While You Are Sleeping

March 23, 2017

Mom, it’s a Wednesday afternoon and I am sitting in your wheelchair, bumped up against the couch, watching you sleep. A spring rain is speckling the cement of the back patio. Dozens of tulips that Dad planted for you are just starting to show their green bulbs, the fireplace is warm behind me, and the house, this house in which you raised six rowdy children, is quiet.

I am listening to you breathe, watching your eyelashes tremble, as you drift even deeper. Into sleep that will rest your body and brain, renew where possible. And maybe, after you nap, I will be able to sit you up and feed you lunch, talk to you for a few minutes.

You don’t say much these days. I know you can hear me, you understand, and sometimes a full sentence comes spilling out. But mostly, when I ask if you are comfortable, hungry, or if you’re finished on the toilet, there is nothing. If I am patient enough to wait out the silence, eventually, you answer. Brief and succinct. Like, “yes,” “that’s good,” “how nice,” or “I don’t think so.”

Your smiles are infrequent, your laughter less, and our conversations mostly one-way.

It was last week when I realized you weren’t laughing as we went through the rigamarole of wrangling you in and out of the bathroom, moving your limbs for you, hoisting you onto the couch. And a new pang of sadness swept over me. I hadn’t heard you laugh in a while and I realized how much I missed that sound. That sight of tiny tears creasing the corners of your eyes as you laughed and laughed and laughed.

You’ve been so good at not taking yourself too seriously. You’ve chuckled at Dad’s silly jokes, let us lift, push, and rearrange your limp body. And despite your dependence on all of us, you’ve never complained. (Except when you became hyperglycemic and we wouldn’t let you eat any more Toblerone.)

It was you who taught me to listen with empathy, to try and see the perspective of the person speaking. You taught me never to let a friend laugh alone. Such a let-down to share something you found hilarious with someone and have it fall flat because they don’t see the humor in it, right? That was never the case with you. What was funny to me, was always funny to you.

On this morning’s run, my friend, Rebecca, asked about your first brain tumor, and she let me talk. I told her about the day I got the phone call. How I was living in Jerusalem. Remember that sacred place, Mom? Of course you do. That glistening limestone. The golden, holy city. I was only 20 and the news devastated me. I didn’t know a single person with cancer. And when people did get cancer, they didn’t seem to live long. But there was hope in your voice that day. Faith in your words.

You survived two major surgeries, and come April, you and Dad arrived in Jerusalem. I got word you were at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel and I could not wait. I left the student center alone, took a taxi to your hotel, and walked into the lobby. I saw your straw hat before you saw me. You and Dad were sitting at a table and I began walk-running towards you. As I moved into the dining area, you lifted your head, and our eyes locked. We ran to each other. Threw our arms around each other, Dad capturing us both. That embrace was one of the sweetest of my life. Wrapped with more gratitude and grace than any other. You were only 48.

Now, you are 69. And we’ve had all those glorious years. Of missions, marriages, births of grandchildren, travels, temples, talks, and tears. Every reason to live with joy and thankfulness.

Before you fell asleep today, I tried reading to you. The Savior’s words. The most simple of verses, in a voice I knew you would recognize. “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50). We looked at each other, you spoke nothing, you did not smile, but light passed between us, and I could no longer read aloud for the emotion in my throat. We knew something in that single, tender moment:

Jesus, the lover of your soul, is still with you. Jesus, the One who extended your years, healed you two decades ago, and taught our family the power of miracles, has not stopped working in your life. Yes, it is Him, as he said. He is here. In this half-way place. This in-between heaven and earth in which you drift. He is your comfort. Your calm. Your strength to continue unafraid. This truth, you have also taught me.

I fold all my emotion neatly inside, and begin reading again. A second verse, a third verse, and by the fourth, your eyes are closed. I slowly stop talking. You are as beautiful as you will ever be to me, Mom. This day, this moment. With your peach blanket tucked under your chin. The swell and fall of your chest as it rhythmically rises. The red in your round cheeks.

I am here.

He is here.

And you are still here.

Dark clouds from the west swing in upon your apricot blossoms. A wild wind steals those translucent, white petals. One at a time. Just how we are losing you. One small piece. And then another.

You wake briefly and comment on the thunder. Then your eyes flutter and close. I watch you, and love you. While you are sleeping.

15 Comments

  1. Michelle

    March 23, 2017

    Oh, Cath.

  2. Michelle

    March 23, 2017

    …no words. Just lots of thoughts and prayers your way.

  3. Kerri

    March 23, 2017

    Oh, Cath. My heart is very full. Love to you.

  4. ellen patton

    March 23, 2017

    I’ve been in this place with my brother and my mom. It’s painful and beautiful. HEART ep

  5. Anne Marie

    March 23, 2017

    So much love. Sending hugs and prayers to you, dear friend

  6. Lizzie Pratt

    March 23, 2017

    Sacred words. The love of a mother and daughter is so powerful.

  7. Tiffany

    March 23, 2017

    Bless you. Bless you. xx

  8. Adri

    March 23, 2017

    Cath…tears. And prayers. Thank you for being willing to share this time and trial with the world.

  9. Lisa

    March 23, 2017

    Oh Cathy, you have captured this sacred journey so beautifully. It is heartbreaking and hard, but those moments of light and grace stay with you forever. Thank you for sharing. You’re not alone, my friend.

  10. Raluca

    March 24, 2017

    Oh, Cath! How beautifully you picture such a sad life event! (I hope someday I will read a book written by you.)
    A little encouragement for these hard days: “When I’m gone” from Joey+Rory.
    Hugs and <3 from Europe!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcpjSMmWUDw

  11. Rachel Nielson

    March 24, 2017

    I have experienced this heartbreaking, sacred time. You capture it so so beautifully.

    Have you read the sonnet “That time of year thou mayst in me behold” by Shakespeare lately? I thought of it immediately as you described the wind stealing the petals on the blossoms as you watch your mother sleep–and love her.

    “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”

    Thinking of you and sending love.

  12. Stephanie Hock

    March 24, 2017

    Oh Cath. That final analogy of the wind blowing each petal away, one at a time… your words are so perfectly beautiful every time. And I’ve got tears running down my cheeks for you and your sweet mom (the one who introduced me to you! So thoughtful and kind when I was in shock about having twins). My heart is so heavy. But you paint life so beautifully in your writing–thank you for sharing it ???

  13. Leigh Miska

    March 29, 2017

    This is beautiful Catherine! I have been waiting for a quiet moment, and I finally got a chance to sit down and read this beautiful moment that you shared with your mom. I have been so inspired through the years as I have seen you and your family gather and fill the world with so much positive and uplifting messages of family, love, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We love you!

  14. Teresa TL Bruce

    March 30, 2017

    Tears of empathy, tears of remembrance trickled as I read. To miss your mother — while yet she’s here — hurts in depths beyond words. The sacred watchcare of her body and her feelings carries a sweetness that will remain with you even as degrees of sorrow grow in her incremental fading.

    The Toblerone comment made me smile as I recalled something my mother said in the weeks after breast cancer showed its invasion of her brain and spinal fluid. Mom’s appetite waned, but one morning she woke and said, “I’d like to eat some shrimp today. I don’t need to worry about cholesterol anymore, so I might as well enjoy it!” The laughter we shared was among the last times I heard her laugh; perhaps that’s what stitched the memory to my heart almost 22 years ago.

    Thank you for sharing these glimpses of your dear mother.

  15. Emilie

    April 10, 2017

    Dear Cath, Tears of sorrow and gratitude fill my eyes! My heart aches for you and your mother! Your gift to see and share moments in such a way blesses us all.
    God is good! How grateful I am for His great Plan of Happiness!

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