Christmas, 2013, has just passed. It was nice: Not one of the most memorable Christmases ever, but nice.
You see, it could have been a lot worse.
In July of this year, Maria Infante, my mother-in-law, passed away. She had been in poor health for a few years now, and we could see, physically, that she was slowly withering away. Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s only contributed to her gradual demise.
Earlier this summer, a good friend and singing buddy from church, Steve, died, the result of several months of battle stomach and/or esophageal cancer. And in Christmas Eve, son Ryan called to report that his wife’s grandmother had died just hours after being taken off a ventilator.
It was the death of my mother, Lula (Sue) Lamberts, that could have made this the worst Christmas ever.
At age 99 she had been doing well, but for a couple of weeks before her final day, September 7, she had been slipping. A few weeks earlier she had come down with a cold and though she showed “signs” of pneumonia, she never seemed to progress through whatever stages that diseases possesses. Until her final week, that is.
Illy, my wife, and I had been to see her on the morning of Sept. 7, a Saturday. Mom had spent the last couple of years at a nursing home in the Lansing area and though we didn’t get to see her as often as we would have liked, we tried.
One brother was on his way to Indiana for a flower show as we were visting mom. Another, the one who lives exactly seven miles away from the nursing home, was on vacation out west. The third lives and works in Las Vegas, so dropping everything to stop by for a couple of hours is not feasible.
When we visited around lunchtime, mom was in and out of a deep sleep, mostly in. Nurses said they had given her a med to calm her as she appeared to be in some sort of physical distress.
I remember the little twinkle in her icy blue eyes when she arrived and Illy grabbed her hand. “Your hands are cold,” she said. And, as far as we can tell, those were her last words.
We left after a couple of hours, saying our goodbyes as we did every time we left. Though we didn’t talk about it, I believe Illy and I were thinking the same thing: This might be the last time.
On the road on the way home, I called the brother in Indiana and said he might want to stop in Lansing on the way home. He said he would probably go Sunday afternoon. I just shook my head.
The brothers out west, well, all I could do was tell them to pray harder and that we could keep in touch.
We also have a sister in the Grand Rapids area. She, too, said she would go Sunday afternoon. Again, all I could do was shake my head.
That night, I was staffing a Grand Valley State University football game for my employer, The Holland Sentinel. I told my boss I might be leaving early, that I was on call from the nursing home in Lansing.
About 10:95 p.m., I saw an area code “517” number flash on the screen of my cellphone. About five minutes remained in the football game. I was writing as the game progressed to at least have something printable except for the final score.
The caller was an aide from the nursing home. She said we might want to think about coming down, that mom’s breathing was very labored. She paused. “Hold on, I’ll call you right back,” she said. “There’s something going on in your mom’s room.”
I could hardly breathe, let alone hold back the tears. Five minutes later, the aide called back. The “something going on” was mom taking her last breath. She was gone. I was stunned.
I think I called Dan, my boss, to tell him I was sending my story, that he would have to check Grand Valley’s web page for the final score. I left the stadium before the game ended so I could rush home to be with my wife.
On the way, I think I called the brothers and sister to report the sad news. We all grieved in our own way. I had been telling people for a long time that I was OK when my dad passed away in 1998, but being a momma’s boy, I would need a lot of time off to get over my mom’s passing. I was, however, at peace the night of September 7 once I arrived home. I attribute that to the strong faith that we as Christians have, knowing that Illy’s mom and dad have been re-united and that my mom and dad have been re-united, along with my one sister who died in 2001.
Someday we will all be together again.
At mom’s funeral, we sang (or tried to sing) one of her favorite songs. The words of “By the Sea of Crystal” really express the feelings we have as Christians and why we can handle the death of a friend or loved one.
By the sea of crystal, saints in glory stand,
Myriads in number, drawn from every land.
Robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus’ blood,
They now reign in heaven with the Lamb of God.
Out of tribulation, death and Satan’s hand,
They have been translated at the Lord’s command.
In their hands they’re holding palms of victory;
Hark! the jubilant chorus shouts triumphantly:
“Unto God Almighty, sitting on the throne,
And the Lamb, victorious, be the praise alone,
God has wrought salvation, He did wondrous things,
Who shall not extol Thee, holy King of Kings?”