A Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow, Part Four

Saying Goodbye Behind the Curtain
In three previous posts (which you can find here, here, and here), I’ve written about God’s guidance, comfort and encouragement during my mother’s struggle with cancer. I’ve narrated in detail the events surrounding her diagnosis and the weeks that followed. And if you and I were sitting down for coffee together, I would narrate the events I will share today in detail, too. But it was an intensely personal time for my family, so after prayerful consideration I have chosen instead to draw the curtain around the bed, so to speak, and provide a few vignettes of the ways God carried us through the end of my mother’s earthly days.

Up to this point I had been aware of God’s hand upon me during this crisis. When I arrived at my parents’ home late on the night of September 26, 2008, He scooped me up and held me in His palm.

When I had left just three days earlier, Dad had been cheering Mom’s decision to move forward with the chemotherapy. She was determined to fight to live despite her oncologist’s warning that he had “grave reservations” about her ability to withstand the therapy. When I returned on Friday, Dad’s words made it clear that his eyes were opening to the possibility that she might not survive. I was so grateful that he reached that understanding.

Saturday, Mom and I were talking. She was growing tired and becoming a bit less lucid. “It’s too bad I can’t go to the hospital on Monday,” she told me. “Why can’t we go?” I asked her. We had planned that I would stay with her for the inpatient chemotherapy treatment scheduled for Monday, September 29. She murmed something that I didn’t hear clearly. “Mom, do you need to go to the hospital?” I asked her. “I’m thinking of going home on Monday,” she said. Then she went to sleep.

By Sunday evening, she could no longer swallow. Dad and I called a friend who had worked as chaplain for the local hospice and who had provided wonderful support to the family during Mom’s illness. She came right over to the house. She focused my father and me on the fact that Mom would not be able to swallow her next scheduled dose of pain medication and helped us to see that resolving that problem was the critical matter of the moment.

Mom’s oncologist had provided me with his cell phone number several weeks earlier (now THAT’S never a good sign), so Dad was able to reach him at 7 P.M. on a Sunday evening. He advised us to call an ambulance and ask the local hospital to evaluate her and then call him to consult.

The nurse assigned to care for my mother in the emergency room also worked at the local hospice, so she was familiar with the needs of the dying and was able to provide excellent care to my mother and support to my father and me.

When I called her with an update, my sister shared something Mom had told her. I passed the information on to my father. That knowledge led him to have a loving conversation of closure with Mom while she was still lucid enough to understand him.

While we were in the ER awaiting the results of the tests being conducted, Mom was provided with morphine to ease her pain. It made her drowsy; she rested as Dad and I sat beside her, sometimes talking quietly, sometimes in silence. Suddenly, Mom’s eyes flew open wide. The most brilliant smile I have ever seen came across her face; she was focused on a point across the room. Clearly she saw something that we didn’t, and it gave her great joy. As I write these words ten months later, I can close my eyes and see the look on her face in that instant. It brings me great peace.

The CT scan showed three new tumors in my mother’s brain. The emergency room doctor came in and shared this news with us. He gently told us that Mom’s death was imminent and she’d probably pass within the next twenty-four hours. He offered to admit her so that she could receive morphine and other palliative care. We sadly consented. Minutes later, about 10 P.M., an angel in a nurse’s uniform arrived to move Mom, and us, up to a room in the hospital. This amazing woman cared for my mother, and us, with unflagging tenderness and sensitivity–even love–through the long night that followed.

My brother, my sister, and my husband left their homes on Monday morning to join us. They all arrived in time to spend some time with Mom before she died.

Dad called several local friends Monday morning to advise them of Mom’s impending death. Throughout the day they came, alone or in twos or threes, to share a few minutes with us and say goodbye to my mother. These fine people filled the room with palpable love.

The entire hospital staff treated us all with great care and kindess. They brought trays of food to my dad and me that first day. I went to the cafeteria to buy a soda and the cashier refused to take my money. When the patient care coordinator learned that family was traveling to join us, she sent up a tray of cold drinks and snacks so they could refresh themselves when they arrived.

Monday night came and Mom was still with us, though she no longer responded with a hand squeeze or by raising her eyebrows when we spoke to her, as she had earlier. Our angel in scrubs returned Monday night to care for us all. We discussed our plan for the night. My dad and brother went to Mom and Dad’s house to sleep. My sister stayed with Mom, and my husband took me to a local hotel. I left my cell phone number with the nurse as an extra precaution, even though I had absolute trust that my sister would call if Mom’s condition changed. I really didn’t want to leave Mom’s side, but I was exhausted.

Rich woke me at 3 A.M. “Your sister called,” he said. “The nurse says it may not be much longer.” We each took a quick shower and rushed back to the hospital.

Mom looked as she had looked when we left her….peaceful. Her brow was smooth. We sat with her and talked amongst ourselves from time to time. As the hours passed, Mom’s breathing became slower and shallower. I rested my hand on her chest so I could feel her beating heart. At 7 A.M. on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 (her great-grandson’s second birthday), her eyes fluttered open for a moment, and then, without so much as a sigh, she was gone.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s
sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness
and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house
of the Lord for ever.
Psalm 23 (KJV)


  1. What beautiful and meaningful memories. It was hard to read with out my eyes clouding up. Writing this must have turned out to be a healthy cathardic experience. You and your family will always occupy an important place in my heart.

  2. Thank you, Houston. You and your family are dear to me, too.

    It was amazing to see the blessing just flowing onto us during such a difficult time.