Four years ago today, at 4:15, I received the phone call that I was needed at the hospital where my mother was a patient. By the time I arrived, she had been dead for 20 minutes. I wrote this piece a few months later -- please comment today. If you are a lurker, de-lurk. I honestly would appreciate some feedback today (and am not afraid to beg for it!) Thanks.
This past Sunday, the lectionary was in John. Phil taught a good, comfortable sermon. I had already had an exciting day -- an early start, a stalled car, a small fender bender, singing a solo at the offertory. I was looking forward to an interesting, comfortable sermon. Phil chose to teach about Nicodemus. I identify with Nicodemus. I too come to Jesus under the cover of night. I too do not ask the questions that burn within me, but ask obliquely, skirting around the issues. Jesus’ words in John 3:16 are salve on my soul. It is the first verse that I memorized as a child and the first verse I taught my children. Phil went on to talk about the growth of Nicodemus in Chapter 7 and the last time we hear of Nicodemus in Chapter 19: 38 - 42. Phil read:
... Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. ...
Phil turned to the congregation and asked ‘Have any of you ever prepared a body for burial?’ I raised my hand slightly remembering the day I did Polly’s makeup and lipstick, because the funeral home didn’t do it correctly. I remember straightening my grandmother’s scarf around her neck as she laid in her casket and powdering her nose like she liked it. I recalled combing my father’s hair and tucking his favorite drumsticks in his hands and a picture of the children in his pocket.
Then it struck me in the solar plexus like a blow -- I was struck at the root of my being. A scab was torn away that had been growing for several months and I gave an audible gasp.
Myrrh and aloes. My God, my God how can I bear it?
Her last week was also the last week of school. Monday and Tuesday, I was busy with getting things done for the end of school. I spent some time with her that last week, not much. On Wednesday, I was busy with embroidering bags for the teachers at the school. Thursday I took her to the hospital for her operation. We were running late. I dropped her off at the front of the hospital, parked the car and didn’t catch up with her until right before she went into the operating room. She was excited about the surgery and was looking forward to having more mobility. She didn’t ‘want to be a burden.’ When they took her off to surgery she said ‘Yippee!’
I meet Father Doug in the waiting room of the hospital and we talked about all sorts of things. About cameras and church, genealogy and theology. There were other people in the waiting room as well and I made small chit-chat. I was a little anxious but buried my anxiety with talking. Dr. Greenwood came in and told me that the operation went well. I remember his hair being damp with sweat from the cap he wore during the operation. I showed him my pictures of the kids and he pulled out his wallet and showed me pictures of his. In a little while, I was told what room Mama was in and I went on up.
She was not doing well. Her leg was bound to the continuous passive motion machine and her arm in an IV with an on demand morphine pump. She was groggy and disoriented. The pulse/ox machine kept going off like a klaxon. I was depressed and felt alone. I wanted Bill, but he was in California. I sat in that damned chair and worried. The klaxon would sound and I would tell my Mama to breathe. This just seemed to go on and on. I left only after it seemed that she was breathing better. I came home, ate and took a nap and went back after just a few hours. She drifted in and out of sleep. The program we were watching was about a plane – ‘Stardust’ -- that was lost in the Andes over 50 years ago and now is emerging from a glacier. The narrator made a comment about how one minute they were relaxed having cocktails and the next they were dead. Mama made a casual comment about how easy that would be instead of suffering. I left her sleeping -- I was worried but I thought that we had reached the end of the bad spell.
Saturday Bill got home very very early. I was tired but I hustled around getting ready for Lauren’s birthday party. I remember Mama being there when Lauren was born and how depressed she was. She had no light in her soul. She was vacant and empty and lost. I remember finding her on the floor of her living room, sobbing and sobbing about losing my father. Since 1996, the year from hell, my Mama’s light had been rekindled. She was learning to live. She was looking forward to the summer. She was happy and content.
We got all the things ready for the Birthday party. We went to Pottery Bayou and all the kids painted little animals, we sang songs, we ate the cake, we opened the presents, we went home. I was tired. Amy was at the party, as was Joshua. She was tired and looked it. By this time, we both needed a break. Sunday, the 27th -- I can’t even remember if we went to church. I wanted to stay at home in the afternoon but we went to see ‘God’s Man in Texas’ that afternoon. Later that evening we went to the hospital. It was a good visit. She looked better. She loved on her grandchildren, kissing and hugging. I brushed her hair and washed her face with some cool water. She complained about her dry skin on her arms and legs. I got some aloe out of my backpack and smoothed a thick layer on her skin. I rubbed it on her face and let it soak in for a while. Then I spread a layer of the frankincense and myrrh lotion I had made for Christmas on top of the aloes. There was a lot of gold glitter in the lotion -- her skin sparkled in the light.
We talked about the year from hell -- 1996. My mother taught me to see the good that intermingled with the bad. Her life verse was Romans 8:28 ‘For all things work for good for those that love the Lord....’ My mother and I counted the blessing that arose from the adversities that we encountered in that year from hell. She taught me this. We talked that night about me going back to school -- to seminary. We discussed what a call from God could be and what it could mean. I kissed her good night and left for home.
We received the call at 4:15 am.
I rushed to get dressed and to the hospital. I ran all the red lights I could, except for the one in front of the Lawrenceville police station. I put my head on my steering wheel and cried and prayed. I prayed the bargaining kind of prayers. Oh God, not this! Not now!! I looked over down a side street and saw First Baptist’s steeple bathed in the light of a floodlight. I picked up my head and continued to drive to the hospital.
It was too late when I got there. Her flesh was still warm. There were gold sparkles on her skin and the odor of frankincense and myrrh in the air.
Aloes and myrrh. Myrrh and aloes. My God, my God how can I bear it? Just like Nicodemus had with Jesus, I prepared her for death.
Father Doug had his stole and oil and anointed her, but she had already been anointed.
The next few hours were a blur and the scab began to form.
It has been 3 days since the scab was ripped away from the wound and I am healing again. It is ripped away again and again and I know eventually the scar tissue will form. I take it one day at a time and remember the words that Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha before Lazarus was raised:
"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
I say, ‘Lord if you had been here, my mother would not have died.’
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Jesus tells me, ‘Your mother will rise again.’
Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
I say, ‘My God, My God. Aloes and myrrh!’
Jesus said to her
Jesus says to me
Jesus says to us, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Oh God, I do believe but help me in my unbelief!