Dear Mom; With Undying Love, Debbie (Letter # 13) The Final LessonNov 24, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
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November 24, 2001
It's so hard to believe that your awful journey into the clutches of dementia is finally over for you. You've battled this sickening disease for 5 1/2 years now. None of us could understand why you'd been hanging on for so long, when your body had long since completely betrayed you. There had to be some reason, we were always told. She's hanging on for something! We may never know what it was, they explained; then again, you may be lucky enough to have it become crystal clear!
In August of 2001, five years after your first of many strokes, my sister Sandee and I finally completed the overwhelming task of cleaning out 32 plus years of "stuff" which had been collected in your house, Mom. How does anyone sort through 32 years of someone's belongings, deciding what to save, what to pitch, and what to donate to charity? Would we accidentally throw out something important? How will we ever complete this task?
For five days in a row, we held a yard sale, the view of which was partially obstructed by the 25-foot dumpster we rented for quick disposal of the mounds of trash, ruined furniture, and other items which no longer could serve any recognizable purpose, but were saved because of the grip dementia had on your once-brilliant mind.
After the fifth day, we still had much of the yard covered with your belongings, even though we offered each item for only five cents, hoping someone would find something they could use and not feel that financial restrictions would keep them from taking it home.
We sadly threw much of it into the dumpster, and bagged up what we thought should be donated to Goodwill. The job was finally done.
Meanwhile, your decline in health was now advancing so quickly, and we just begged God each day to take you home, to reunite you with Dad, who went to Heaven 25 years ago. You and I even prayed aloud together a month ago, pleading that God would finally free you from the body which trapped you in misery here on Earth.
Still, you hung on, day by day, no longer able to see, no longer willing to eat anything but ice cream. At times you were even unable to remember those of us who spent our lives loving you. Why were you hanging on, Mom? Was there someone who hadn't given you permission to go? Was there a lesson you still needed to teach us? Some sort of unfinished business, perhaps? We were clueless. Why would our merciful God continue to keep you here on Earth when your life seemed so horrible now?
This past week, as we watched you on your death bed, your breathing became totally mechanical, you no longer had the strength to utter a single word, and your eyes rarely peeked open at us. It was absolutely devastating to watch you like this, Mom.
Then it happened! Sandee got a call from her son's new bride. In July, they had purchased your home of 32 years. Walking out to the mailbox, she made an incredible discovery. It was a Bible, a worn out Bible, but not just ANY Bible. This was YOUR Bible, Mom! There were so many Bibles in your house that we ended up donating various religious books to the Goodwill, after keeping the ones we wanted in the family. This Bible is very worn out, its battered edges making it an easy one to overlook, and it was tossed in the donation pile. How could something so worn out and faded have much value? We tend to feel that way about so many things, don't we, Mom?
Enclosed in the Bible was the following message from the anonymous angel who returned it:
"I bought this Bible at the Goodwill at 70th & Federal. I thought I should bring here."
No name, no return address, nothing. The Goodwill at 70th & Federal is at least a 45-minute drive from your house, Mom! Why would anyone go to that much trouble? They didn't send it through the mail, they drove it all they way to your house, and put it in the mailbox! No one saw a thing.
On Thanksgiving Morning, I woke up very frightened at 2:47am. I couldn't stop worrying about you, Mom. A horrible feeling of dread prevented me from sleeping any longer. I finally got out of bed at 4:00 am, and went downstairs to prepare a birthday present for a beautiful, angelic woman named Millie at the hospice, who I had come to think of as my own angel. She's a resident there, and can't understand why God has not yet taken her to Heaven. Her huge smiles and glowing spirit gave me such comfort as I wandered the halls of the hospice, tears streaming down my face as I watched you cling to life.
I went into my living room to check on a tape of music that I was recording for Millie. I was astonished at how orange the room appeared in this beginning of a new day. I looked outside, and the sky was ablaze in God's glory. They sky appeared to be on fire, its stunning gold, yellow, orange, and pink clouds almost hurt your eyes in stark contrast to a beautiful, blue sky. I knew right then that your day of release had come, Mom! You always did love a beautiful sunrise or sunset.
A few hours after that sunrise, I arrived at the hospice center. I had received a call on the way there, and a hospice nurse sadly informed me that you were looking really bad, and that if I wanted to see you, I'd better hurry!
I arrived only thirty minutes before Sandee, who had flown in that morning from Minnesota. She had been given that Bible by her son as he picked her up at the airport. Sandee brought the Bible to your side, opened it up to the first page she had seen that morning on her way to see you, and read to us the message inscribed on the worn pages, written by YOU, Mom!
You wrote, "Death to this earthly body is a natural fact, as is birth. To not accept it is to fight nature and to risk one's mind going to pieces. But the real self, the soul, the individual identity of each of us is spirit as is God, and is everlasting, whole, holy, wholesome, vital, changeless as is the love of God. Water, ice, steam, are one and the same but taking different form."
And on another page was written, again in your beautiful pre-dementia handwriting:
Life After Death, from Guideposts, by Norman Vincent Peale -
"What is death? Obviously it is a change into some new form of existence. We have allowed ourselves to think of death as a dark door, when actually it is a rainbow bridge spanning the gulf between 2 worlds. When your body becomes unfit as a dwelling place for your spirit, then it or you will leave the unfit body. But YOU will be more alive than ever before! What a pity to worry about something dreaded that MIGHT happen. If it never happens you've never-the-less ruined otherwise happy days worrying. If it does happen, you're too tired from worry to meet the situation to your best ability."
As we held you close to us, Sandee read this aloud again and again throughout the day, always at your bedside, to all the hospice nurses and grieving loved ones of the other hospice residents. I can't even begin to explain the feelings of peace that YOUR writing gave to all of us preparing to say good-bye to you, Mom! You were so quiet and peaceful, lying there listening to Sandee repeatedly sharing your messages with everyone!
Even in your dying hours, you were teaching us the most important lesson you could possibly share with us! You were no longer able to speak with your mouth, but because that angel returned your Bible three months after we'd given it away, and only three days before your passing, you spoke to us through the words you'd written in that precious, battered Bible!
Your breathing was reduced to steady puffs of air exhaled through tired lungs, every three seconds. Your beautiful hands that took such loving care of us were now a deep purplish gray in color. Your heart could now only pump blood into your vital organs, so your extremities were very cool and discolored. It is the surest sign that death is only hours away.
I clung so tightly to those purple hands, Mom. My hands looked so pink in contrast to your hands being deprived of a blood flow, and yet yours were actually warmer than my own hands, frozen in the shocking reality that you would be leaving us soon.
There were seven of us in the room with you when you took your final breath on that Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2001. All three of your children were there, as was your twin sister, one grandson, his new bride, and your daughter-in-law. During the last five minutes of your life, your breathing suddenly changed drastically. No longer were you breathing heavily in mechanical puffs. You were now breathing so quietly.
As we all held you tightly, your eyes suddenly opened. You struggled to say something, but none of us could make it out. I pressed my face against yours, kissed your cool face, looked into your brown eyes, and told you to go see Dad, go see what he's been up to the last 25 years, and give him a big hug for all of us.
With that, you took one final sigh of relief, and that was the beginning of your new life! With tears streaming down my face, I looked at our hands clutching one another tightly. I was astonished to see your hand immediately return to its normal color! It seemed so symbolic that the death of that body had returned your hand to its normal appearance, Mom! You were free at last, and we all rejoiced through our own tears over what you must be seeing, yes SEEING after years of blindness!
Happy Heavenly Birthday, Mom. We shall never forget the lessons you have taught us, especially the lessons you brought to us in your final hours. Thank you for hanging on until that angel returned your Bible into our hands once again!
With undying love,
This is the thirteenth in a series of letters I have written to Mom, documenting her journey through dementia. I pray that these letters will reach out to others who are losing a loved one, offering them hope for the future!
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