In July 2013 I wrote a blog about the most difficult week of my life - taking my two elderly parents to Illinois where my sister lives, and separating them - Mom into an Alzheimer's unit and Dad into assisted living care. I know that many people go through this difficult step; however, I am convinced that my parents had a marriage so exceptional, so awe-inspiring, that this separation was just unthinkable for us all. You see, they never did anything apart. Back in their happy retirement years in Arizona, Dad once told me he wanted to join a barbershop quartet forming in their trailer park, but decided not to because Mom couldn't be part of it. In the same visit, Mom told me she had noticed there was a women's billiards group and she thought that would be fun, but she declined because Dad couldn't come! That's just the way they were -- nothing had any meaning for them if the other wasn't there to share it.
That will help you understand what a great miracle this past week was for all of us, as God orchestrated things to bring them back together for their last three days on this earth. Mom (age 90) was already in a nursing home after having had a blood clot removed from her arm. Then Dad (age 91) had a heart attack two weeks ago and after a brief hospitalization, he was released to skilled nursing care. The wonderful people at Mom's nursing home sprang into action and arranged it so that they could have beds in the same room and be room-mates one more, last time! I was remembering the hotel room we put them in on the way out to Illinois last year, and how Dad woke up the next morning in a wash of tears, lamenting, "That was my last night sleeping next to my bride." Little did he know that God is bigger than that, and HE would find a way to bring them back together just before He brought them home.
On August 24 in the morning my Daddy died. He was small of stature, but a larger-than-life personality. His heroic battle of the last 10 years - to meet every need of his dementia-stricken wife - finally came to an end. He fought for her like a valiant soldier. He put rouge and lipstick on her when she still wanted to look pretty. He lovingly combed her hair and picked out her clothes each day. It was all about his "Mama," his Patty, his "war bride." Now he has left this world like a Jewish bridegoom and gone to prepare a place for his bride to come!
I will always remember Daddy's precious hour of death. Holy and precious in the eyes of God is the death of His saints. "Get my teeth!" he managed to order us, in his weak, squeaky voice. We protested, "Daddy, you won't need your dentures. You'll have real teeth!" He would not take no for an answer. "Get my teeth please!" So we fetched the old dentures from the bathroom and my sister Lonnie popped them into his mouth. "Now put on my glasses," he squeaked. I placed them gingerly on his face. He seemed to have one last, urgent request. "Now raise me up and turn me so I can see Mama." He was so weak he couldn't turn to his side, so I raised up his bed, then lifted his frail body and turned him so he could see his beloved, breathing softly in sleep in the bed beside him. She was the last thing he wanted to see and he wanted to look good for her!
Then we laid him back down and he kept whispering a word that I could not quite discern. Finally I realized he was saying "quit." "Do you want me to leave the room, Daddy, or do we need to quit doing something?" I asked. The voice was fading softer than a whisper now as he feebly answered me, "No. I quit!" I got it. He was resigning! Resigning from a job he'd gladly held for almost seventy years: providing for and taking care of his bride. We both told him, "It's okay, Daddy. You can quit. The Lord is saying to you, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" He nodded his head and whispered, "I want to go home." Then he gave two great gasps for air and was gone from us. We both stood there, holding his little bald head in our hands, and let the tears flow. He had died of a broken heart. It was one of the world's great love stories: the little polio-stricken "crippled girl" from Bonne Terre, Missouri who giggled all the time met the crazy Italian sailor from Milwaukee and the rest is history! They jitterbugged their way through 70 years until their bodies grew too old and frail. How blessed I was to be holding you, Dad, in the holy moment of your death, and see you safely home.
Now all attention turned toward Mom. She had a lucid moment when her eyes were fully engaged with mine and so I took that moment to tell her that Daddy had died and was waiting for her to come too. She must have processed that information overnight because the next day (August 25) she was awake and distraught all day. She had a look of fear and grief on her face and the hospice nurse told us that she was trying to grieve her loss but was unable to say anything, or moan or cry out. But as we sat and prayed with her, and sang hymns to her, a few great big tears escaped from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. It tore my heart out. The hospice nurse compassionately gave orders for some shots that would ease her pain and bring calm to her spirit; by evening she was breathing quietly and sleeping.
Everyone left the room but me and I began to feel the atmosphere in the room change into a holy hush. I prostrated myself on the cold floor and began crying out to God for an end to Mom's grievously long struggle. I felt angelic Presence in the room, so I just began praising and worshiping the Lord. Then Lonnie and my husband John came back into the room and realized what was taking place there. John sat in prayerful silence while the two daughters of our mother went into deep intercession and worship. We praised God for Mom's wonderful long life. We thanked Him that in His mercy Daddy went before. We thanked Him for their 70-year marriage that blessed and inspired us all, a legacy of a Godly marriage modeled for their grandchildren.
Then Lonnie and John both left to get a little sleep and I remained at Mom's side. The only sounds in the room were the ticking clock and Mom's rhythmic breathing. All life had left her eyes - they stared at me without any recognition or expression. It was hard to look at this person and know that she was my mother; the sparkle and the giggle had faded away into silence.
By about 2:30 a.m. I knew I couldn't keep my eyes open any long, so I lay my head on her pillow, next to her head. Her warm breath blowing on me was ever-so-sweet, knowing that it wouldn't be very long before all breathing ceased. It was now about 4:00 a.m. on August 26. John came back into the room to check on us. By 5:00 a.m. I knew death was close, so I called Lonnie and she returned immediately. With her in prayer on one side of the bed and me whispering soft words of release and blessing on the other side, my mother let out two long, quiet breaths and departed from us. Lonnie lifted both her hands up to God, and in unexpected, pure joy she shouted, "Hallelujah, Mommy! You're free! Bye bye Mommy! No more Alzheimers! No more crying! No more little polio leg! We love you! Say hi to Daddy for us!" And so, 42 hours after Dad passed to glory, it was all over. We barely shed a tear this time, so greatly relieved that her long, arduous struggle was over.
She always did whatever Dad said. She went when he went and came back when he came back. She laughed when he laughed and cried when he cried. She lived when he lived and died when he died.
Bye, bye Mommy! You're free! Say hi to Daddy for us!
Kelly Ferrari Mills