Are you there, God? It’s me, Mallory. My momma is dying. I’m scared. I’ve never watched anyone die. I’ve never been without my momma either. Dear God, I know I’m grown, but I don’t feel so grown right now.
On a cold, bitter January night at two in the morning, my sisters slept upstairs while I stayed downstairs with Momma. Taking care of Momma had become a twenty-four-hour job. We took shifts around the clock to take care of her, so everyone could get some rest.
Momma’s diagnosis less than two months ago had been nothing less than a shock to our systems. One of the toughest women in the world, Momma had been our family’s rock for as long as any of us could remember. Momma had three daughters and one son. She loved each of us more than anyone should love another person. Her diagnosis of returning aggressive cancer, we thought she’d beaten, had taken a deep toll on our hearts.
I glanced over checking on Momma. Her face appeared indescribably peaceful, but then again who wouldn’t look peaceful with all the medications in her system to keep her from feeling an ounce of pain. She’d refused to eat over a week ago and she’d refused water the last few days. We managed to slip the drug concoctions in her mouth near her cheeks where it would soak in. Momma deserved peace and not pain.
I would have given anything to hear Momma’s voice one more time.
Just one more story.
One more I love you.
Or one more smile would even suffice.
I spent the last two weeks with Momma watching her whittle to nothing, yet I still wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I still needed my Momma. I tried to recall the last few times she had spoken, which often were at this time of the night too.
One night several weeks ago, Momma woke up, as she often did around this time.
“Honey, did you see the people?” Momma asked staring blankly at the ceiling.
“What people Momma?” I moved closer to the bed and touched her hand.
“The people from church. They were just here.”
“I didn’t see them,” I said softly stroking her hand, “Maybe I was sleeping.”
“I didn’t know them, but I knew they came from the church.”
“What did the people want? Were they nice to you?”
“They walked in a line beside my bed and laid their hands on me.”
“Did they scare you?”
“I wasn’t scared,” Momma paused, “but one man asked if I was ready to go.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I’m not ready to go.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer, so instead, I picked up the old church hymnal we kept on the table by Momma’s bed.
“What would you like me to sing?”
“It doesn’t matter. I just love hearing your voice.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and then fought back tears as I sang the words to It is Well with My Soul.
*When peace like a river attendeth my soul
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well. It is well with my soul.*
Although nothing felt well with my soul at this moment.
Most of our nights together followed similar patterns. She awoke often in the wee morning hours.
One night I learned something about Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t wear a robe like in his pictures.
That’s right, I said Jesus doesn’t wear a robe. It’s the twenty first century, Jesus wore a brown jacket to Momma’s house that cold January night.
“Honey, who is that man?”
“Mom, no one is here.”
“The man whose standing behind you.”
Cautiously I turned to look over my shoulder. No one was there.
“I don’t see anyone Momma. I’m sorry.”
“Well, that’s ridiculous. He’s standing right there behind you.”
“Tell me what he looks like.”
“He has brown hair and a beard. He’s wearing a brown jacket,” Momma said closing her eyes, “You must know him. This isn’t the first time he has been here.”
“I don’t know who he is.”
“He’s always smiling. I like it when he comes. He makes me feel peaceful.”
“Mom, would you like me to sing to you?”
“I love hearing your voice.”
I picked up the hymnal from the table near her bedside and sang the words to Blessed Assurance.
As I sang, I knew Momma had seen Jesus, and Jesus wore a brown jacket to Momma’s house.
Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchased of God
Born of his spirit, washed in his blood*
I remember the last time I heard Momma’s voice. As her three daughters surrounded her bed singing hymns, she looked at each one of us, one by one and whispered, “I love you.”
We sang the words to Rock of Ages.
*Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee
Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee*
Later in the day when our brother, Jack, arrived, Momma managed to gather enough strength to utter one more labored whisper, “I love you.”
It was the last time I would hear Momma’s voice. I never heard her speak again.
I glanced at my phone for the time. It was still early but somehow the reminiscing and daydreaming had passed several hours. I heard footsteps coming from the staircase.
“You should be asleep,” I said when Margie entered, “It’s going to be a long day.”
“I can’t sleep,” Margie said as she kissed Momma’s cheek, “You’ve been up since midnight. Let me take over and you get some rest.”
“My shift is for another two hours,” I reminded her, “Remember we are supposed to take turns.”
“I don’t mind. Just go get some rest.”
I softly planted a kiss on Momma’s cheek before I stumbled up the staircase to Momma’s bedroom, which had once belonged to both of my parents. The sweet aroma of her perfume filled my nose the instant I stepped through the door. I flung myself on the mattress without even pulling back the covers. I closed my eyes and tried to block out the memories haunting my heart and soul.
Several hours later I awoke to sunshine beaming through the curtains. Rubbing my eyes, I picked up the phone and realized I’d managed to sleep four hours, more than I had in a while. I hurried down the staircase to check on Momma.
“You didn’t sleep very long,” Margie said.
“I can’t sleep. How’s Momma doing?” I answered.
“The nurse just left. I was just about to wake you anyway,” Megan said standing beside Momma’s bed holding her hand. “Momma’s blood pressure is dropping.”
“Has anyone called Jack to let him know?” I asked.
“He’s on his way over now,” Margie answered.
“I made coffee. Grab a cup and we’ll sing for Momma,” Megan said picking up the hymnal.
For the next hour, while we waited for our brother, Jack, to arrive, my sisters and I stood together beside Momma’s bed and sang hymns.
We sang the words to Sweet, Sweet Spirit softly in Momma's ear.
*There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.
I know that it’s the spirit of the Lord.
There are sweet expressions on each face.
And I know they feel the presence of the Lord.*
The moments passed too fast.
No more sweet smiles.
No more whispered, “I love you.”
Somehow, I still knew Momma loved every moment.
Jesus was there in a brown jacket.
The people from church had returned.
Momma had finally given her answer.
It was time for Momma to go.
I held her hand. I watched her face while she gasped and released her last breath.
All four of her children stood together by her bedside, exactly the way Momma would have wanted.
"Dear God, it’s me, Mallory. Momma is with you now in heaven. I’m so scared. I’ve never been without Momma before. Please take care of her until I get there. "
I knew God was listening.
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I know this is a long time past when you wrote this but I wanted to read it, curious when I saw the title. And, it brought back a lot for me. When both my grandparents were dying I had the privledge of taking care of them. My grandfather and then even his wife, so far gone at the end, he didn't talk for months and she, she whittled away, depressed after losing her husband, then son (my dad, six months later) and then, she went about six months after my father. I believe, even with all the hardships I experienced after, that time in my life, ...
Lovely story but I didn’t like the addition of the hymn lyrics as I thought they were a distraction and not a valuable addition. Perhaps more description of daughters feelings or Momma’s visions would have been better.
Thank you for the advice. I guess in my mind writing it, I could hear us singing while I read them.
What a wonderful, touching story, Melanie. Thank you for sharing. The prayers at the beginning and end touched me the most.
Thank you for your kind words. It was a difficult memory to conjure up.
Such a sad, but beautiful story. It's difficult finding peace at death's door, but I'm glad Mama and her whole family did.