The Day I Watched my Mom Die

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t puke very often as an adult. Therefore, whenever I do, it is indelibly marked in my memory. The most recent such event was at the end of May in 2017 when I felt nauseous all evening at work. I left early because of my nausea, and on my way out the front door, I was overcome by my body’s rebellion against itself and I puked all over the entrance’s very large carpet. Gross, I know. After it all came out, I dragged the carpet outside, found a hose and cleaning supplies, rinsed it thoroughly, cleaned it the best I could, and headed home. What I assumed was the beginning of a stomach bug or food poising ended up being something much worst.
 
That incident was on a Thursday night. Friday, I took the day off and laid around the house. I had a sweet friend  swing by with ginger ale, crackers, soup, and flowers. I hoped I’d be able to keep food down in the next day or so. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I woke up on Saturday morning and found myself concerned by what I saw in the toilet after a morning urination. My urine was dark brown. Like well-brewed sweet tea. That disgusting feeling you have reading that distasteful metaphor, is precisely how I felt when I saw that come out of me. The fact that I still couldn’t keep anything down, mixed with the uncomfortably dark color in my toilet bowl, led me to the decision that if I didn’t feel better by Sunday, I would go to Urgent Care.
 
Sunday rolled around with no change, and so I texted a friend who lived close about the situation and asked if she’d be willing to swing me into Urgent Care to get a prescription so that I can knockout whatever this sickness is. She picked me up a few hours later and we went to Urgent Care. All my symptoms pointed to some sort of stomach bug. They confirmed the Wal-Mart I pick up my prescriptions up at and were about to send me on my way when I reiterated about my odd urine color-and so they gave me a sample bottle.
 
Minutes after shamefully handing them my odd sampling, the nurse came back looking much graver than she had the interactions prior. She told me that she sent my information to Lancaster General Hospital, and that I need to go there right away. She showed me my paperwork and explained to me what levels were high and where they were supposed to be. LGH would be expecting me. When we arrived, the emergency room was pretty packed. I quickly got onto a rolly bed, had my vitals checked, and was hooked up to an IV. I slept in the hall most the first night. I remember telling Kate to go home, that I’d be fine and I’d let her know as soon as I hear anything. I remember a nurse taking 6 vials of blood from me, and once they left my side, I finally let hot tears race down my cheeks. I wasn’t in pain. I knew God always had good purposes for everything he does, but I was still scared and lonely and confused.  After a cat scan, and a sonogram a doctor came by my bedside and let me know they can rule out pancreatic cancer, and that I’d be in my own room soon. I remember him being very kind and putting a comforting hand on my shoulder.
 
The next three days I stayed in the hospital being pumped with fluids by my IV, giving vials of blood constantly, and being visited by a stream of wonderful friends and a great hospital staff. It wasn’t too long when they figured out that I had contracted Hepatitis A from a recent missionary trip to Central America. Comorbidities of the Hep A virus was mononucleosis and jaundice, and all I really needed to do was to rest and drink plenty of water. So rest I did. My parents were eager to visit me in the hospital, but I suggested they stay home and that I would come to them as soon as I was able to. So when released from the hospital, I drove 2 hours down to my parent’s home in Maryland for another week of carefully monitoring my health and slowly working up to activities and normalcy.
 
I fondly remember my mother’s care that June. She loved doting on me and taking care of every detail of the day. From my food, to slow morning walks, to making sure my water bottle was always near me—she was on it. It was especially sweet to me because there had been many seasons of life where my mom wasn’t able to “mom” me. She wrestled with depression, workaholism, and alcoholism, which resulted in times when she wasn’t home and or able to care for me so sweetly and wholly. We talked about mental health and family issues. We cried together, baked cookies together, and snuggled on the couch. I read to her a presentation I was going to give to a local church about mental health and she openly talked about her struggles and the success that she’s had in overcoming these things because of the support of Dad, family, and her faith.
 
When I went back to work in Pennsylvania, I distinctly remember telling people that perhaps the only reason God allowed me to contract Hepatitis A was for that sweet time with my Mom. It was among my very favorite memories  with her. And that time was especially a gift considering what the next few weeks were going to hold.
 
In mid-July Dad took mom into Urgent Care because she was having trouble breathing. They thought perhaps she had some form of pneumonia and admitted her for testing. The first week’s stay in the hospital wasn’t too bad. Mom was in high spirits, I was able to visit during the weekend, and it seemed that they were going to soon get answers. It was a sweet time with her in the hospital. I painted her nails and did her hair. I stole too much of her milkshake and we laughed at inside jokes and her ridiculous life advice. My brother, sister, and Dad were able to be there often as well, and mom had a steady shower of cards and gifts and visitors. Mom and Dad celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in that hospital and they both spoke lovingly about all that they have learned in married life about unconditional love. But as week two rolled around and her breathing became more and more labored, and a scan of her lungs showed rapid graying and deterioration, we began to get more concerned. The oxygen tank levels kept increasing. Her mobility kept decreasing. Her pain with every breath continued.
 
We finally had a diagnosis-Pulmonary Fibrosis with a life expectancy of 3-5 years. We started to come to terms with the idea of Mom being on oxygen, and in pain for the the rest of her life. She spoke of her desire to live at home for as long as possible, and to be move to assisted living only when absolutely necessary. We encouraged her with truth about her quality of life despite being connected to a tank.
 
Then on a Wednesday, July 26, 2017, her health took a dive and I got a conference call from my brother and sister with instructions to come to Maryland as quickly as possible. Mom wants us gathered around and wants to say her last words to us. She felt like her time was coming. The doctors didn’t know why-but her Pulmonary Fibrosis was exacerbated and increasing at a rate much faster than anyone anticipated. They were doing what they could to help-but nothing was helping.
 
She had been moved to a different room in the hospital, and I remember rounding the corner with my siblings after we met in the parking lot, and seeing how much she had aged in just two days. How could the downhill journey be such a fast one? We gathered around her and listened to her sweet and serious words. She had special wishes for each of us, and she made very clear her wishes to not be kept alive via life support. She told us that she is ready to go, and that her prayer has been that she would go with grace. We all told her how proud of her we were, and how incredibly grace-filled she had been in every step of this journey. We laughed with her and told her how much we deeply love her and how incredibly thankful and blessed we are to have her as mom.
 
I came back on Thursday morning and checked in on her. The doctors seemed to think that last night was a little scare, but they were still hopeful that Mom had more time and fight left in her. My boyfriend (and soon to be fiancé) was coming home from his deployment that very evening and we were scheduled to spend the weekend-Saturday, Sunday, Monday—with my family. I was making sure Mom was stable and okay for me to be gone Thursday and Friday. She said she felt good and that she looked forward to seeing Nathaniel and I on Saturday. I kissed her and said goodbye.
 
I had no idea that would be the last time I saw her eyes open, heard her laugh, or felt her hand squeeze mine.
 
Being with Nathaniel was a joy. I was able to share with him the burden of the last few weeks, we attended a dear friend’s wedding, and Saturday morning began our drive to Maryland. However, a few confusing texts from my Dad led me to worriedly call him, and I found out that Mom had an awful Friday night. He told me of the panic and pain in her face, and of the doctor’s quick decision to sedate her and transfer her to University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. With little information, and much fear and worry, we set off for Baltimore. When we arrived to the Critical Care Unit, we were instructed to put on protective gear to go back and see her. I slid on a face mask, gloves, and a gown that I swore you could see my heart pounding out of and walked to the back of the room where dad stood by her side. She looked absolutely awful. Horrendous. A pussing sore on her face, colorless dry skin, heavy heaving chest, and tubes and wires everywhere. She was on the very life-support she asked to not be on long.
 
In moments of tragedy and trauma-everyone responds differently. I’ve found that I respond by finding answers. Who do I talk to who can best explain to me where we are currently and where we need to be? And so I began asking questions. The answers to most of my questions were “it’s too early to tell”. UMMC doctors needed to run more test and try a few more things for them to know if mom would ever be unsedated or off life support.
 
The next day was my birthday, and thinking that we had time, Nathaniel offered to take me away to a shore house for a day to relax and celebrate before returning to the hospital. So we drove to the shore and spent a few hours with my toes in the sand and the smell of saltwater in the air. We had walked around the cute shops of Long Island New Jersey, and retired to the shore house in the afternoon hours. Around 3:00pm I received a call from my older sister, Glenda. It was bad news. She relayed to me what the doctors had been doing, and what they concluded. They thought it would take days to know for sure-but their findings were inevitable and the disease rapidly eating away at her lungs, inexorable, and the damage irrevocable. The long and short of it was that Mom is not going to get better. She will die when she comes off of life support. And it would be awful to take her off of her sedation, because if she awakes she would be in severe pain and severely panicked due to an inability to breath. Glenda asked me to come back to the hospital tomorrow, August 1st, and that when I arrived, we would take her off life support.
 
I hung up the phone, relayed the information to him, and sobbed into Nathaniel’s chest. It’s amazing how a stinging string of tears, muffled cries, and a subsequent headache brought a small level of relief to my breaking heart. I laid in bed that night thinking of the timeline of Mom’s soon to be death. I felt angry and allowed all the little slivers of anger that I had been pushing aside all come to the forefront of my mind. I was angry that my birthday would forever be shadowed by this pain. Angry that mom won’t be the first person I call when Nathaniel proposes. Angry that she won’t see me on my wedding day, or give me advice about being a wife or mom. Angry that Dad has to be alone when he has worked so hard for so many years to keep mom in his life and by his side. Angry that she had just started to mend some broken relationships with old friends who would be such a blessing to her. Angry that my brother, sister, and I have to watch our mom die tomorrow-59 years young. Angry that this woman just began to be the healthiest, happiest version of herself, and now, NOW?! she is going to be taken from this world. I stewed in my anger and pain for minutes or hours-I don’t know. But I do know that, I ended my mind racing with this thought, “I believe, help my unbelief. I believe that God is good and kind and purposeful in all life’s moments, help my unbelief in this moment.” I wiped the last of my tears from my face and neck, and fell asleep.
 
The next morning, as Nathaniel drove us to Baltimore, I mediated on the last minute truth the Holy Spirit brought to me last night. I thought about who I know God to be, and what that means in this situation. God is omniscient-meaning that he knows everything. He knows what I need and what Dad, and David, and Glenda needs. He knows what would happen if Mom stayed alive another 2 years, 5 years, 10 years. He knows the future that will be, could have been, and shouldn’t be. He is omnipotent-meaning he is all powerful. He is powerful enough to keep any and all diseases away from Mom if he wanted to and he is powerful enough to sustain my family and I through this trial. He is powerful enough to provide peace and acceptance, and trust. He is perfect- he always does what is right and good and best. He works on our behalf, lovingly, purposefully, and with justice and kindness. This day, therefore, August 1, 2017 must be the PERFECT day for my mom to die. It must be the BEST day out of all the possible days, for her to go home. He has looked at them all, measured each one, and said today-today is the perfect day for her to end her fight with depression. End her fight with alcohol. End her anxiety and fear and insecurity. Today is the perfect day for her to stop worrying about finances, or future, or the crippling abuse of self-degradation. Today is the perfect day to be with her Savior-Jesus Christ who loves her more deeply that I can even begin to imagine. She will get to finally see him perfectly, and finally see herself the way that he sees her-a spotless and radiant bride.
 
My family stood around Mom that afternoon as the doctor and nurse assigned to her gently took her off life support. We prayed over her, sang to her, shared funny and endearing memories about her, chocked back tears, wiped one another’s tears, and peacefully and painfully watched her take heavy breath after heavy breath. For an hour we shared and sang and laughed and cried, all the while her chest resting for moments at a time and then suddenly surging with a large yet strained inhale. The color slowly drained from her face, as all energy and emotion were draining from each of us still standing. When the doctor announced her official time of death, a crowd of hospital personnel filled the room, and stood around and with us. Our doctor announced who mom was and the wonderful life she lived with the family she loved so much, and then led the room in a moment of silent. Then everyone filed out of the room until it was just us kids and dad. We watched him with her, treasuring his last moment with the love of his life. And then we left the hospital.
 
In the days and weeks that followed, I was bombarded with realizations of God’s goodness in this tragedy. God had allowed me to be hospitalized weeks before mom, and I thusly felt very comfortable and able to comfort mom during her stay in the hospital. Also, God gave mom and I that sweet, sweet time together prior to her being sick-that I will treasure forever. God gave me an amazing employer who gave me days off during my sickness, mom’s sickness, and an extra week for bereavement to help dad with the Celebration of Life Service and all the dozens and dozens of things one must do after someone dies. My boyfriend, now husband was able to be home from deployment the very week that I needed him most, the week that my mom died. My sister’s husband is a widow and was able to love and care for her well during this trial. Mom’s service was one full of grace and hope and God’s glory. If she would have passed at a different time and season in life, it could have been a very sad service. But because of God’s grace in redeeming her story, saving her from alcoholism and turning her life and purpose around-the service and her story was stunningly beautiful.
 
I am posting this summary, two years after Mom’s death. And it has been a 2 years full of heartache and tears. I missed her laughter at my bridal shower, and her hugs at my wedding. I miss the way she rolls her eyes at my dad’s cheesy jokes, and her protective heart for my brother. I hate that my kids won’t know this grandma and that Nathaniel didn’t get to experience her more. My heart breaks over my dad’s continued loneliness-though I know he clings to Christ. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve reached for my phone wanting to tell her something or ask her something, only to be met with a wave of grief that still stings. Yet despite the aching sadness, in my heart also dwells abiding peace. Peace abides because I know God’s grace will meet me every step of my journey. As I lack and as I come face to face with my many insufficiencies, I turn to the God who has none. He provides every source of comfort, every relationship, and every blessing. He is the Good Shepherd. Peace abides because I know God is perfect in everything he does, including the moment and the way he brings his children home. And all the brokenness and sorrow and guilt that once plagued my mom this side of heaven—she is completely, resolutely freed from. Peace abides because my mom is free to be happier and more complete that she has ever been. She is free to experience a fullness and a joy like she has never know.
 
So August 1, 2017 wasn’t the day I watched my mom die, it was actually the day I watched my mom become free.
 

Mother’s Day Without Mothers

What’s a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips?

What’s a halloween party without a costume?

What’s hanging mistletoe without someone to kiss?

And what on earth is Mother’s Day when your mom isn’t here anymore to celebrate?

I know that I can still celebrate her legacy and her life, even though she is in Glory-but it’s not the same, you know? I want to get her a gift. I want to write her a card. I want her arms to wrap around me in a tight embrace that is better than any other hug I’ve known.

I know and believe truth. I know and believe she is in a better place, that God has purpose for all the pain, that he took her at the perfect time-though I don’t understand why. I know how fortunate I am to have had her in my life for 28 years and how grateful I am for all God did in and through her.

But it still sucks.

It hurts.

It’s sad.

I don’t like it.

So this motherless, Mother’s Day, I am going to feel the incredible weight of that sadness, with the soothing peace of that truth. I am probably going to cry, and that is sooooooo okay.

But, because of my faith in Jesus, I am not going to stop there. I want to be what he would want me to be. I want to have his heart. So I am going to pray to be used on Mother’s Day. I am going to pray that God puts on my heart and mind, other people who need encouragement or love that day. Mothers with children who are not emotionally healthy enough appreciate them the way they deserve to be appreciated. Mothers with children who are not older enough to understand the constant sacrifices they are making. And mothers who are mothers and grandmothers themselves, who, though months or years have passed, will still be feeling the still of missing their own moms.

Join me in aiming to love these women well, and let me know if you have any thoughts on Motherless Mother’s Day ❤ 

With Tears of Heartache & Gratitude for the Gospel,

Betty

Reflections On Our Mom

About a month ago, my healthy 59 year old mom went into the hospital for chest pains. What was initially diagnosed as pneumonia, quickly became known as pulmonary fibrosis, and she died from it three weeks later.

Today we had her Celebration of Life service, and it was so very sad and so very good. Though I couldn’t help my steady flow of tears, I was so incredibly proud of my parents and my siblings. God was glorified and Mom was honored-and I couldn’t be more proud. Here’s what us kids had to say 🙂 IMG_3234.JPG

David:

Our mother died on August 1st 3:30 p.m. during her life she was a fairly unique individual whom we love very much she had the odd habit of watching the same thing on TV over and over again one of her favorite things to watch was the Christmas carol I don’t know how considering she could barely keep track of the remotes but somehow she got the VCR to play that darn cassette over and over again without having to ever get out of her bed soon as it reached the end it would rewind itself and start over again

The movie is about a man named Ebenezer Scrooge he’s rejected by family goes through  the loss of loved ones lose his people’s respect  friends  and what’s important and only by taking a personal inventory and scrutinizing his life and the way he lives does he realize his mistakes  he sees the horrible harmful things others have done to him he sees the horrible harmful things he has done to others he sees how others choose to live how they have overcome their own adversities and he is forced to see what is life could end up being

Our mother was a wonderful person despite all of her faults she experience loss of loved ones rejection by family she battled addiction struggled in her own personal hookups and doubts with God and faith but she found salvation she became as good a wife as good a woman as to be found anywhere and it could be said she truly understood the blessings of God not just in church on Sunday but everywhere and all year long the final words of actor Alastair Sim as Scrooge are I don’t deserve to be so happy, then with raucous laughter and joyous tears he exclaims I just can’t help it

Our mother died on August 1st at 3:30 p.m. and in heaven she will now know uncontrollable joy and eternal laughter and she just can’t help it.

Betty: 

Hi, I’m Betty- the middle child-please don’t hold that against me.

Mom, was wonderful in so many ways. She was strong. She was selfless. She was humble. She took us on walks and talked through things with us, she helped us with homework, she did countless crafts with us (some of us were worst than others), she was mom. A mom who cleaned up bloody knees after we crashed learning how to roller blade. She was a mom who volunteered in our schools and brought in snacks and taught us how to do chores and how to decorate. She took us on vacations, and shuttled us to soccer games volleyball practice and shows. She cared about who we were friends with. As we grew she talked with us about sexuality (often times a LITTLE too explicitly), and about the value of education and being a life-long learner. She invited us into her work world and vice versa showing us the value of loving every human being and of hard work. She taught us about finances, and wise decision making, and the importance of being responsible for my own emotions. She believed in us-and thought that we could do anything we put our minds too. We know that she loved us deeply. And I know I can speak for all of us when I say, we are extremely thankful for her.

As many of you know, and as David alluded to, Mom also had some really hard things in life.  But here’s the beautiful, wonderful things about her life and legacy. She fought and she won and by the power of God her life ended with SUCH GRACE. She fought through the mental illness of depression and anxiety. She fought through the addiction of alcoholism. She fought for faith and for family and for relationships. It was not easy. And transformation did not come overnight. It took a long time-but I will forever remember Mom’s legacy as one of perseverance and victory.

The song of Mom’s life ended beautifully. The melodies she and God wrote the last few weeks, months, and years were among the most beautiful of her entire life. Mom’s story is a reminder that you are never too far, and it is never too late to grasp a hold of God’s loving hand. And when you do—thought it isn’t easy-oh my goodness is it good.

I am heartbroken that mom is gone. I hate that she won’t see my wedding day, and I’ll never be able to laugh at her over FaceTime for being distracted by the filters. I hate that dad’s alone, and that there is no one to defend David now when we all gang up on him at family functions.

But even with the heavy sadness, I have peace knowing that she ended with a grace that makes me so incredibly proud to be called her daughter, and right now-even as we meet here today- she is in heaven, and happier and more fulfilled than we can even begin to imagine. And that is a reason to celebrate.

Glenda:

As we gathered around Mom’s bed to say our final goodbyes we all cried a lot. It was so sad to see her like that and to know that going forward she would not be here.  We sang and cried and prayed and then the nurse asked each of to tell her about mom and before long in true Pompell fashion we all started laughing.  I can almost hear mom saying “Cry just a little bit for me, maybe a few tears but then be happy” So that’s what we did. And while we miss her greatly there are so many awesome and fun things to remember about her….

Like she loved dessert! So much so that she more often than not ordered it as her main meal! She love to take naps any time of the day and anywhere! She loved coffee, especially coffee with her daughters! She loved Stargate, Star trek and LOTR. So much so that she named her dog Arwen…whom she also loved. She loved to eyeore. She loved pepsi maxx (never ever coke) she loved watching the christmas carol over and over again. She loved her sisters and the time she spent with them. She loved her church and Jesus.  She loved our dad and how he loved her! She loved us kids and all her grandkids and spending time with each of us. And she especially loved it when we would take a nap with her!

If you ever spent anytime with Mom you know that she had a quirky and dark sense of humor. Sometimes she would tell jokes that only she would get but her laugh was so contagious that she then had us all laughing! I will definitely miss her laugh! She was sweet and thoughtful and when I think about how she loved each of us kids it was different in that she was able to see the differences in the three of us and love us the way we needed to be loved.  One of the last gifts she gave was to say thank you for something. When I told her she didn’t have to get me anything she said “i know but i also know that gifts is one of your love languages.”

When I was 15 or 16 mom spent several months reading Pride and Prejudice with me. Each of us taking turns and reading it allowed to each other! It is still my favorite book and that is my all time favorite memory of me and her. Mom claimed a children’s book for each of us that she felt represented our relationship. Our book was I’ll love you forever. It’s a tear jerker! But it is so true to life! Life wasn’t always perfect. We had our ups and downs…I was a teenager once upon a time! And we both did things over the years to make each other angry and we made decisions that the other one didn’t agree with.  But at the end of the day I knew that I was her daughter and she was my mom and I never doubted her love for me!  And the last paragraph of that book has never been more true “ I’ll love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living my mama you’ll be”

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Our little favor:
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Pocahontas

When I was a little girl, Disney’s Pocahontas came out on VHS and I was very excited to watch it. I haven’t really changed much over the years, so just imagine me…shrunk down about foot, makeupless, and with an insatiable amount of energy! I couldn’t wait to paint with all the colors of the wind! Unfortunately for me at the time, my mother had heard of the movie’s “love story” intertwined with the plot and forbade me to watch it. She told me that it was not an accurate portrayal of John Smith and Pocahontas’ relationship, and that if I wanted to watch it I had to read a real account of the story. Of course, I refused be the only 3rd grader not knowing what’s around the river bend, so I found a book from our local library and reported back to my mother what I read.

Poke

This was not a rare occurrence. If I wanted a later bedtime I had to write a persuasive essay explaining the benefits of an extra hour of productivity. Though I hated it then, I love it now. I think that kick started my passion for research and learning. I’m a little bit of a nerd in this regard. Before I see a movie I love to research its historical context and background and usually take notes while I watch it later. I research anything and everything-from a first date on a motorcycle, to how to make my hair grow, not many days pass where I don’t search the World Wide Web to temporarily satisfy my unquenchable thirst for information. And for this-I just wanna say-thanks Ma!