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Mother’s Day Came on Thanksgiving
by Kim Brownlee
A woman’s family comes together in the last days of her life and discovers intimate details of each other in this poignant story of life and love.
The snow falling peacefully outside masked the intense range of emotions that were looming inside the Bradley house that night. But the headlights of Faith Lewis’s approaching car lit the house with such energy that she and her daughters could not be prepared for what they were about to face.
It was the week before Thanksgiving, and the family was supposed to be gathering from across the country as they had always done before. But this year was to be different. This year the family was taking care of their dying mother, Loraine, although Faith could only believe that her mother would recover as she had done several years before. Tess Bradley sat on the sofa watching her brother Shaun, and Shaun’s wife Christine, hold their seven month old son, Danny up to see the two little birds chirping cheerfully in their cage.
“You like the birdies?” Shaun asked his young son with awhispering smile. Danny smiled, fascinated by the little birds, and his father swung him back and forth toward the cage, releasing a little laugh from the child with each swing. His laugh andthe little cheeps coming from inside the cage were the only sign of life in the gloomy house.
“Has anyone heard from Fay?” Christine’s whisper cut across the room. Each of them looked at the other, waiting for an answer. Joy Harris came in from the bedroom at the far end of the room.
Tess sat up straight, anxiously. “Is Dad with her? She can’t be alone.”
“I wouldn’t leave my sister alone, Tess. Don’t worry,” Joy assured her with a weak smile as she crossed the room to reach out to the baby. Danny seemed to remind everyone in the house that life was still going to continue no matter the outcome of Loraine’s illness. And every time one of the family would leave Loraine’s side, they would immediately go to play with Danny; their sign of life and hope. A way to release the emptiness they carried into the room. “Let me get my little energy boost,” she said relieving the baby from Christine’s arms.
Christine smiled as she handed her smiling son over. “Tess, do you want me to make you some tea?”.
Shaun laughed silently as he noticed Fay and her daughters stepping onto the front porch. “Here they are,” he whispered as he opened the door to greet his sister.
Faith and her daughters, Jenny and Brooke came into the house shivering. “Darn, it’s cold out there!” She immediately noticed the quiet of the room and lowered her voice, embarrassed.
Joy struggled to rise from the sofa with the baby in her arms.“How was your flight, Honey?” She gave her a hug and turned her attention toward Fay’s daughters. “Oh my, you girls have grown so much since last year!” With that, she gave Jenny and Brooke the dreaded cheek pinch. Turning to Faith, she asked, “Do you want to see your mom?”
Faith smiled as she took off her snow covered coat and hung it over the back of a chair. “Yeah, where is she?” Shaun was already taking Danny from his aunt’s arms and was watching his sister’s face carefully, as if to warn her that she should be expecting the worst. He gave her his mother’s smile; the one that she used when she was sad or hurting, but forced a smile anyway. Faith looked at him curiously as she walked toward thebedroom, assuming that things couldn’t possibly be as bad as everyone was making it out to be. The first thing that she noticed was that the door to the bedroom had been removed and there was a curtain hanging in it’s place. Each step she took grew more heavy than the last until she pushed the curtain aside and saw a small frail greyish figure lying in a hospital bed. Surely this was another mother. This was not anyone that she had ever seen before. Yet, there sat her father, holding the hand of this frail grey stranger. Faith’s daughters followed her into the room. Brooke stood at her mother’s side staring oddly at her grandmother, while Jenny, Loraine’s oldest grandchild hid behind her mother, refusing to look any further as if this were some grotesque stranger and not the woman who was more of a second mother to her than a grandmother.
John Bradley smiled at his daughter with tears in his eyes. “It’s time to say good-bye, Honey.” Jenny turned immediately and left the room with Brooke following a few steps behind. Faith stood staring at this scene as if it were from some sad movie she was watching in a theater from the front row. It seemed an eternity before she had the strength to force her legs to carry her forward. Faith knew she could not allow her face to reveal her feelings, but somehow she had no control. And suddenly, the small grey figure turned to look at her. Horrified, she froze as if to hide in the darkness and not be seen.
“Faith,” Loraine said with the wispiest breath possible.
Faith thought she would faint at the sound of her mother’s voice coming from the small grey figure, which confirmed what she already knew. “Mom?”
Loraine smiled. It was the smile that Faith had remembered from the time she was a child; the smile that her mother would force even when the world was falling around them. She smiled through anything. It was her smile of hope. Loraine tried to lift her hand toward her, with the help of her husband. This action forced Faith’s legs to move her forward and she took her mother’s hand and smiled. She struggled for words, but there were none that could pass her lips other than, “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, Daughter.” Loraine said, pausing to catch her breath. “Faith…”
“What do you need, Mom?” Faith asked.
“I need to know your heart is right with God.”
“Jump right in there,” Faith said with a nervous smile.
“There’s no time to waste, Daughter,” Loraine said softly.
“Mom, don’t talk like that.”
Loraine still smiling answered, “Faith, it’s not something that I have to fear.” A little gasp came from her lips and Faith squeezed her mother’s hand. “This isn’t happening to punish me. We all have to leave this life some day and go onto the next.” Faith glanced at her father as if looking for some reason to change the direction this conversation was headed, but she couldn’t think of anything. “And we need a vehicle to take us there,” Loraine continued. She stopped briefly to take a breath before continuing. “Sometimes it’s an accident, or old age or…” She smiles and looks down at herself. “Illness. It’s a good thing.” Loraine smiled through her pain.
“What? Why are you talking like this? This is horrible!”
“Well, true,” Loraine said, smiling. “It’s probably not going to be too pleasant for you. But I’ve waited my whole life to see Jesus. And I want to know that I’ll see you there, too.”
Fay did not like the idea of talking about how she was living her life and she pulled her hand away. She reached for a chair nearby as a reasonable excuse to let go of her hand, hoping her mother wouldn’t notice. “I’m fine, Mom. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“How can I not?” Loraine said, her sad eyes pleading for Fay to break. Fay was silent, not knowing what she could possibly say to the woman who seemed to know every little thing she had ever done. “I know you like to drink and go dancing. It’s fun. I understand.” Loraine laughed weakly stopping to catch her breath. “And when it’s your weakness, that’s how the devil gets you. And holds you.” Fay had to look away from her mother’s knowing eyes. But her father was sitting across from her, so there was nowhere to look but the floor. Loraine waited for him to vanish behind the curtain before she continued. “Honey, your husband is an alcoholic and a sex addict.”
“Mom…” Faith gasped. She was horrified at the thought of her mother knowing anything about her sex life. How could she possibly know that? She was an old lady in her fifties!
“And, I’m outta here,” John said, immediately excusing himself from the room to join the others.
Loraine reached for Faith’s hand again. Faith sighed andtook her mother’s hand. “You can’t help him overcome this if you continue this lifestyle,” her mother told her.
Fay sighed deeply. “We’re okay, Mom,” she lied.
Loraine, knowing her lie, of course, continued. “Those things are only fun for a time. And then they begin to destroy you. They’ll never give you joy. That only comes in knowing God and –”
“And living for Him. I know, Mom,” Faith blurted out. But as quickly as the words left her mouth, she realized how much she hurt this dying woman. She is filled with shame as tears fill her eyes.
Loraine looks into her daughter’s face, her heart broken, not from her daughter’s comment, but for fear that her daughter would not make things right with God. “My daughter…” she whispered.
The following morning, the chirping of her mother’s birds woke Faith from her deep sleep. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, noticing Tess standing at the window watching the squirrels playing in the yard. “Wow, they get up early,don’t they?”
Tess gave a simple glance at the happy birds and continued her gaze out the window. “Who’s gonna feed the squirrels now? I think Grandma’s been feeding those things since we were kids!” She laughed. “She can’t do it anymore. When she stopped being able to do the little stuff like that was when they put her in a nursing home.”
“Yeah, but she asked to go there, right?” Faith asked.“Yeah, when she found out Mom was too sick to take care ofher,” Tess answered.
Faith stared at the floor rather than looking at her sister.“I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”
“I did,” Tess answered. “I told you she was sick.”
“You told me she was sick. Not that she was this sick. You didn’t tell me that till the day before yesterday when you said I needed to come right away because she wasn’t going to make it through the night,” Faith said waiting for Tess to turn and fight with her as they did when they were children. But Tess continued watching the squirrels. “And now thatMom–” She stopped before saying the word that none of themcould speak. She was holding a cup of coffee which was steaming up the window and she began drawing a happy face onthe new canvas that was appearing before her.
Some time had passed when Christine came into the room and sat Danny on the floor to play before sitting next to Faith. “Oh, what’s that?” She asked Faith at the CD that was flopping around in her hand the way a fish does when it is dumped onto dry ground.
“I feel so stupid,” Faith told her. “I bought this jazz CD for her to listen to ’cause I thought it would be relaxing. I had no idea she was past the relaxing stage. I just thought…”
Christine smiled. “That was nice of you. I’d like to hear it.” Christine looked around the room. “Where’s their stereo?”
Faith looked around and laughed. “They don’t have a CD player? How did I not know that?”
Shaun entered the room from behind the gloomy curtain of death wiping his eyes. “They have a little CD player. You know Mom and Dad. They’re simple people,” he said with a laugh as he crossed the room, happy to have something humorous after his turn at his mother’s bedside. Faith and Christine followed Shaun to a bookshelf where their parents had collected old books from many years ago. Nothing important; nothing of any value. Just things to read. On one of the shelves sat a very small, very old, dusty CD player. They laughed as quietly as they could. “I wonder if this thing even works,” Shaun said as he removed it from the shelf.
“Well, put this on and let’s see,” Christine said reaching for Faith’s CD. Faith smiled as she handed the disk to Christine. She knew that no one wanted to hear this thing, but somehow, Christine always knew just what to say to make people feel comfortable. She was a lot like her mother in this way, and Faith was sure that this was why her brother fell in love with her. The music began playing.
“Yes! It works!” Shaun said with a surprised laugh. “Watch this; this is funny,” he added with a laugh, looking toward the small bird cage. The birds immediately began singing. Shaun paused the music and the birds stopped their song. When he turned the music on again, the birds continued their singing.
Faith laughed. “Are you kidding? That’s funny!”“They love it!” Shaun laughed.
At that moment, the back door flew opened. Jim Norton,their oldest sister’s husband, came into the house carrying his two year old son, Brian, and desperately forced the door shut behind him. He kicked the snow from his boots as quietly as he could. “Alright! Jazz! Who brought the Jazz?” Jim asked as he entered the Living Room in his damp socks.
“Faith brought it for Mom,” Christine offered cheerfully.
“I didn’t know you were into Jazz,” he aid.
“Well, it’s kind of a recent thing,” Faith said, embarrassed at the faux fuss. “I just like having relaxing music sometimes.” They listened for several moments. “I thought Mom would like it, but now that I’m here-”
“I’m sure she’d love to hear it,” Christine offered, each one of them knowing as well as Christine that it would just not be appropriate now.
“Well, we can at least listen to it out here, anyway,” Faith said before anyone might say what they were all thinking. “So, Jim, how are Ruby and the baby?”
Jim smiled. “They’re fine. They’ll be released tomorrow.”
“Good, good,” said Christine. There was a small noise coming from the baby monitor which made Christine react instinctively. “Speaking of babies, I think mine just woke up,” she said and began her exit to the stairs. She passed Jenny and Brooke on their way down the steps.
“Danny’s awake, Aunt Christine,” Jenny announced, her mother shushing her from the other room.
“Hi Uncle Jim. Are Emily and Joshua here?” Brooke asks as she hops over the last step, looking for her cousins.
“They’re playin’ in the snow. Why don’t you girls go get your coats on and play with them for awhile?” Jim suggests. The girls look anxiously at their mother who nods her approval, and they rush to get bundled up for their excursion.
“Oh, wait a minute, Jenny,” Faith called in a loud whisper. “You need to go visit your grandmother first. You have been avoiding it all morning.”
“I’m not going in there any more” Jenny refused as she continued to get ready to play in the snow. “That’s not Grandma.” All eyes were fixed on the young girl they all knew was so close to her grandmother.
“Jenny!” Faith said, starting toward her. “She keeps asking for you and Ruby because she needs to see you before…” She couldn’t finish her sentence.
“I’m not going in there,” Jenny said defiantly.
Faith was devastated knowing that Jenny was refusing to grant her mother a dying wish; just to spend a little moretime with her family. She pulled Jenny aside. “Jenny, all Mom wants is to see you. She just wants to see you,” Faith’s tears pleaded.
“No. She scares me.”
“It’s still Grandma Loraine. And she has feelings that are going to be hurt really bad if she can’t spend a few minutes with you,” Faith insisted still holding her arm.
“No. You can’t make me.”
With that, Faith was so angry at her daughter’s defiance,that she dragged her over to the ugly curtain and pulled it aside. “How can you be so selfish? She just wants to see you.”
“I understand that. But do it for her.” Jenny stood perfectly still as she stared at the floor. “You’re going to go in and see your grandmother, and you’re going to put a smile on your face. Then you can go play,” Faith whispered forcefully, two inches from her daughter’s ear. “Just do it for her. Please.” Jenny and Faith moved toward the small grey figure on the bed. Jenny being pushed from behind by her mother.
Loraine smiled when she saw her. “Hi, Honey, I haven’tseen you yet today,” Loraine said, doing her best to reach out to her granddaughter.
Faith rushed forward to her mother, and with her free hand she helped raise her hand toward Jenny’s. “Say hello to your grandmother,” Faith ordered her daughter as gently as shecould.
Jenny let part with an inaudible “Hello.”
“I love you, Honey,” Loraine said.
“I love you, too,” Jenny said, tears falling down her cheek as she looked away.“Don’t be afraid, Jenny. I know you’re afraid. But I’m getting ready to go see Jesus. That’s what we’re all waiting for, right?” Loraine said with a smile tugging at Jenny’s hand. “And now it’s my turn! I’m not going away forever. I’m just going home.” Joy, who had been sitting at her sister’s side for quite some time, could not hold back her tears any longer and got up to give them some privacy. “Jenny…” Loraine spoke softly to get her frightened granddaughter’s attention, as she was looking at the floor. Jenny looked up reluctantly. Loraine smiled. “I want to see you there, too when it’s your turn.” Loraine wanted to so badly to continue, but was forced to stop to catch her breath from her one failing lung.“So you need to make sure you love Jesus… with all your heart and remember to live the way He did.”
“I know, Grandma. I will,” Jenny promised, her face drenched with tears.
“Okay, go on, Honey. I know you want to go,” Loraine told her as she let go of her hand. Jenny, relieved to be set free of this ominous obligation, took several steps backward before turning her back to leave. She passed slowly through the dreary curtain and then burst into tears. Everyone stared as she moved quickly past them.
“I’m not going back in there!” She said rushing to grab her coat.
Tess followed her to the door. “It’s okay, Jenny. I know she doesn’t look the same and it’s a little scary, isn’t it?”
Jenny nodded. “Well,” Tess said giving her niece a hug, “It scares me,too.”
“It does?” Jenny asked, pulling back to look up at her aunt.
“Yes,” she answered with a smile as she wiped her nieces’ face dry.
It was early the next morning when Shaun and Christine came down the steps carrying Danny who was wide eyed and excited at the birds’ song. But his excitement was cut short when the birds stopped their happy on their approach. He looked at his mother as if to ask what happened.
“Aw, did the birdies stop singing?” Christine laughed, and sat down at the table with Danny to feed him.
Faith came in from the Living Room. “Wow, he’s up early today,” she said with a sleep laugh.
“Yeah, he’s all off his timetable. This jet lag is killing all of us, I think,” Christine said. John, Tess, Shaun and Christine were sitting in the Living Room waiting for Jim and Ruby to bring their new baby by to meet her grandmother. Jenny and Brooke tiptoed quietly down the stairs, or as quietly as they could be considering they were excited to announce that their aunt and uncle were coming onto the backporch.
“They’re here!” Jenny whispered her shout.
“I’m so excited!” Brooke added.
“Shh!” Admonished their aunt, and they quickly obeyed as they rush to open the door. Jim and Ruby came into the crowded room with their new baby in arms. Ruby smiled proudly, temporarily distracted with her bundle of joy to remember the sorrow in the other room. John looked up and forced a smile. He rose and went to his daughter, but Jenny and Brooke were too excited to wait for him and were already peeking inside the blanket.
“Aunt Ruby, your new baby is cute,” Jenny said shyly.
“Thank you, Jenny,” she replied, wrinkling her nose up just a little. “I think so, too!” John made it to the baby and pulled the blanket back to reveal her hair. He smiled as Ruby handed her child to her father. When he felt he had a secure hold on her, he leaned over to kiss his newest grandchild on the forehead, and a few tears dropped quietly onto her cheek. He quickly brushed them away, and smiled embarrassed.
“You okay, Dad?” Ruby asked, touching his arm.
“I’m hangin’ in there… It’s hard,” he answered and quickly changed focus onto the baby again. “She’s beautiful, Ruby. A beautiful little girl.” He couldn’t hold back his tears any longer and began sobbing while he looked into this tiny parcel of life.
Jenny and Brooke went to him and put their arms around him. “We love you, Grandpa John,” they told him in unison.
He laughed in embarrassment, unable to hug them back because his arms were so busy. “Thank you, Girls. I love you,too… And your Grandma Loraine loves you, too.”
The girls looked at each other, and sorrow filled their young little faces as they gently released their hold on their grandfather.“We know,” Jenny said softly.
Tess cleared her throat as she wiped her eyes, and she turned to the new baby. “When did you get home from the hospital?”
“We haven’t been home yet!” Jim laughed.
“I just wanted to bring the baby over so Mom could see her,” Ruby said in a whisper. The young girls released their grandfather from their hug and John noticed them looking behind Jim and Ruby for their cousins.
“Who has the rest of these kids?” John laughed, the best he could given the circumstance.
“Oh, Jim’s mom has them,” Ruby answers. “She’s bringingthem back later this afternoon.” Jenny and Brook’s shoulders plunged toward the floor.
Jim laughed at them. “Don’t worry,” he told the dancing girls. “I’ll bring them tomorrow.” He paused, thinking. “Hey, maybe you can come stay with us for a few days.” The girls jumped up and down stirred at the idea of seeing their cousins that they so seldom get to see. “If it’s okay with your mom, I mean,” he added, looking for Faith for approval.
“She’s in with Mom,” Tess told him.
“Okay, we’ll talk with her later.”
“Well, let me take this baby to meet her grandmother,” John said, looking for a clear path toward the horrible curtain. He looked into the sweet sleeping baby’s face, tears flowing down into his red and grey beard. He wondered if carrying this bottle of life into his dying wife might somehow extend his wife’s time with him. When he realizedthat he must accept whatever the outcome was, he was embarrassed. He shook his head proudly. “Yes, Ruby, you have abeautiful daughter,” John said as a path was clear to him now and he began to move toward the room where his wife lie dying. As they walked into the room, Fay, who was sitting next to her sleeping mother, was just turning to wipe the tears from her eyes. She had already been sitting with her mother for a couple of hours and that was about the limit that everyone was able to endure before having to leave the death bed from exhaustion. She cleared her throat and stood with just a hint of a smile.
“You’re here!” She whispered excitedly.
“Yes, we’re on our way home now,” Ruby said, as everyone hovered around John and the baby.
“Home…” their mother whispered. They all turned to look at Loraine, whose eyes were still closed. Ruby stood staring at the woman, Fay’s small grey stranger, and realized her excitement and joy of new life was not to live long. She stepped slowly, almost needing to be pushed forward by her husband.
“Come on, let’s go see your mom,” Jim said gently, his arm around her. “I am,” was her reply as she slowly moved toward the bed where the small grey figure lie. Tess stood silently at the doorway with her aunt who had just come downstairs from her nap. They stayed there and began weeping at this odd mixture of death and life; sorrowand hope. No one seemed to know how they should be feeling. Fay stepped aside to make room for her oldest sister and John moved to the other side of the hospital bed with the baby. When Tess and Joy finally had the strength to enter the room, Shaun and Christine followed, and Jenny and Brooke hid behind them. They were just in time to see John lay the newbaby in his wife’s arms. The room was now filled with Loraine’s family, none of them knowing what they should be feeling at that moment.
“Loraine. This is your newest granddaughter,” John said, holding back his tears as he nestled the baby in her arm.
Loraine turned her head, confused at what she was feeling against her arm. She looked at this tiny baby and was immediately carried back in time to the birth of her oldest daughter. “Ruby…” she said with the smallest of breath as she looked down in her arms at the newborn baby.
“Her name’s Ruby…”
Ruby smiled and reached over to help support the baby invher mother’s arms. “Her name is Loraine, Mom,” she told her. “After you.” Loraine, unable to hold her strength more than a few seconds now, closed her eyes with a deep sigh and turned her head. Ruby leaned over and removed her daughter from her mother’s arms. She was hurt that her mother was unable to understand that she was meeting her youngest grandchild. She had always been so excited to see her new grandchildren, and she had always thought her mother was the best mother anyone could have and that she was the perfect loving grandmother. But now Ruby was understanding that her newborn and her mother would never have the chance to be close. She passed through the terrible curtain into the Living Room.
Faith followed her. “Are you okay she asked as she watched Ruby wiping a tear that had fallen onto her little one’s cheek. Ruby nodded. “When was the last time you were able to see Mom,” Faith asked her as she sat on the sofa to look at the baby in her sister’s arms.
“Can I?” She asked, holding out her arms. Ruby carefully handed the baby to her youngest sister.“I’ve been on bed rest for a month. And she still came early,” she said with a tiny laugh that was shrouded by her tears. “I didn’t know she was this bad. She wasn’t this badwhen I saw her a few weeks ago!” She wiped her face and stared at the dismal curtain. “She’s strong. She can beat this. We just need to keep praying.”Fay thought silently about what her mother had told her. “Yeah, I’ve been praying ever since I found out. And when I got here, I just couldn’t believe how bad she looked. But I think she can pull through it, too. I mean, she did last time she had cancer.”
The others trickled out from behind that veil that was separating life from the dying.“Hey, I was thinkin’ we could take the girls back with us when we leave if it would help things here.” Jim whispered his suggestion.
“Are you sure? Your first night with a new baby…” Fay said smiling at the little one in her arms. Ruby smiled. “It would actually help ‘cause it would keep the kids busy. Plus, I’m sure they must be goin’ crazy here having to keep quiet all day!”
“Well, Okay,” Faith said. “If you’re sure you can handle them.” This made the girls jump up and down with the greatest of smiles.
The morning had gone very quietly Fay and Shaun sat on the sofa alone in the Living Room whispering an ardent conversation. The only other sounds in the house were Loraine’s little birds chirping in the other room.
“I don’t understand” Shaun told his sister.They were interrupted by Jim who came through the back door, carrying his guitar with one hand and holding Brian’s hand with the other. Fay is silent. As Jim began closing the door, it burst open again and Jenny and Brooke bounced in with their cousins, ten year old Emily and eight year old Joshua.
“Wow, it’s gonna be a long winter! Jim said shaking some snow from his hair. “How’s your mom doing tonight?”
“She keeps getting a little worse every night,” Shaun answered. “How’re Ruby and the baby tonight?”
“Not getting much sleep. You have your guitar?”
“Yeah. I’ll be there in a minute.”Jim took off his coat and knelt beside Brian to help him with his coat. “Hey!” He whispered loudly to the kids behind him. “You need to keep your voices down! Whisper, okay?” The kids all agreed to whisper, but their effervescence stirred the stillness in the entire house. “And wipe your feet and take your coats and shoes off!” He added as he stood up and picked up his guitar. He took his young son’s hand and crossed the room. The gloomy curtain was pushed aside and Tess peeked fromthe other side. “I thought I heard you. Hi, Brian,” she said with a contrived cheerfulness. Jim smiled as she let them pass into the bedroom where Loraine’s family is visiting. Shaun and Fay sat patiently waiting for all of them to filter into the other room.
Fay looked up from the spot on the floor that she had been staring at. “Are you really gonna judge me? Now?”
Shaun’s eyes popped just a little. “No, Fay! That’s not what I meant.”
“I mean, maybe if I lived a charmed life like you and Christine, or Ruby and Jim, things would’ve been different.”
“We’re far from having a charmed life,” he laughed, stunned that his sister saw something that he never thought of as a possibility. “We just — haven’t…”
“Screwed up like me?”
“Fay, I didn’t say—”
“I know. I’ve made a lot of mistakes” Fay said. “A lot of’em. I’m not you, Shaun. Maybe if I wouldn’t have gotten knocked up in high school and then turned around and married the jerk who left me to be an unwed teenage mom for a year,things would be different.” She paused to catch her breath. “Do you know that I envy you and Christine? And Ruby and Jim?”
“Us?” Shaun asked, again surprised.
“I don’t mean your nice house or your nice car or your nice furniture.” She looked out the window as if the light outside could give her the energy she needed to continue. “I envy your relationships. How you never fight.”
Shaun laughed with his mother’s laugh. “We fight,” he tried to persuade her.
“Well,” she said, “unless it involves lots of cursing, and hookers and small appliances flying through the air, then, no, you don’t.” She paused waiting for him to respond, but he was too embarrassed to speak. “You have civil disagreements”she said with the smallest of laughs. Shaun looked away, unable to comprehend her life.
“I just can’t imagine what it must be like to never trust anyone.”
“I can’t imagine what it must be like to trust anyone.” Shaun looked up at his sister, heartbroken for her. They sat silent for a few moments before Fay decided it was time their conversation was over. “I think you should go in there now. I’m gonna get some rest upstairs.” Shaun nodded and rose from the sofa to reach for his guitar. Fay watched him push the ugly curtain aside and disappear into the room where she could hear them singing. After about an hour of Fay’s resting and the family’s singing, Faith knew it was her turn to sit with her mother,an she came downstairs. The children already had their coats and shoes on and were opening the door.
“We’re goin’ back to Uncle Jim and Aunt Ruby’s now, Mom,” Brooke said with a whisper.
“Okay, I’ll see you later,” she said giving her daughters a kiss.
“See you later, Aunt Fay,” Emily said, and the door closed behind her. The children took their animacy with them, and the house was again still. As Faith moved the horrible curtain aside and went into the room where her mother lie, she stopped briefly to watchTess at their mother’s side, taking shallow breaths along with her mother as she stared at the floor. Loraine did her best to catch her breath as she weakly lifted her hand to get her daughter’s attention.
“I’m here, Mom,” Tess told her, quickly jumping from her chair to take her hand. “Are you in pain? Do you need anything?” Faith moved toward the bed but was unseen by her mother and sister.
“Thirsty…” was the only word that Loraine could release from her parched white lips. Tess picked up a glass of water and tried to help her mother take a drink, but Loraine was no longer able to lift her head.
“Let me try something,” Tess told her. Picking up a spoon, Tess tried to feed her mother a few drops of water, but it trickled down her face onto her pillow. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
Loraine smiled weakly. “It’s okay, Tess.”
Faith stepped quickly to the dresser to grab a towel. “Oh, I’ll get that for you,” she said dabbing her face and neck. She noticed a paper cup that someone had brought in from a fast food restaurant and left on the dresser. The straw was still sticking out of the top, calling out to them it’s assistance. “Try this,” she told Tess, handing it to her. Tess put the straw into the glass of water and used her finger to hold the water in and helped her mother get a few more drops of water.
“It helped. Thank you,” Loraine said. Tess and Faith smiled triumphantly at their tiny accomplishment. But when they looked at their mother’s face, with that worried smile she kept, their triumph was returned to sadness and they, too, had to force themselves to continue smiling.
Loraine’s little birds had started the day with their cheerful song, and after a brief pause, were at it again, singing along with the song that was coming from Loraine’s room. Jim had brought all of the children over and they were singing to Loraine once again, along with the family’s minster, Pastor Greg and his wife, Cathy, who had come to visit the family and pray with them. In the other room, Shaun was holding Danny up to see Loraine’s birds. He found their singing amusing and his laughter filled the air, almost eclipsing the song that was coming from Loraine’s room. Fay, who had been sitting in the Living Room, stood to move closer to the energy the child gave off.
“It’s funny how they sing whenever they hear music,” Shaun said, acknowledging her entry into the room.
“Danny really loves those birds, doesn’t he?” Faith asked with a smile as Danny released a small giggle every time his father swung him closer to the cage.
“Yeah, he does, but my arms won’t last long if I keep this up!” Shaun laughed as he lowered him. He picked up a box from the table that some neighbors had used to bring several casseroles over to the family. He lowered it to the floor putting Danny into it, and immediately began to push it across the floor into the Living Room.
“Woo-woo..” Shaun laughed, as Danny sat still in his little train with a perfectly content smile.
“Now you did it,” Faith whispered with a laugh. “He’s never gonna let you stop.” Joy passed through the dreaded curtain into the Living Room at that moment and wiped her face. She laughed at the tears falling from her eyes.
“Okay, I need a break,” she said. “I can only sit there for so long. I find myself holding my breath along with her – gasps.”
“Yeah, I’ve found myself doing that, too,” Shaun said looking up from his place on the floor as Train Engineer.
“Me, too,” Fay added quickly.
“Are they doin’ okay in there?” Shaun added hesitantly.
“Well… Jenny’s afraid. I’m so afraid of what this will do to her,” Joy said. “She was so close to Loraine.”
“I better get in there,” Faith said moving toward that curtain, where the song gave small relief from the sorrow that was enveloping Loraine’s room. As she entered, she saw her father kneeling beside the oxygen tank replacing it with a new one. Loraine, who had been lying there with her eyes closed, listening to her family sing, suddenly opened her eyes, looking for the cause of her discomfort.
“It’s okay, Loraine, I’m changing it as fast as I can,”John said, with a tear falling down his cheek. The family continued singing, hoping that their song would give her strength, as Pastor Greg stepped aside with a smile to make room for Faith, who moved toward Jenny and Brooke. Jim was playing his guitar softly as his young children’s sweet voices sang, “Yes, Lord, yes, to your will and to your way. I will trust you and obey. When your spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I’ll agree. And my answer will be yes, Lord, yes.”
Faith and her daughters did not sing along because they did not know this song. They hadn’t been to church in a long time.There was a brief time of silence as John stood up from the floor by the oxygen tanks, so Christine stepped from the room to get Shaun. When Shaun came into the crowded room with his guitar, Christine followed carrying Danny. Joy, who had finished drying her face, also returned to the room. They began singing, “We shall see the king when He comes. He’s coming with power; we’ll hail the blessed hour. We shall see the king when He comes.”
The family began crying because they knew why they were singing these songs and what they meant to their mother and they didn’t want to accept this. They had been praying that God would heal her, yet she just kept getting worse. It all seemed so surreal. Why wasn’t God answering their prayers? Loraine tried to lift her arms in worship, but was just too weak, so Tess and John helped her by supporting her arms. As the song ended, Fay watched them, remembering how good it was as a child, but now she felt as if she were not a partof the family at all. Tess and John gently lowered Loraine’s arms.
“Hurry…” Loraine gasped.
Tess quickly hovered over her. “What do you need, Mom?”
“Hurry…” she gasped again.
Tess wiped her eyes and started frantically looking aroundthe room as her family stood by helplessly. “Do you want some water?” Tess reached for the water on the night stand, but Loraine shook her head, almost irritated.
“Hurry…” Loraine was now desperate and her family began crying, no one knowing what to do.
“Mom…” Tess tried to ask again, but Pastor Greg gently interrupted.
“She’s not talking to us anymore,” he said. Tess leaned back and looked around at her grieving family as everyone realized it was time to let go.
The Hospice nurse, Phyllis, came to the door for her daily visit. When she entered through the back door, she found John cleaning out the cupboards. “How’re you doing today, John,”she asked as cheerfully as she could. “Listen to those birds!”
“Oh,” he said with a long pause as he pulled himself upholding a bucket and scrub brush. “Just cleanin’ the kitchen.”
“Well, you let me know if you need anything, okay?”He nods as she goes into the dining room where she runs into Tess, Shaun and Faith, who are looking at several pill bottles.
“I just don’t wanna overdose her,” Tess said.
Phyllis put her arm around Tess. “You won’t overdose her,Tess. At this point it’s just about keeping your mom comfortable.”
Tess began to cry. “I just don’t want to be the reason she dies.”
Phyllis smiled gently and gave her a squeeze. “You won’t be.” They look over into the kitchen at John who is now on his hands and knees silently scrubbing the kitchen floor. “Just let him be,” she advises them. “He needs somethingto keep him busy.” Phyllis was leaving just as Jim and Ruby were coming in with all of the children. After they settled out of their coats and tracked snow onto John’s freshly scrubbed floor, he laughed for the first time all day.
“We’re sorry, Grandpa,” they told him. “We’ll clean it up.”
“That’s okay, it’ll give me something to do later” he said with a laugh.
Christine came down the stairs with Danny, who was rather contrary for the first time all week. “He’s not gonna go to sleep,” she said laughing quietly. “So I thought I’d bring him down while we sing.” The family joined Joy, beyond the dark curtain, with their guitars and animacy. Faith found it difficult to join in on the songs she barely remembered from her childhood, but realized the words as critical to her mother’s needs now, and she sang along. “It’s dark as a dungeon and the sun seldom shines and I question, ‘Lord, why must this be?’ And He tells me there’s strength in my sorrows and victory in trials for me. He leads me beside still waters, somewhere in the valley below. He draws me aside to be tested and tried, but in the valley, He restoreth my soul.” The song was precious to them, but was so very difficult to sing. But they continued another song from their past, as John and Joy helped support Loraine’s hands in praise. “Sweet Holy Spirit, sweet Heavenly Dove, stay right here with us, filling us with your love. And for these blessings, we lift our hearts in praise. Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived when we shall leave this place.”
With those last few words, Faith realized for the first time that it was speaking about that very moment. Shaun thought of what Loraine might want to hear and began a song from his mother’s childhood. “One glad morning when this life is o’re, I’ll fly away I’ll fly away. To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away. I’ll fly away oh glory, I’ll fly. When I die hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.” Loraine smiled, her hands reaching toward Heaven with the help of her husband and sister, and a tear trickling down her cheek. When the evening came, Jim, Ruby, Shaun and Christine were in the kitchen feeding all of the children. Joy and John remained with Loraine, sitting on each side of the hospital bed. Fay and Tess came back into the room and pulled up chairs beside their father. The room was now silent and the family found themselves breathing in sync with Loraine’s long pauses between each gasping breath. The only sound was the lonely howl of the neighbor’s dog.
“What is with that dog?” Tess whispered irritated. Faith got up and looked out the window but could only see the lonely dog sitting out in the snow. Loraine’s breaths were further apart now, and no one wanted to leave the room. When they finally waited for her next breath and it didn’t come for so very long, everyone in the room found themselves holding their breath. They began crying.
After what seemed like an eternity, Tess got up from her chair and touched Loraine’s hand. “Mom!” she whispered.
Suddenly, Loraine’s eyes flew open. They were all relieved that she was not gone yet, but Loraine slowly shook her head, and with her eyes pleaded, “Don’t… do… that… again.”
Tess burst into tears and Fay put her arms around her. John reached over to Tess’ hand. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “She just wants to go. It’s time to stop praying for healing. It’s time to start praying for peace. She just wants to go home now.” Pastor Greg came to pray and counsel the family as soon as they called him.
“I’ll stay with Loraine,” Joy said. “You need to talk to Pastor Greg.” John joined the others in the Living Room, everyone now quiet.
“Loraine gave,” Pastor Greg began. “She was always giving of herself, which is why there’s even a family here tonight. The way that Loraine gave of herself, her family is willingto make this sacrifice of caring for her at her home. These days of discomfort to themselves because Mom did it all the time. All these things I see as something that shows very clearly as to what a person’s life was like. I’ve sat with some families where they said all these flowery things about their loved ones, but you know, you couldn’t see it in the way they lived. But with Loraine, you and I see it.”
“On top of all the flowery stuff,” Shaun said, “whatever we could say about Mom, it’s all legitimate. She’s just a great mom. She sacrificed for me a lot. There’s one time I remember… I’m a procrastinator. And there was this paper that I had to write in college and I was doing it the night before it was due. And I didn’t have to ask her; she was just typing it for me. It ended up going all night long, and she sat up with me the whole night and just kept typing it up till, like eight o’clock in the morning.”
Pastor Greg laughed. “Man, I wouldn’t have done that!”
“She never got to go to sleep ‘cause she had a meeting she had to go to at church and she ended up being late for it.”
Tess lifted her head to speak. “I think she sacrificed for all of us. I mean, we might not have always had what we wanted, but we always had what we needed. A lot of times she went without so that we — didn’t have to.”
“She’s always gave, but very rarely took,” Pastor Greg added with a smile, knowing Loraine.
Faith found a pause and spoke up. “She’s always known how to help me. She’s always been there for me. Even my friends all looked to Mom for advice,” she said smiling. “We grew up different than other kids, traveling and singing. I remember we always sang in the car to work on our harmonies. Well, either that or she was just keeping us busy so we didn’t fight.” She laughed.
Shaun smiled. “Yeah, she taught me how to harmonize.”
Ruby, looking into her newborn’s eyes, added, “Music says what you can’t verbalize. And it tied us together as a family.”
“That’s been Loraine’s life; a song,” Pastor Greg said nodding his head.
John, who had been sitting silently in the corner holding Danny in his lap, spoke up. “When I was in the service and Loraine would write me, she’d always write on the back of the envelope, ‘if God is for us, then who could ever be against us?’ It’s the major thing in her life. I think it’s the reason Loraine always had a smile on her face. Even last week before we brought her home from the hospital. She was throwing up and the nurse heard her and came running in. And Loraine smiled at her and said, ‘I’m sorry, Honey.’” He laughed. “The nurse couldn’t believe that someone that sick could still smile.”
They all agreed with a silent nod, and the room grew silent except for the neighbor’s mournful dog.
“Geez, I don’t feel good,” Tess whispered, curled up in the corner chair in the Living Room.
Faith, who was lying on the sofa, sat up for a moment. “I don’t either.”
Shaun and Christine came down the steps with Danny, who was unusually quiet and sat him at the table for breakfast. “He keeps getting up earlier and earlier. Why are the birds quiet this morning? They usually love to sing all morning.”
Faith got up from the sofa. “You’re right, I didn’t notice,” she said as she headed for the Loraine’s room. As she passed through that horrible curtain once more, she saw Joy dabbing a swab with water on it on Loraine’s lips. John sat with his head on Loraine’s bed, sleeping. “Aunt Joy, do you want me to take over now?”
Joy turned to her as she set the water on the night stand.“No, thanks. I’m okay.” She touched Faith’s cheek. “Honey, you feel warm.”
“I’m feeling better than yesterday!,” Faith whispered.“You and Dad have been out here all night, haven’t you?”
“Yeah,” Joy answered with a yawn. “But I don’t want to leave her right now, and you’re getting sick. So you get somemore sleep and we’ll see how you feel later. It’s okay.”
Faith left the room and laid back down on the sofa. She felt as if she were just drifting off to sleep when she felt a gentle tug on her shoulder.
“Faith,” Christine said gently. “Wake up. It’s all over.”
Faith sat up frantically. “What?”
“But I was just in there!” Faith said, beginning to cry.“I was just in there fifteen minutes ago and she was…” she got up and passed Tess, who was standing at the doorway, the curtain pulled open. Shaun and Joy were coming out of the room wiping their eyes and Fay watched them. As she went into the room, she saw crying father, kneeling beside the bed, holding Loraine’s hand. She leaned over the opposite side of the bed and began sobbing on her mother’s now peaceful shoulder.
John looked up at her and smiled through his tears. “Well, your mother’s got her log cabin in Heaven now.”
Faith watched her father looking into his wife’s face. She wiped her eyes and told him, “You can hold her now, Dad. You won’t hurt her.”John looked at her sadly, as if he was unsure.“It’s okay, Dad,” she said, leaving the room to give him some privacy. She turned to see him getting up off of his knees and leaning over to hold her close as he cried. Phyllis was there immediately and helped prepare Loraine. When she finished, John went to the doorway and removed the tension rod that had been supporting that dreaded curtain.
“I feel like I can breathe again,” Tess said in a normal voice, which seemed abnormally loud after a week of whispers.
“I know,” Shaun agreed. As they were about to take Loraine away, Joy and her husband, Alexander, who had just arrived, stood beside Faith,who was staring at the men who were placing Loraine on the gurney.
“Faith,” Alexander said to her as she continued her stare.“Are you sure you want to watch this? There are some things that the mind’s eye cannot un-see.”
“I’ll never un-see any of this. I have to watch,” she answered. He nodded and gave her room as he went to Joy who was sitting on the sofa, breathing freely. As they carried Loraine out of the house, Faith went into the room and found Loraine’s oxygen tube. She picked it up and looked at the tiny bubbles of Loraine’s last breaths.
Shaun came to her and touched her shoulder. “We’re going with Dad to the funeral home.”
“Okay, I think I’ll stay here,” she said, pressing Loraine’s tube to her heart. The minutes seemed to be hours, and neighbors kept bringing food over for the family. Fay and Tess sat alone at the kitchen table picking turkey with their fingers out of a large plastic container.
“We never had to pick Thanksgiving turkey out of a plastic tub before,” Faith said.
“Never had to pick out a coffin before, either” Tess replied with a laugh, although tears filled their eyes.
Fay was suddenly silent and full of regret. “We never got to go to the mountains.”
“When they came to visit this summer they wanted to go tothe mountains and go camping,” Faith said. “And I told them it would have to be next summer ‘cause the girls were about to start school. And we could have done it. I mean, we could have gone shopping for school supplies later. What was I thinking?”
“You were thinking we’d have next year. That’s what we all thought. You know, Fay,” Tess told her, “It would break Mom’s heart to not be able to see you in Heaven.”
Faith was sobbing.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, Fay. All that matters is the way you live your life from here on. God is a forgiving God, and He still loves you. And He always will.”
“I don’t wanna live like this. I want to be happy,” Faith said through her tears. “No, more than that. I want joy. I want peace.”
Tess got up from the table and put her arms around her sister. “You can have that again, Fay. Like when we were kids. But don’t put it off, Fay. We all think we have tomorrow to make that choice, but the truth is, we don’t know how much time we have.”
© 2011 Kim Brownlee