The priest had been called from his vacation in Ireland to come home because his mother had passed. He realized that she had been dying of Alzheimer’s for so many years that this was truly a blessing for her and him. His retelling of her death last Sunday reminded me of my mother.
For any of us, who have lost a parent to Alzheimer’s, we understand that the end is a blessing. I remember as Mamma went through each stage of this dreadful disease, I wondered how long before she didn’t know me. She brushed her hair with her toothbrush, feared her showers, and asked me who she was and who I was. I found some wonderful last memories through the gift of art.
I would visit her in the nearby nursing home, and take her a tablet to draw me pictures. She would take the colored pencils in hand, and using her determination to create, she would draw a butterfly, a flower, a tree. They all were upside down. I supposed that is how her brain was seeing things at that time. A few weeks later, she asked if we could paint. I would hand her the imaginary blue cobalt tube, and she would act as if she were loading it onto an invisible pallet held in her hand. Next, she asked for viridian green, then cadmium yellow, and light red cadmium. How could she remember these names when she couldn’t remember how to eat? She would paint in the air her imaginary landscapes of the sea, or a sunset, or a beach. I loved these times of air art. She was happy and content.
Then, after about ten years of watching this disease progress, the week of dying came. She had taught me since I was seven years old, how to sit with the dying. She would tell me it was the last and best part of living. She told me to listen and feel and I could see and hear Jesus at the bedside. That was a lot for a child, but she explained that others were afraid to sit with the dying, and I should be honored always. She asked me if I wanted to go with her while Uncle Morris was dying. I knew Mamma wanted to teach me something so I went. She would whisper to me what was taking place so I would not be frightened but understand the death process.
“See, he is picking at the covers. It is a hard decision to leave his family.”
“Why does he have to leave, Mamma?”
“It is near his designated day to go to heaven. He knows it will be so much better and no pain and Jesus is calling him.”
“I don’t hear him.”
“Quiet, Sandi, listen with your heart.”
After many long hours and three days of sitting with Uncle Morris, Mamma whispered, “He is going through his confessions and forgiveness. It won’t be much longer.”
“Will God forgive him?”
“Oh, yes, and anyone else that asks for that forgiveness.”
I learned so much from Uncle Morris’ deathbed experience. Through the years, I have been privileged to sit with many others on their last part of their earthly journey. I could hear my mother’s words and was honored to be in the presence of Jesus, pray for the one dying, and listen with my heart.
This time it was Mamma who was dying. I sat and watched her changing facial expressions, her small, knotted hands, and her closed eyes. I was intense because she had taught me each phase that I was watching. I knew not to touch her because she had explained touching during the final hours made the loved one cling to this world and was an obstacle in allowing them to slip into the spiritual world. I had loved on her, hugged her early in the morning and told her goodbye and that I loved her. I told her my sister, Betty, and I would be fine, and we would take care of each other. I wanted to give her the right of a peaceful passage in these last few hours, so I just sat and watched, prayed, and read the Psalms out loud to her.
It was a tranquil time for her and a bonding time for my sister and me. We knew we were in the presence of the Almighty. Mamma’s day had come. Her last breath was light and peaceful. Jesus showed her the way, and it was a blessing for all of us.