Mama’s third surgery was four days after the second one to repair yet another issue in her worn out abdomen. By the morning of September first we got the bad news that her kidney functions were crashing and the blood work showed an infection that was known to be worse than the Mersa bacteria had entered her body. We had to make some tough decisions that day. Only one antibiotic was known to fight that particular infection but was so scarce that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had to be notified and give an assessment before they would let the doctor prescribe it for her. My brother felt very strongly that if there was even a slight chance the drug would work we had to try, and so we did. The CDC doctor said we would know within 24-48 hours if the drug would have any affect on Mom. And so we waited. And watched. And prayed, and talked to her still, wan body as we listened to the whush of the ventilator and the beeping of the monitors.
September 4, her final journey. Mom’s counts were all tanking and her heart kept going in and out of a-fibrilation. Her nurses, who were wonderful, said it always seemed to happen whenever they came in to ‘mess with her’ by cleaning out the ventilator or change dressings on her surgery site. My brother and I had a serious heart-to-heart talk with one of the nurses who promised to be completely honest with us on every detail of Mom’s condition and we counted on that guidance. That nurse helped us make the decision to pull all life support that day. The infection had taken over Mama’s tired body and her heart was in distress despite all of the meds they were giving her for stabilization. I asked the nurse if she, in her experience, could give us an idea of how long Mom might live after all machines were removed. She said given her condition, maybe a couple of hours. However, Mom would take 9 1/2 hours to leave this earth. A ‘tough old Swede’.
My brother and I decided that at 2 p.m. we would remove all life support save for the pain meds and oxygen for comfort.
We called the family and invited them to wait with us. All four of her surviving siblings were there as well as her beloved Pastor and my sister-at-heart and her wonderful husband who were our anchors through this entire journey. My brother’s pastor also came and stayed in the room while Mom’s equipment was being removed so she would hear a familiar voice the whole time. We were completely surrounded by love and light and prayers.
Back in the room, Mama looked so small and frail, yet peaceful. We all talked to her, sang hymns, and held hands and prayed as one large family. We prayed for God’s peace and thanked him for Mom’s example to all of us of an amazing faith.
My brother and I took turns standing by her bed and holding her hand so she was never for a minute alone. The hours went by. 4 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and the vigil continued. At about 10 o’clock, Pastor stepped down the hall to phone his expectant wife (due with their 3rd baby) to update her and give her an estimated time he would be home. Somehow, Mom must have heard him and would have wanted him to go home to his family. Her time was short.
As I stood by the bed on Mom’s left, my brother was sitting by the window and behind me for a little break. Suddenly, Mom opened her eyes and looked right at me! I called to my brother to come quickly to my side. She had not opened her eyes in days! As he came and stood beside me she looked at me and then at my brother–directly. Her soft brown eyes at that time were deep sapphire BLUE. And then she closed her eyes again. Before she did we were able to tell her that we would watch out for each other and that we would be OK. We were giving her permission to let go and rest in the arms of God.
I turned to my left slightly and looked over my shoulder to say something to her sisters and it was then that I saw them. Angels in the room-not quite as tall as me, diminuitive, and moving in a single file line back and forth, appearing to move through the wall that went into the bathroom. They were very busy, back and forth, back and forth. I knew intuitively that they were waiting–waiting for the Word. Waiting for the Master. Waiting for God. They were there to escort Mama into the next life. I said nothing to anyone else in the room at that time, but whispered to Mama that they had come.
About 30 minutes later, as I stood on one side and my brother on the other, Mom opened her eyes once again and looked this time directly at the foot of her bed. No one was standing there. No one that we could see–but she did. “Who is it, Mama? Has Dad come for you or is it Jesus? If it is–go with them.” She closed her eyes again and her breathing became softer and shallower. At 11:30 p.m. she breathed her last. She was truly free indeed.
I was to learn several months later that in Native American culture the Shaman or Holy Man never stands at the foot of someone’s bed to pray or to watch if the person is dying. The foot of the bed is where the Spirit comes to escort the dying into the next life to ‘walk’ with them on their journey. How fitting that whoever came for Mom that day was at the foot of her bed. Of course.
And those soft brown eyes suddenly turned sapphire blue? No doubt there is a medical explanation but here is what I firmly believe: Once you glimpse the Light of Christ you are forever changed. Moses’ hair and beard turned white while on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments and encountering God.
I believe Mom’s blue eyes were a sign to us –one we could carry always–that she had indeed seen the face of Christ in those final moments and I, too, am forever changed.