The hospital was over one-hundred years old, and the furnishings in each of the hospice rooms seemed even older. Every trip was one closer to the last time I’d see my mom alive. I knew that reality was coming the first time I visited her room. It lacked the electronic equipment of the standard hospital room. She wasn’t there to get better, and she wasn’t coming home.
I was eighteen-years-old when she passed away on October 4, 1992, from lung cancer. Initially, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but the disease worked its way to her lungs. The experience is seared into my brain. Shortly after she’d passed away, nurses removed her covers, and she laid in bed. My first thought was that she’d be cold. I asked the nurse to get her a blanket.
As I sat at the end of the chair next to my mom’s lifeless body, a stark realization of loneliness washed over me. I was eighteen and lived at home with my sixteen-year-old brother. He and I were now all that we had. For a long time, my mom had played a big part in my life, potentially by design. She was sick for almost six years and wanted to get in as much time with her kids as she could before her time was up.
I remember, at that moment, thinking about how incredibly unfair everything was. In retrospect, I realize it was selfish of me to do so while sitting next to a woman who had died a short time before, but that is where my mind went. As I rocked back and forth in the chair (it was probably mustard yellow or some other early 1970s color) and stared at the bronze handle on a small dresser in front of me, a chaplain walked in.
She stood behind me, hands on both of my shoulders, and told me over and over that everything was going to be okay. She quoted Bible verses and prayed for my brother and me. She told me that mom was in a better place and was no longer in pain. I kept staring at that dresser handle. She prayed again. I don’t remember what she said, but from the crackling of her voice, I remember thinking that she sounded even less comfortable than I felt. I couldn’t blame her, though; she had a tough job.
I had yet to look up from the brass fixture on the dresser. My thoughts turned to religion. Mom had made my brother, and I go to church every Sunday (we figured it was to give her some time alone), and I’d learned a bit about God while I was there. The situation I now found myself in, eighteen years old and about to make funeral arrangements for my mom — my last surviving parent, seemed rather hopeless. It was the perfect time for the person upstairs to drop in for a moment and let me know that everything would work out.
I couldn’t say for sure, but I probably even hoped that it would happen.
It didn’t — at least not the way I thought it would.
Without legal prompting (not that the law could require them to do so), our neighbors took on the very tough role of parenting my brother and me along with their own two kids. They became legal guardians to my brother, a request my mom asked of them for the first time through her attorney after her death. Our families were friends and had been for a few years, but mom’s ask was a huge one. The fact that she made it helped me understand why we didn’t spend much time with her “actual” family.
Despite the blindsiding at the most inopportune and raw of times, our neighbors agreed to step in. Soon they began including us in holidays and other silly events. Stockings with our names on them hung from their chimney. It was fun and helped to create some normalcy. At least it felt familiar. After years of dealing with breast cancer, then lung cancer — along with the many, many, many hospital trips that came with it, it was nice to swim around in routine for a bit.
Without their help, I can’t say for sure I’d have made it through to the other side. I like to believe I would have, but I’m honestly not sure.
So, while God didn’t stop by the morning my mom passed away to let me know that everything would be okay; they managed to put people in my life that made played a big part in making sure it would be.
I didn’t think much of the fact that God didn’t go out of their way to make me feel better the morning my mom died. How could they? My mom died. I probably wouldn’t have listened if they had tried. I certainly didn’t listen to the chaplain.
However, I eventually understood that God could have played a part in our situation after her death. Tom and Judy would have been well within their rights to throw their hands up and walk away from the bizarre situation in which they found themselves. They didn’t, though, and because of that, I am here to write about it.
Even though they probably were, I didn’t feel like God was there for me initially. However, I can say with a 100 percent degree of certainty that they were there when I needed them to be — in the way I needed them to be.