Memories of embraces past…
Tuesday, October 28, 1997 was one of the worst days of my life. It was the day Mama went into the hospital. It was the beginning of the end, of Mama’s life and of an era in our family.
At this time, on that night, I was at the hospital to spend the night with her. It was a bad night for us both, for numerous reasons. She was nervous and agitated, and the medicine given to calm her down only upset her stomach.
There are lots of things about her last month and a half of life that I’m sure I’ve forgotten. I was still trying to work during most of that time while staying as many nights as possible at the hospital. Sleep-deprived and stressed out, I know there are lots if things I don’t remember now. But I remember some moments with vivid clarity.
I remember people’s arms around me. I remember the night Mama’s condition was so bad that they had to bring a portable ultrasound up to her room because they needed to do tests and didn’t want to wait for transport to come and take her down because she was so unstable. Jeff had come to visit both with her and with me, and her condition upset him. That was his meltdown moment during the last of her illness. He cried like his best friend was dying and I couldn’t offer him much comfort. We just held each other.
Dad had spent Mama’a last full night with her at the hospital, and I came the next day to relieve him. He left and I settled in to spend what turned out to be her last day at the hospital with her. She was unresponsive, and not too long after I got there her breathing changed. I know now that she was actively dying. A nurse came in and asked how long her breathing had been like that, and I said about a half hour. The nurse then told me that I could talk to Mama, hold her hand and pet her if I wanted to. She said she didn’t think Mama was in any pain and that she didn’t think anything was going to bother or disturb her now. She told me she would check on us during the day and if I needed anything at all to just call. She put her arm around my shoulder and just stood with me for a few minutes, saying nothing more.
Countless times during her hospital stay, people hugged me, squeezed me tight and infused me with strength for the battle. Guardian angels from my own family held me close as we all cried with sadness over what Mama was enduring, and what we all knew was to come. I never take a hug for granted anymore. I know the difference it can make.
After Mama died, at the graveside after the service was over, people were starting to disperse and leave. I sat by her casket for what seemed like the longest time, by myself. I knew the cemetery people would make me leave soon, but I wanted to spend those last few minutes with her. My cousin Van, a favorite person in my life who I don’t see nearly often enough, came over and sat down beside me. He didn’t say a word. He just put his arm around my shoulder and sat with me. I never felt more loved, more understood, than I did at that moment.
Many times I have leaned on the arms of other people for strength and comfort. I hope that my arms have provided strength and comfort for the people in my life as well. I believe one of the most powerful ways God loves us is through the love of other people. As I have leaned into the arms of other human beings, I have felt the everlasting arms of God spoken of in the old hymn from my childhood.
Lord of love, thank You for holding me with the arms of the people You have sent me when I needed them most. Use my arms and hands to comfort, strengthen and encourage the people in my life who need to feel You in theirs.