Just over a year ago, my mother passed away at the age of 79. She had been sick for about 3 months. Having visited several doctors she was unable to find the cause of the weakness and difficulties that she was experiencing. A three time cancer survivor she started to notice a similarity between the way that she was feeling and the way she had felt with leukemia some twenty years before.” The Oncologist quickly confirmed her suspicion, my mother had cancer for the fourth time. By the time it was finally diagnosed, the cancer was quite advanced and very aggressive. Having been through cancer treatments three times before and with the facts well in hand, she simply said no to another round of treatments. After her decision the doctor confessed that he probably couldn’t do much for her at this point anyway.
My mother went home to die.
She pulled out her afghan, propped her feet up on the lazy boy, found a nice pillow, got comfortable and joyfully waited. From that time, until she slipped into unconsciousness several weeks later, there was a continual party at my parents’ house. Uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, children, grandchildren and concerned neighbors. There was laughter, teasing, and the retelling of memories. Stories were told, past adventures were relived, embarrassing moments were brought up, etc. It was simply the normal cacophony of pleasant ramblings that happen on special occasions anytime that a family gets together where there is love and acceptance of all. Where normally such gatherings last a day or two, this time it went on for weeks. I found it interesting that not one person questioned her decision. She found only acceptance and support. Somewhere, in these her final days, my mother found a blissful peace and joy in having her family around her. It was “liberating to finally know how it was going to end” she said. Something she had been told by her father.
Somewhere in the party that was a celebration of my mother’s life, I found a brief moment to sit by her side, take her weak and emancipated hand in mine, and briefly speak to her. I told her that she “had been a good mother and that I had always felt loved.” She seemed to find some comfort in those few words and simply responded with “thank you, one wonders you know.” That was all that was said. I looked into her eyes and cherished the brief moment that we had.
Outside help was brought in to assist in making her as comfortable as possible. As the cancer progressed she was unable to eat or drink anything and we stood by her and watched my mother slowly starve to death. We took consolation in her insistence that she was not in any pain. It did however, become rather difficult to watch.
About the time that she slipped into unconsciousness, the party got much smaller with only close family and it took on a new feeling. Communication was now in whispers and the loud antics that had been the joy and the life of the party abated. There was a reverence and respect in the house as we waited for the time when she would leave mortality. I would sit on her bed and stroke her hair and speak, “you poor, dear, sweet woman.” It was hard to watch and yet there was a sacredness and peace in those final days. It was as if we were not alone, that members of the family who had gone before were gathered there to wait with us and to welcome her to the other side.
As her breathing became difficult, my brother, with me assisting, gave her a priesthood blessing where he released her from this mortal life. The next evening, about a half hour after I left my parents house to go to my own home, my father and brother rolled her over onto her other side for the night, and she simply passed away. It was a very intimate time with just my brother and my father. It was as it should be.
My brother, who is very sensitive to these things, immediately noticed the change in atmosphere. There was no longer a mother and a wife but simply a body. Those that had been in attendance from the other side were gone with my mother to continue the party in the next life where undoubtedly there were wonderful reunions and I suppose the telling of stories took on a new dimension.
It is ironic that it was at her funeral that I exhibited the first signs of bladder cancer. Easily dealt with but now in my sixties, I feel my mortality and understand that someday it will be my turn. In the meantime, it is I that now maintains the vigil of an ongoing cancer watch.
In the weeks after the funeral, I used to pause quietly to determine if I could feel her nearby. I did not. The emptiness was mildly disappointing but I understood that she was probably quite busy. Dad said that he talks to her now and then; updates on the family, etc. So far, he says, she hasn’t answered him yet. I suppose that is a good thing. It was about two months ago that I was surprised to feel her presence. It was warm, loving and familiar. I often feel her near now. She has looked in once or twice as I have written this little memorial. Do I miss her? Yes. I know however that she is not far from me and that someday we will have our reunion. In the meantime, Christmas, Easter and especially Memorial Day are just not the same with her gone. I miss the family feasts and the large gatherings. Those seem to have gone with my mother.
My mother was not a saint. She occasionally swore, being a staunch conservative it was often in reference to Hillary Clinton. As an excuse for her infrequent slips, she blamed having milked cows as a young girl. She definitely had her little foibles, as a tribute to her, there are some that I didn’t learn about until the funeral. Nevertheless, I am sure that things are well with her.
This life is a state of mortal probation. We come here, briefly, to learn and to grow. Those that are true to the law which they are given, become beings of power and influence in the next life. It is a wonderful place free from sin and pain. A place of joy and work and fulfillment. There is no end to life. Like a school graduation, we die as to things “junior high” but are born as to things “high school.” So it is with my mother. When she is near I can feel a new confidence, strength and power. Even with her foibles, through the miracle of the atonement, she has moved forward to become a being of power. She has become a daughter of God once again in her father’s house to await the time of her resurrection when she will be reunited with a glorified and perfected body. What a joyous time that will be when we can again embrace and I can once again hold her hand, speak kind words, briefly look into her eyes and know then as I know now, that I am loved.
Samuel Waen Jensen