It had been an unmerry little Christmas just 3 days before. And the weekend before that, Moma had asked Daddy to take my younger brother and I to the next town over to pick out our own Christmas present. A small one. Christmas was slim pickings that year, as we were still struggling to pay on the medical bills left over from Moma’s cancer treatments.
She had been diagnosed with malignant lung cancer shortly the year before and had been given only a year to live.
I’m glad my parents told us the truth. It helped prepare us instead of waking up one day with a parent suddenly gone and not understanding why. It didn’t magically make things all better, but at least we got to enjoy what little time we had left with her.
My aunt who lived next door had become my Moma’s caregiver during school hours. At this particular time, school was out for Christmas Break. And yes, it was still called that.
There were few retail stores around my hometown back then. My aunt graciously agreed to stay with her long enough for us to go..
I chose a bottle of Charlie cologne. I can’t remember what my brother chose.
The next day after we had made that trip to the hospital into the bitter cold night, family started showing up at the hospital. Dad had used the hospital pay phone to call a family member with a home phone, and they had spread the word. I don’t remember every person who came. I do remember the preacher was called.
That night, I had just stepped out of the room so he could pray with Moma. My sister-in-law also left the room shortly after I exited into the hallway. As she opened the door, I glanced into the room and saw them praying. Moma who had been in a coma up until this point, was conscious and raised both hands into the air with a lively, resounding “Thank you Jesus.”
If there is anything I learned from that moment, it was that number one, God is so merciful! He is not willing for any of His precious children to die in an unrepentant state. No matter how far we get from God, if we call on Him, He will be there to forgive and save us, even if it’s a death-bed prayer.
My Moma and Daddy had stopped attending church seventeen or eighteen years prior. And had stopped living for God. Moma had gotten her feelings hurt by a church member, so she stopped going. Daddy tried in vain to get her to stay in church, but when he couldn’t talk her out of it, he backslid, too.
Somehow the sight of Moma making things right with the Lord filled me with great inner peace that night. Although I had not been raised going to church and definitely had not been saved yet, it was my desire for us all to go to Heaven together someday.
My sister-in-law asked me to go home with her and my middle brother for the night. They lived 30 minutes away in the next county. My younger brother stayed with another family member. I knew I could not spend another night in a straight-backed chair. And the truth was, I did not know if I could handle seeing Moma die.
Sometime late in the night, after I had fell asleep at their house my brother woke me and told me Moma had passed away. I was in shock as I got dressed and rode in the backseat of their car on the way back to the hospital. I didn’t cry. I found it hard grasping the reality that Moma really was gone. I didn’t want to believe it.
I can remember looking out the window up at the stars in the sky and feeling as numb as numb could be, as we rode in silence. When we got to the hospital, we were told the morgue had already picked Moma up, and the family had gone on to our home.
My middle sister didn’t make it in from Texas in time to say goodbye to my Moma. Going to the hospital, she discovered Moma had already passed. She broke down crying there. When she got to our house, her eyes were red and swollen from crying. We all hugged and sat around for a little while. I finally went to my room and slept for what was left of the night.
The following day our family made the arrangements. I’m not sure if the wake was that night or the next. I know that it was the most devastating thing I’ve ever been through. Seeing my mom lying in a casket was too much!
One of my 10th grade teachers had called my three friends I hung out with at school and let them know. They all showed up. They really didn’t understand what I was going through, nor did they know what to say. They could only say they were sorry.
The funeral was pretty traumatic for me, as if watching my Moma die a little every day up until that point wasn’t enough. I had told my family I wasn’t going, but changed my mind last minute. When I got to the casket, I collapsed and a different sister-in-law caught me before I hit the floor. She helped seat me on the front pew in the church, where the funeral was being held. I could not contain my emotions. A dam had burst inside me, and the river of tears flooded over the banks of my broken heart. I could not stop crying.
The graveside service was even worse for me. There’s something so final about a casket with your loved one being lowered into the ground.
I was unconsolable after that. I spent most my time in my bedroom crying.
Within the week, the Lord gave me a dream. I casually walked into the living room and there was Moma sitting in a wooden, straight-backed chair with children playing all around her feet. I stopped abruptly in surprise.
“Moma, what are you doing here?!” I said.
She looked up from watching them play with the biggest most beautiful and peaceful smile on her face! She didn’t speak any words aloud to me, but I heard them, nevertheless, through my mind. “ I love you baby. Everything is going to be ok.”
I woke up. I knew the Lord had let me know that she was at peace now and wasn’t hurting anymore. I would not call her back for anything! That part comforted me. I wish I could have said the same for myself. It would be a long, four grief-filled years before I could get through the day without crying or imagining that I could still see her lying in her bed, wasting away to a sack of bones.