|Drake, Rosesharon and Heather at Drake's theater performance a few weeks ago|
We are here and then we are not. And the whole thing feels like a mystery to me.
On Wednesday my dear friend Heather texted me that her mom had taken a turn for the worse. She was expected to pass that day.
In some ways it was surprising. Just last week Rosesharon had been well enough to go to San Diego, spend a week with her pregnant daughter and young grandson. On Monday they had gone out to celebrate her granddaughter’s 13th birthday.
But we all knew that it was just a matter of time. Her 4-year battle with cancer was not going well. A few weeks ago the doctors had told her that there was not much more they could do. She opted out of the last round of chemo and entered a hospice program.
But I had still thought that it would be a long time from now. Last week Heather and I had even talked about how her mom’s cell phone plan was up for renewal and how she was considering signing a two-year contract.
But Tuesday morning she had difficulty walking to the bathroom, by Wednesday afternoon she had slipped into a comma.
By the time I arrived at their apartment she was unconscious on her pink sheeted hospital bed, in the center of the living room. Family members and church friends gathered around. People were taking turns sitting on her bed, holding her hand, telling her they loved her.
Heather had several copies of a hospice booklet she wanted everyone to read. It talked about what was happening, what we should expect. It was gently practical, describing the way the process could look, what was going to happen.
There were tears, I expected that, but there was also a lot of laughter as old friends remembered good times together. It was like a memorial service with her present. At one point the whole living room and dining room were packed and it would have been easy to forget what was going on. It felt like a party.
But as the family members and friends slowly filtered out, I realized that I couldn’t leave.
I had to stay.
Heather’s sister was experiencing early labor and could not come. There were no other close family members who could stay with Heather, so a handful of good friends from Heather’s church and I stayed.
We listened to her breathe.
We called the hospice hotline for advice.
We held her hands and prayed.
One friend read her scripture. Someone put on a soft CD of hymns and spiritual songs. I even sang a little.
It reminded me of the times I gave birth. Praying. Waiting. Pain. More waiting.
And deep into the night as I watched Heather hold her mother’s hand, and with tears gently sliding down her check, say, “I love you, Mom. You have been the best mom in the world. You can go now,” I knew that I was observing the other side of birth. Death. Daughter releasing mother. Passing into the next life.
And it wasn’t so different from being born the first time.
If you have never been at a place like this, seen someone’s body slowly shut down and their life ease away, I suppose it sounds like a euphemism to say “passing away.” But it was just that. She passed from this life into the next.
When I prayed for Rosesharon on Wednesday, even before I arrived at the home, I asked the Lord what He was doing. I do that sometimes. I want to know what the Lord is doing so I can pray in agreement with his Will. And deep in my spirit I always heard, “I’m bringing her Home.” So in faith I prayed that He would bring her home.
It was intense and I am still processing the reality of what happened late that night.
But what I know for sure is that we experienced the reality of God’s presence in a way I had never before. I was sure that He was with us. And He was taking our friend home.
Ida, one of the women who sat with us, holding Rosesharon’s hand, stroking her cheek, telling her quietly that she loved her; had been a stranger just a few years ago. She met Heather’s mom when she invited Heather and her family over for a movie night. At the time Rosesharon was not very open to visiting Heather’s church or any other, but a movie night and potluck was fun and not too religious. Over time the two started meeting regularly for lunch dates and Ida was able to share her faith through her life.
And so as I watched this new friend gently apply glycerin to Rosesharon’s parched lips that channeled those last raspy breaths, I felt like I was watching Christ Jesus in action. My spirit understood with clarity, “This is what it means to follow Jesus!”
Other women who stayed with us had been part of an intensive prayer team who prayed with Rosesharon several times over the last few months. Like me, they were praying for miraculous healing, but what they experienced was a spiritual healing as our friend was able to forgive people who had wounded her and experience God’s forgiveness and grace.
As we sat through the night they prayed God’s blessing over her, words my own parents whispered to me as a child when I went to sleep, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he make his face to shine upon you. May he be gracious to you and give you his Peace.”
By morning Rosesharon was still with us. Heather opened the shades to the light of another hot Los Angeles day. Kip had to go to work and I needed to be home with my children, so I reluctantly left, knowing that at least Ida would be able to stay until more friends and family could come.
The struggle continued for a few more hours and then our friend slipped away.
I know that this is just the beginning of grief for Heather, who has lived with her mom for more than a decade.
And yet there is some relief that the pain is over. I think death is like that.
I had not planned to spend the night with Heather, but I am so glad I did. It was a privileged to be a part of their lives like that.
I understand more now than I had before that death, just like birth, is a door that we all walk through. We always fear that it will come unexpectedly, and sometimes we know it is coming. We watch patiently as our friends linger and then slide quietly through. But someday it will come. Someday I will arrive at that door. And I too will walk into the presence of my Savior.