Jen Jeffrey: A Matter Of Life Or Death

Sunday, November 25, 2012 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

I first began writing “A Chattanoogan on Long Island” after moving there from my Mama’s place here in Chattanooga. When I had moved in with her in 2009, I had experienced a terrible separation from my then husband and she and Papa were letting me stay there until I could get out on my own.  Papa was 95 and though he was 24 years older than Mama, they had a beautiful marriage and he was the only grandfather my kids knew on my family’s side. My Daddy passed away when I was young.

Once Papa’s health took a sudden turn for the worse, we knew it was his time to leave this earth and that God had worked tragic circumstances to the good for both Mama and me.  I watched my Mama care for Papa and help him pass in peace as she was by his side every step of the way.

This is a gift Mama has. She has a servant’s heart and so much compassion. My oldest sister died when she was only eight from a rare bone disease. Mama was by her side and “loved her to death”.

After having 30 years with her beloved, Mama was grief-stricken. I was grieving the death of my marriage and my Papa. We had a rough first year, experiencing a new life that seemed thrust at us both. We had allowed ourselves to be victimized and our focus was blurred as the healing began. Then we grew closer as we learned to laugh again. Mama and I developed a bond just as before. It was a good fit.

But after a year, Mama found love again. I did not want to be in the way and, after my best friend Susie and I took a trip to New York, I decided to have my “Eat, Pray, Love” period and move there.

Mama and her new love Al had a dilemma. If they married, Mama’s income from Social Security would change and, if something happened to him, Mama could not make it. Their financial state was best for them both if they did not marry by the state. So, Al bought Mama a ring and they were married “in their hearts”.

They had almost two good years together when Al started having kidney trouble. While in the hospital a few months ago, he was told he could be dying. Hospice was called and he and Mama began getting prepared. Mama, being the hopeless romantic she is, had hoped Al would get better.

I admit that at first I didn’t like the union. What was my 74-year-old Mama thinking? But when I saw them together, it was just cute. They fit so well together.

It was good to see Mama happy again. When Al was in the hospital a few months ago, I realized that before he met Mama he was alone and would have died alone. That thought made me sad. I think that started me thinking about my own life and that I wanted to grow old with someone. That was when I started dating but, because I took off thinking I had to meet a special someone, dating was hard. I learned quickly I was dating for the wrong reasons and I just didn’t need to focus on it right now. And that was when God started piecing together the next turn of events.

Al’s health declined rapidly and hospice brought in a hospital bed. My sisters and I began taking shifts caring for Al and helping Mama to care for him while we watched out for her too. Mama is a very stubborn woman and she really believes in her heart that if she can just give her love, everything will be alright. She tends to hover, doing things that may not be necessary because her heart is so good. It is so important for Mama to take care of people that she will put her own needs aside. My Mama is literally an angel put here on this earth to make others feel special and take care of them.

I answered emails from my sisters asking if I planned to move back in with her. I had only had full independence for the last year. I didn’t want to move back in with my mommy… I was just now growing up! I didn’t want my older sisters choosing my life for me. I didn’t want to leave my son with an apartment he may not be able to afford when he came to Lookout Valley for me.

But then, as I prayed about it and talked to my sisters, my son and Mama, I realized that it was an answer to many things for everyone and it made sense. I also had been seeing that familiar sequence of 22s happening again. That is my “God number” where I feel God is simply telling me He is with me or that I am going in the right direction or that He is about to do something significant in my life. I felt peace about moving in with Mama.

I was sad for her to be losing someone she loved, so close after having recently gone through that, but I know her - she didn’t regret it. How do you regret love? Love is a good thing. This man, who was alone, now was not dying alone. He had the love of a good woman, holding his hand as he passed on from this world.

My son Nathan and I had already been discussing that when our lease was up that he wanted to move to Cleveland close to his work, and I wanted to be closer to downtown and thought I would find another roommate. So, this really did fit well with all of us. East Brainerd is not far from downtown, so all of the things I have loved while being close by, I hope to continue to enjoy. I will be closer to Smokey and to many of my friends. I will be closer to my best friend too. There were many times when Susie would come over when I lived here before and she, Mama and I all had ‘Girls’ Night In’.

The difference in living with Mama now is I won’t feel as if I am in limbo and waiting to get on my own. I tried it for a spell and realized even though I did like my independence, I did not like living all by myself. Mama isn’t interested in love right now and neither am I, so this time she and I can plan many things for our life together. We may take little trips close by or may remodel the house some. I would like to bring her to church at First Pres on occasion, and I am sure I will have plenty of Mama Sagas to write about! Mama keeps me laughing.

This past week though, I had to see her through the pain of losing another love. She didn’t get to have him long, but while he was with her they were inseparable. Mama sees herself as blessed. She is only 75 now and, yes, she could still find love again, but it could be that what she has experienced in her life already is enough.

And it looks like for me that Superman is not ready to swoop in anytime soon, so if “this is as good as it gets” for us ol’ gals… I think it’s still pretty darn good.

Thanksgiving week, Al was in a hospital bed in Mama’s living room and he could not open his eyes. I had packed a bag and stayed the week. I had to drop everything because ‘the world stopped’ for us. All we were aware of was the living room where we gathered and kept a dying man as comfortable as possible.

When people in my life passed away it had either been quick or peaceful. I had never seen the face of death before. I had never seen suffering of someone leaving this world slowly. Al was suffering - at least in our eyes. With our eyes focused on what a living body’s needs are, we didn’t know how to accept what it was Al needed or felt while his body was dying.

It was mostly hard for Mama, of course. It took some time for her to realize that he was not going to get better.  She tried to offer him water when his lifeless body could not even drink. When she realized that he was not going to wake up, it was painful for my sisters and I to see Mama hurt and to watch the dying process of our friend.

I liked Al but I did not have a close relationship with him – I just have a Christian compassion that cannot stand to see any one hurt or go through pain. I did have a night where I broke down and I questioned God. How could God watch this man lie there lifeless day after day and not take him? Not being able to drink or eat and because Al’s prior arrangements for this time were Do Not Resuscitate, we all felt helpless. Al knew the Lord and I knew God purposed for Mama to be there for him to die a dignified death with love all around him.

Out of respect, I will not describe the decline I witnessed each day and what was happening to him slowly, but I have to say that I never want to see that again. It was very hard to spend each hour for days and days being around that while it took its emotional and physical toll on the family. We also did not sleep for days with the exception of one or two hours each night. But we were committed to our Mama and our friend Al to be there to spend an important last event in another human’s life – someone our mother loved.

One thing I must share about this personal experience is the difference for people who have their faith to hold onto while experiencing such an ordeal. I was elected to draw up the pain medication for the syringes each day and also to administer it around the clock and also be supportive to Mama and take care of things around the house. I had other sisters that took care of the business end with Hospice and calling Al’s daughters who did not live in town. They took care of food and getting things for Mama and we all loved, supported Mama and prayed. Each one of us had a role we stepped into where we could be a help. 

In between dealing with the upsetting part of this, we had a few times of laughter. When you have your faith, there is a joy deep inside no matter what the circumstances are. There is a certainty that everything is going to be alright. There is trust in God – even if we don’t understand his ways all the time. I was upset that God was allowing Al to keep going on each day when he clearly had nothing left. He had made his peace with God, he brought my mother so much love – there was nothing left for him to do. There was also nothing to keep him alive and his body was shutting down.

Why wouldn’t God have mercy? I had asked my friends for prayer and the next day, it seemed a little easier. God does that.

Mama and I tried to go to bed the eve before Thanksgiving, to get a little rest. Two hours later my oldest sister came to get us and said she thought it was close. Mama and I came back to the living room and after she had some time, holding his hand, caressing his face, telling him he could go and she would be alright; we then started singing hymns. My sister read scripture and Al finally stopped suffering - he was very peaceful as he passed very early Thanksgiving morning on the "22nd". I had a feeling inside that it would be the 22nd. This was a significant time and God was with us through this and He wanted me to be reminded of that. I also had clarity to His direction – for me to move back in with Mama.

While many had a traditional Thanksgiving, we had a different kind of giving thanks. But do you know what? It was still special because God was there. He sustained us. He did show mercy. He taught us things we needed to know. He moved us past this and we are better for it. There are people who did not have family to gather with, or those who lost a loved one or cared for someone who was ill. When God is in it, it makes the bleak times so much easier. Maybe someone out there doesn’t believe exactly like I do, but I still stand firm with what I say – that God makes a difference in times like these. I have experienced it. I experience God daily and would not ever live my life without acknowledging His presence in my life.

My son found a place to rent that is a lot closer to his work and we will be moving our things in the next few weeks, but I already am living with Mama so she will not be alone. It was hard to see death, but I trust God and I can celebrate life!

I am sure that there will be plenty of Mama Sagas to write about. This beautiful woman who gave me life, who I watched be strong so many times to help others – deserves my respect and all my love. Mama and I are a team now – helping each other once again. 

jen@jenjeffrey.com

 


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