Memorial Day Weekend

For me, Memorial Day weekend has become the time that I recall my last hours enjoying time with Mom. It was the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend of 2017. We didn’t know it would be our last time together, but I think she had an inkling.

John and I got together with her for brunch at her favorite brunch place out in the woods by Lake Whatcom. It was supposed to be our last get together before our big 3-week trip to Norway and Great Britain celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. She wasn’t looking forward to being separated from us for so long, yet she was also excited for our adventure.

Mom had been wondering if she could be Going Home during that time. And certainly at eighty- two, she was ready. As we were stepping down into the garage to get into the car, she mentioned as sometimes she would, something about “now would be a good time to just have a heart attack and go quickly.” We talked about death and dying often enough, in a healthy, preparatory way, but the way she said it this time gave me a start.

You should know she was not depressed, sitting around waiting to die. She was very engaged with life, as our family and all of her friends and neighbors could attest to, and yet she struggled with severe pain. So yes, she also looked forward to Heaven, fully being with God and being reunited with Dad. And she mentioned she had recently been having some odd dreams of people and memories she hadn’t thought of in years.

I replied, “Yes, but of course. So, are you getting a message? Do you know something? Like, is this going to happen soon?” I paused, remembering our bittersweet conversation of nearly a year ago. Mom had called me in the middle of the night and asked me to meet her at the ER with her neighbor friend Gayle. Unable to swallow and having difficulties with breathing, the 50 minute drive to Anacortes hospital was the most difficult drive of my life since I didn’t know if I’d get there in time. Clearly, I wasn’t ready to let her go. During that drive, I made peace with God that if it was time to take her, then to do so, because we all knew she wanted to go Home to be with Jesus and Dad. After Gayle had left, and Mom was sort of feeling better, we had the conversation every mother and daughter probably should have. I shared with her my drive, and “If and when you feel it is time to go, then go. Don’t worry about me. As much as I will always wish to have more time with you, you must go. I’ll be devastated (here we laughed together), but I’ll be okay. I’ll see you again.”

Reflecting Back

An indescribable look of appreciation crossed her face, we held each other and cried, and then we left the hospital together. Reflecting back on those moments, I now realize Mom was also probably thinking, “Karen, that is very brave and generous of you. You realize what you are offering me will cost you dearly, but you don’t even understand how much. This is a great and precious gift to me.”

I, who feel at home in hospitals, having worked many years in them, felt utterly helpless when faced with having to make health care decisions for her on that night in the hospital. I think she saw that in my face and demeanor that night. And I think it would be something she would remember in her last hours.

Standing beside her in the garage, I put my arm around her and said, “I’d still like to have you around, but go if you must.” I didn’t want her to go yet, and she knew that. But we also had an understanding that it was her decision. She wasn’t to wait around for me.

Ah. How I miss her. I am so blessed to still have these last memories of her as she was. Not like those whose parents slip away mentally over the years. No, I still have my relationship completely intact.

Memorial Day weekend’s memories transition right into the following week’s memories. I was in Molde Norway, about to take part in the Romsdahl Living Museum when the phone rang at 9:15 AM. My brother Steve was on the other end calling from Missouri. He paused, and then delivered the heartbreaking, earth-shattering news: “Mom suddenly died.”

The earth fell away beneath me, and yet there was this odd feeling like I had known this all along, even before it happened. Of course she went Home now.

What do you do when the person who has been your cheerleader, safety net, life prayer partner, lockbox of memories, hopes and dreams is suddenly gone? You walk in and out of a haze, wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day, floating aimlessly like a dandelion puff on the breeze. The tidal wave of grief was waiting offshore.

Norwegian Cathedral

John and I walked through the museum by ourselves, and opted to walk back to the ship by ourselves rather than taking the tour bus. After letting our guide know this, we began a slow exploration of the quaint streets. On the way, we discovered the Cathedral. Norwegian churches are not like the very ornate European cathedrals, yet still beautiful in their clean simplicity.

In this cathedral there was a beautiful large painting by the Norwegian painter and sculptor Axel Hjalmar Ender at the front, to the left of the altar. I walked up the left aisle to get a closer look, and as I recognized what it depicted, I caught my breath. It was the scene at the empty tomb. The women Salome and the two Marys are there, bewildered that the tomb is empty. A dazzling angel in white stands above them, saying, “Why do you seek the Living from among the dead? He is not here. He is risen. Go and tell your brothers!” A golden light streams through the entrance.

“He is not here. He is risen. Go and tell your brothers!” The tidal wave of grief began its relentless rush and roar, yet at the same time, I felt lifted above it, like I was in it, but not being dragged down.

I burst into tears, and sat down in a pew, where I continued to weep. John came beside me, and put his arm around me. “Are you okay? I nodded and pointed at the painting. “How good is our God that he brought me here!” When John looked up and recognized the scene and the significance, he too cried. It was a WOW moment. It was a life preserver.

In one profound moment, God told my soul he knew my pain, and wanted me to be absolutely certain all was well. In that moment, I was perfectly comforted. I was not drowning in the sea of grief. And since that moment, the reassurance has never wavered.