My second article from God Moments II: Recognizing the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is a story about my mom entitled, “Second Chances.”
My mother, with whom I had a close relationship until her passing in 2007, had cheated death two different times. The first was when she was 33 in March of 1967. She had been sick for weeks before the doctors diagnosed her with kidney stones. Surgery was later performed, but because she was so sick for many weeks, she quickly deteriorated, even after the surgery. I was only seven years old at the time, but I recall her being in the hospital for two months and my aunt coming to assist my father in taking care of me and my three siblings.
On one particular evening, I awoke to the sound of crying. I quietly got out of bed and crept into the hallway. From the landing, I could see my father sitting in an arm chair, sobbing. I didn’t know what to do, so I just watched him. I knew that he was sad because of my mom. I initially couldn’t understand what he was saying, but later it sounded like he was praying that my mom would get better. Soon after that, she made a complete recovery. I was so thankful that God had spared my mom’s life.
In 1978, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. My mother remarried and at the age of 47, she was faced with an unplanned pregnancy. The doctor urged her to have an abortion because of the risks associated with a pregnancy at her age. She refused. She chose life and later gave birth to my youngest sister in 1981(who is currently a novice with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville.)
Many years later, in 2004, my mother, who had already been diagnosed with emphysema from years of smoking, came down with a particular virulent form of pneumonia. She quickly became unconscious, then progressed to a coma. A week later, the CAT scan revealed no brain activity, so the doctors recommended that she be taken off the ventilator. We waited and tried to discern what we ought to do. We asked for a second opinion but we were told that another opinion would be the same. With heaviness in our hearts, we all agreed that Mom should be taken off life support the following day.
During this time, I beseeched God to allow my Mom to come out of the coma. I knew what they had said, that there was no brain activity, but I didn’t care. I had to ask. I couldn’t bear to think of my mother dying. Perhaps I was being too selfish, but because I had lost my father as a teenager, I really wanted more time with Mom.
The next morning, as we were leaving to go to the hospital, we got a phone call from the doctors saying that Mom had woken up and she was asking for us!
She had a long road to recovery, nearly nine months in the hospital and rehabilitation centers and when she was finally released, it was necessary for her to be on oxygen full-time.
Three years later, she contracted pneumonia again during the spring of 2007. Thankfully, this time, she did not lapse into a coma. Her doctors told her there wasn’t anything else they could do and released her to hospice care. They initially gave her a month or two at most, but her will to live was strong and she lived for five more months. Since I reside in Canada, I made the trip down to New Jersey every few weeks to spend time with her and to help with her care. She and I had many opportunities to talk at length about death and dying and I never missed a chance to tell her how much I loved her and how much I appreciated everything she had done for me. One day, when I was assisting her to go to the bathroom, she kept thanking me. I replied, “No, Mom, thank you. It’s an honor to be able to give back even a small portion of all you’ve done for me.” She cried.
A month or so after that, her health worsened and my sister called to tell me that I ought to come, that Mom was near death. I drove as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, traffic was heavy; there was a long wait at the Canada/U.S. border. When I reached Cortland, New York, I stopped and called my sister to tell her that I was halfway. I could hear Mom shouting from across the room, “She’s only in Cortland? Tell her I love her.” I told my sister “Tell Mom I love her.” Those were the last words we said to one another because a few moments after that call, she slipped into another coma.
I arrived at my family home in New Jersey at 11:00 p.m., and mom was unresponsive, but still alive. I spoke to her and told her I loved her. Then my sister and I prayed the Litany of the Saints and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. She died early the next morning. I remember the moment clearly. Her pulse was weak and her skin was becoming cold to the touch. She seemed to be quietly slipping away.
All my siblings, my stepfather and a few other relatives had gathered at her bedside. At one point, I had the feeling that my mother was on the ceiling looking down at us and, in fact, I glanced up at the ceiling. A few minutes later, my brother turned to me and said, “I feel like mom is on the ceiling looking down at us.” And I knew that she was on her way to meet Jesus.
I miss her terribly, but I’m so grateful that we had three additional years to spend with her until her death in August of 2007. Most especially, I’m thankful that we had the chance to make her death a holy death.
I still have to stop myself from picking up the phone and calling her when I have some wonderful news because I realize she already knows.
God Moments II can be ordered through Amazon.com.
Photo copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach