Where do I begin a story that spans 12 or more years? Well, my mom had a massive stroke when I was in 8th Grade. My dad was fortunate enough to have a job he could work from home and was able to bring her home after a very long stay at a rehabilitation hospitial. I have plenty of stories from those years. She was one of those people you either loved or hated and it made for some good laughs along the way.
It was June 3rd, 2003. My dad was in the hospital. Yeah, there is nothing that goes right in this story. It was nothing too serious, but he needed someone to come stay with my Mom. I said sure, I was after all one of those people who happened to love her. I was 25, give or take a year. I came over, gave her dinner, took her to the bathroom, watched some tv with her, got her ready to bed… It was habit from years of being my mom’s caregiver. There were times in high school when my dad was traveling for work and it would be mom and me. I would get her ready before school, drive to school, go to band/chorus practice, go to work, come home, get Mom to bed, do my homework, do some laundry (she didn’t always get to the bathroom in time) get something to eat and start it all over the next day. And most of the time I did it with a smile on my face and in my heart. We had bad days like anyone else, but for the most part my Mom and I were close. Super close. You just don’t go through something like that and not be close.
So when did it go wrong?
Fast forward again to that Tuesday in June. I was there, with my smiles. I got her ready for bed and she asked me something so simple and yet, so complex. She wanted to know if I would sleep in the room with her. She was lonely. I had done it before, it wasn’t a big deal, but instead, I wanted to stay up late and watch tv. I was working at Target at the time and just wanted some down time. She all but pleaded with me to stay with her. I can still see the look in her eyes when I told her no.
The next day, I woke up to my cell phone ringing. It was my brother calling to see how we made out. Looking at the green lights on the cable box, I could see it was pretty late in the morning. And then he said it- “How’s Mom today?” “She’s still asleep.” He said, “You better check to make sure she’s still breathing.” I wasn’t too concerned because I heard her turn the tv off late so I figured she was sleeping in like had.
It’s ok to laugh at the irony of what comes next. Some days, laughter is the only way I can deal with life.
I went back to check on her and I knew as soon as I saw her something was terribly wrong. I had never really seen a dead person that close before but there was just something so different about her sleep. It was just so unnerving and yet peaceful all at the same time. It wasn’t until later in the day, after the police, after the ambulance, after going to the hospital to tell my dad what happened, that I remembered her last wish and how I had just brushed her request aside. I was no longer smiling anywhere.
I go back to that day often and wish that I could just change my mind and stay with her. Not so that she wouldn’t die, that was going to happen anyway, but so I could reassure my Mom just how very much she was loved. I live with that guilt everyday of my life. It was like I had been studying for a huge test all my life and then when the test came, I failed. I failed to give a little more of myself because I deserved to have some rest. The worst part for me as a Christian is that I don’t know for sure if she also loved Jesus.
Is there someone you need to put before yourself today? Don’t wait. I know there are times when you need a break. But please, please think about the impact of putting yourself first before others, especially those you love. I would never watch a tv again if I knew it would bring her back.