On October 7th 2013, my life was forever changed…. I got a call from one of mom’s best friends who informed me that Mom was found unresponsive in her home…. She was in her bed…. In her pajamas and simply was not awake or aware but breathing…. They took her by ambulance to the local hospital where they took her via helicopter to Wake Med in Raleigh, NC . I packed in a hurry and arranged to fly out to Raleigh the next morning….. Called my friend Amy, who grew up across the street from me in Virginia Beach since I was 5 years old (who “happened” to live in Durham) and she picked me up from the airport and took me straight to the hospital where my Godfather, Kay was waiting for me. Mom was in ICU, all hooked up to a breathing tube, IV fluids and she looked like she was asleep…. I was so scared to see her like this. I had just talked to her a few days prior, and all was well. I didn’t want to leave her. I found out that the Hospital happened to have a hotel for family of patients. What a gift! I checked myself in so I could only be a floor away from mom but I could be in an environment that I could sleep away from nurses and doctors and beeps and alarms. I hated leaving her… but I knew that if anything happened, I would be there in less than 5 minutes. Being an only child, I decided to post on Facebook…. A private thing, maybe, but I decided I needed and wanted prayers. I decided that I would “put it out there” so to speak and I continued to do so for the days to come.
Mom had a few visitors of course in the first few days…. No one could believe that Mom was in ICU. She played bridge 3-4 times a week, mowed her own lawn, drove her car across many states to get where she wanted to get and really functioned quite well alone In fact, she had just spent a few weeks with us in New Jersey in late August. She managed an e-ticket on Amtrak to NJ and we visited NYC to see Meredith dance and went to Cornell to look at it as a possible college for David while visiting gorges…. And wineries in upstate NY. We had a blast. I honestly can’t remember exactly when this story was told to me, but one of my moms’ friends told me in the hospital, that just a few weeks before her stroke, Mom announced to her friends, that when it is her time to go, she’d like to go to sleep and never wake up. God Listened.
On the Friday before Mom had her stroke, I spent quite a long time on the phone with her. I had started to get involved in a few of her decisions…. Trying to help advise and immerse myself in her affairs “just in case”. We spent an hour or so talking about her different Medicare options that needed to be decided upon by December. She told me she’d be out the next day playing bridge so I probably would not talk to her until after the weekend. I remember getting off the phone with her and praying, “God, please guide me. Let me know when it’s time to move her here or get a home healthcare worker, please take care of her and help guide me. God, when it is her time, please take her quickly and let me say goodbye. Don’t let her suffer a long illness or a long drawn out something that does not allow her to be independent.” God Listened.
I didn’t know what to pray for. I’ve had times in my life that I totally needed to give it to God, so I did. I got on my knees and I prayed. “God, I don’t even know what to pray for, you know my heart, you know my mom, you know what we need so God, I give it ALL to you! You know I want healing, but not sure if that is your plan so I’ll just accept your plan. I trust you.” God would give me little glimmers of LIFE in my mom. She was literally unresponsive but I could see little glimpses of her in there…. She knew I was there. So here I sat…. in the Hospital maybe the 3rd day…. It was honestly a blur. I had great company with my friend Amy and my Godfather, Kay. They were there so much I couldn’t ask for more, but there were times in which I was alone. I wandered to the Au Bon Pain Café for a cup of soup alone….. I needed to eat. I got my soup and sat there in a daze… feeling alone and watching nurses, doctors and families come in and out with other people. All of a sudden, I heard the words being sung over the radio. They were singing “You Are Not Alone” This was obviously a Christian song….. and I heard it. I heard the words….. In a moment that I was feeling alone, God spoke to me to let me know that I was NOT alone. I was astounded because I listened to see if the next song was a Christian song… it was not. It was a popular secular song…. God was listening and He was letting me know HE was there.
This could have been day 4 or 5 at this point… I can’t remember the actual day but I do remember the order of events. I was wandering down the hospital corridors in a daze again. I was exhausted by doing nothing. All the sitting, the waiting, the crying, the stress…. I was literally exhausted but I had not done anything. I was walking and looking at other people in the halls. Were they celebrating a baby being born, was someone having surgery or was someone clinging to life like my mom was? I was focused on others and wondering what they were going through and I caught myself humming. Once I realized I was humming, I had to figure out WHAT I was humming. Then, when I recognized the song I was humming, I had to figure out the WORDS to what I was humming. I actually had to look them up. I was humming “ Great is the Lord, he is holy and just, by his power we trust in the Lord… Great is the Lord, he is faithful and True, by his Mercy he proves, He is Love.” God let me know that HE is GREAT and he is Holy and just and I should trust HIM because he is faithful and true and by his Mercy he proves, HE IS LOVE!
I continued to pray on my knees…. Sobbing and honestly wailing. I heard cries come of me that I could not recognize in myself. I continued to wake up early, be at moms’ bedside before shift change and sit with her all day until after shift change again…. Allowing myself to go to sleep in a normal “room”. My posting on Facebook caught the attention of some of my sorority sisters and friends and all of a sudden, I got a message from my friend, Andrea. She said, “I’m at Wake Med, where are you?” I messaged her back, she showed up, and we prayed… and Andrea witnessed my mom giving me a “thumbs up” because she heard me. It was a miracle. I knew she KNEW I was there. Andrea and I had not seen each other in 15 years at least. God put her in a place to BE there for me I know. What a comfort! I honestly couldn’t believe it. What a gift! We decided we’d go to dinner one night to get me out of the hospital…. We’d plan it day by day. I know looking back, that God placed Andrea in my path JUST when I needed her. God is GOOD and I was thankful!
Another day…. Another Sorority sister “happened” to stop by. I didn’t even know she lived nearby. Alison showed up…. And Alison and Andrea and I went to dinner on a night that I didn’t have ANYONE to eat with. I stayed at my Godfather’s house a few nights to get out of the hospital when he was out of town. I was starting to get used to the routine and I knew moms vitals and I was getting more comfortable with her day to day routine. I was starting to know the nurses, the process and the Neurologist and I agreed that we would wait until we medically needed to make a decision to take out the vent. It didn’t need to happen right away. I was seeing small progress with mom but I knew it would not be a life that she would want to live. She could not speak or feed herself or take care of hygine. She was in a permanent coma but I wanted to give God a chance to give me a miracle. I was hopeful.
This next day…. A day I won’t forget. I was alone. Kay and Amy, the “rocks” that I had been blessed with for days could not be there for me. I was so grateful for any company, any distraction. Amy was so positive…. Kay was so calm. They were perfect for what I needed but they were not there the day that the ICU doctor came to speak to me. He told me that we were running out of time. It was day 8… and we could only medically leave the vent in about 10 days. After 10 days, we’d have to do a trach. I knew mom would not want that nor a feeding tube. My mom had prepared a medical directive to insure that there would be NO mistaking that mom did not want to be in a permanent vegetative state. A third sorority sister, Beth messaged me that she would like to stop by. This was a day that I’m sure she didn’t know she was walking into. She and I shared a cup of coffee and I got to share my heart as they had just informed me that we needed to make a decision to remove mom’s vent and feeding tube. Now was the time. God gave me this ANGEL at the perfect time….. and I later called Dave and told him I needed him here to remove the vent. I could not do it alone. The interesting thing… Beth and I, while “friends” on Facebook and sorority sisters, had not really been in contact until recently and Beth was not on Facebook a lot. She “happened” to get a FB email about Andrea and Alison and I going out to dinner and happened to reach out. “Happened” I would like to say “planned”.
Dave flew in and Amy was there to pick Dave up at the airport. What a friend. Amy, Dave and I and the preacher were all on hand for this event. I didn’t want to drag this out any longer…. We decided that at 3pm we would make this happen. So much emotion. Thank God Mom made her wishes clear. It was a hard decision but knowing that I was doing what Mom wanted made it doable. I had support….. I was blessed. It was an emotional afternoon. There was a phenomenal ICU nurse that day…. Eileen. She seemed to be the perfect amount of gentile and caring, knowledgeable and prayerful…. She let me know that she was praying for us. When the Respatory Therapist took out the vent, Mom gave me a gift…. God gave me a gift. Mom mouthed a raspy few caring words… that Dave and Amy all heard as well. Mom said slowly and deliberately, “I love you, I love you” before she fell asleep again. I was blown away…. Mom had not been responsive at all. She would be “aware” or “awake” if you even wanted to call it that, for 10 seconds about 2 times a day. She just told me that she loved me! What a gift from God! We prayed, we sang and we expected Mom to go to heaven that day… but the doctors didn’t know how strong mom was. Mom’s preacher, Joe, sat with mom as Dave, Amy and I went to dinner at a nearby Ruby Tuesday. ( I was really tired of hospital food) When we sat down, our waitress said, “Hi my name is Angelica, I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” And I thought…. Of course your name is Angelica! Of course it is! God sent you!
WE ordered our dinner when all of a sudden, through the windows in the parking lot, a truck turned on his headlights. It caught all of our attention because the headlights were bright and shining in our eyes….. We all looked in that direction, when all of a sudden Amy said, “ Look at the license plate” The license plate read one word….. “GOD” Amy then joked, “God is shining his light on you!” we laughed, “with a Ford F 150” God listened and he had a sense of humor! God Let me know that all was well!
The next day was hard…. They moved mom to a private room rather than ICU and a few days prior, a Hospice nurse had come to talk to us about Hospice and I was not ready to hear it. The Nurses Aide was sweet and caring and she took the time to help me bathe mom and make me feel good about her new surroundings….. she happened to mention that her last assignment was with Hospice and how wonderful it was. How did she know that I needed to hear that at that moment? It was a decision I was struggling with…… God placed her in the right place at the right time. We made arrangements to move mom to the Hospice House where mom had actually shown me before on my last trip to Smithfield. It was if she knew. The sun shone the next day on a trip in which literally, the entire two weeks I had been in NC had been gloomy.
We got Mom moved “home” to Smithfield. She was in a beautiful room with a painting of an Angel… a view of a fountain and a bird feeder. It was PERFECT! The pastor came in to greet us and we discovered that the room had a painting of an Angel that was painted by a member of her church… a member who had actually died in that room…. God gave us another Angel.
Mom had visitors and several ladies from the church came. I had to laugh when one member said to me, “Is there anything at all I can do?” I responded, “No, I can’t think of anything at all unless you happen to know how I can get food to a food pantry.” The ONE person I happened to mention this to and guess what she happened to be….. a volunteer at the Food Pantry! Of course she was! God placed her exactly where she needed to be at the right moment! Mom loved to cook and she stocked up on lots of canned goods that needed to be donated. How perfect for the holidays to help others in need.
The days there were also long but more enjoyable environment but we knew moms time was limited….. no food, no IV fluid…. This could be days or weeks. No one knew. Dave had spent the first day with me in Mom’s house in Smithfield…. But he needed to go home to the kids…. I was going to be spending one night, my only night alone in mom’s house. I was anxious and uneasy…. I mentioned to the nurse on duty that I needed to go to Walmart to get some yogurt but that I didn’t want to go there after dark. She announced, “ There’s a Sweet Frog Yogurt place next to Belk” I wasn’t thinking frozen yogurt … I was thinking Greek Yogurt for breakfast but oh well. It was time to leave mom… and go back to her house. I was feeling uneasy…. Not only about staying at Mom’s house alone but also the fact that when I left, I could not find a nurse to say goodbye to. I wanted to let a nurse know that I was leaving. As I made the decision to leave, I saw the nurse in the parking lot chatting with the other nurse that was going off duty. I was upset by this. I wanted her to know that I saw her and I stopped by the car, gave her my business card with my cell phone number and said, “I just wanted to give you my cell phone number in case you need me. “ I drove away…. I was disturbed and frustrated. I was not hungry but it was dinner time. I decided I would go to Sweet Frog Yogurt and get frozen yogurt for dinner… and then drive back to the Hospice House and check to make sure the Nurse was back on duty. I drove to Sweet Frog – feeling a little lonely and proceeded to pick out my yogurt flavor. As I poured the yogurt in my cup, I noticed the Sweet Frog Logo acronym. FROG (Fully Rely On God) was above the yogurt dispenser. “Okay God, I hear you! I’ll fully rely on YOU” I said to myself. I walked confidently out, ate my yogurt and went to my moms house alone where I spent the evening talking with friends and trying to keep myself busy.
The next morning, I spent largely alone with mom. I crawled in bed with her and hugged her…. Talked to her and told her that it was okay to go. I prayed with her, I sang to her…. I was WITH HER. I got a text from my great friend Michelle and she said, I’m thinking about coming, can I come spend the night with you tonight?. YES!!! WOW!! How awesome! I didn’t have anyone to be with me tonight. What a gift! She was on her way.
One of mom’s church friends stopped by to visit and to give me book on loan…. A daily devotional. Jesus Callingbook. I turned to the DAY…. October 22nd… It read.
“No matter what your circumstances may be, you can find Joy in My Presence. On some days, Joy is generously strewn along your life-path, glistening in the sunlight. On days like that, being content is as simple as breathing the next breath or taking the next step. Other days are overcast and gloomy; you feel the strain of the journey, which seems endless. Dull gray rocks greet your gaze and cause your feet to ache. Yet Joy is still attainable. Search for it as for hidden treasure.
Begin by remembering that I have created this day: it is not a chance occurrence. Recall that I am present with you whether you sense My Presence or not. Then, Start talking with Me about whatever is on your mind. Rejoice in the fact that I understand you perfectly and I know exactly what you are experiencing. As you continue communicating with Me, your mood will gradually lighten. Awareness of My marvelous Companionship can infuse Joy into the grayest of day.” Psalm 21:6 ; Proverbs 2:4
That afternoon, Moms’ neighbor, Judy stopped by to visit… she had been out of town for a few weeks and had JUST gotten in. It was 2:30pm and I had not eaten lunch yet… I asked her, “Judy, would you mind sitting with mom for just an hour so I can go grab some lunch. I’m so hungry” She agreed graciously. Kay and Amy and I went to Ruby Tuesday when Elaine, the ICU nurse texted me and wanted to let me know she was praying for me. Michelle drove in from Richmond to meet us at the restaurant and we finished our quick lunch. As we were driving to Hospice House, the Hospice nurse called me to say, “Don’t hurry, but we think it’s time” So we hurried as fast as we could to the Hospice House….
I was surrounded by Kay, Amy and Michelle when we were there for Moms’ last breath…. At approximately 3:40 pm. March 4th is my Birthday…. So I could remember that. Is that a coincidence too? I was not alone for her last breath…..I was surrounded by friends….. what a gift! God knew what I needed. Judy was in the room and she was the spiritual leader. She said a beautiful prayer….. and she “happened” to be a grief share counselor. God placed just the right people in my path at the perfect time. It could not be any more perfectly crafted. I had Michelle to stay at Mom’s house with me… I was comforted….. God had listened and looked out for me.
That night, I went to bed and I talked to my mom… “Mom…. Let me know you are here.. but don’t scare me to death”…. I went to bed, turned off all the lights and went to sleep to awake at 1:30am to the light on the dresser being on. Not sure how it got turned on but it was. I turned it off…. Looked to see if it was on a timer, it was not. I dreamed of mom until morning. I felt comfort.
Finally, Mom’s pastor came up to me after her memorial service, he pulled me aside…. He wanted to give me something. It was a NEW Hymnal that mom had ordered for herself… her own personal copy. She loved music. On the cover of this Hymnal that was about to be dedicated in November, the gold words read, “Glory to God”. It was as if God was glorified thru this entire process!
A few Days later, I read a private message from a friend who actually used my facebook posts as a lesson plan for her Sunday School. She took the time to count the number of times I mentioned Prayer and God (the same number, 19) and the number of times I mentioned miracle and love and being blessed. She found that these posts got over 3000 virtual prayers, hugs, well wishes over 14 days and I would say that GOD used me and this situation to HIS glory! WOW! What a journey. I am sad, I will miss Mom but God gave me the ability to say goodbye to Mom, she got to tell me she loved me and God was glorified. How can I be too sad? How can I be sad when God worked miracles in my life and held me the entire time? I am blessed!!!