly, who am I going there for? I’ve been close to my mom for years. Any disagreements we’ve had have either been properly aired or considered inconsequential. So, I have no serious regrets. But should I go anyway to say good-bye? Is that the right thing to do? my job?
Or am I going because I don’t want the staff to think less of me? Am I worried a lack of presence reflects a lack of concern or love or respect? So should I go anyway? Is that the right thing to do?
What is my job?
I don’t know, my lovelies. I just don’t know.
But, despite what anyone says or thinks, despite the reluctance of others to acknowledge her undeniable longing for relief, I pray for peace. I pray she will see my dad and Jesus real soon.
Marjorie Geneva Long Lilja will turn 100 on April 13, 2021. We just don’t know if it will be in Rockford, Illinois, or in Heaven. Please pray with me that wherever she is, we will all rejoice.
Until we write and read again … until I have other news, I pray for you …