"I would STRONGLY RECOMMEND coming home immediately with plans to stay 2-3 weeks until the end. She loves the Lord and has made it clear that she is ready to go."
Those words from my mom’s friend (a church deacon) came to my smartphone in the late afternoon of April 29. It was clear that she was in dire condition.
My mother had been struggling with a new cancer treatment, although nobody expected her to deteriorate this quickly. Despite living in Sweden and being a 9 hour plane ride away from Pennsylvania, USA, I felt a sense of calm. I had an immediate faith that she would wait for me. Fortunately, the plane landed early the next day and my ride arrived on time. The traffic and weather weren’t ideal, but after a 4 hour drive, we arrived at the hospital at 8:30pm on April 30.
Seeing my mother gave me immense relief and she lit up! She was alert and looked better than I expected. The stress of all day travelling slipped away from my body as I had made it safely and she had waited. Our embrace warmed my heart.
Below is my cousin Andrea’s account of when I entered the room:
"She knew that her prayer had been answered - to see her son one last time. She knew that her faith had made it possible. Her smile stretched from ear to ear and her eyes were like saucers! Her life was complete."
Along with my cousin, some of Mom’s closest friends and family were there. It wasn’t long before I showed her a card that my daughter Nova-Li made in anticipation of Mother’s Day. She commented on how nicely drawn the picture was. I also noticed the 2014 Xmas card of my family on the wall - the only picture in the room and one that probably gave my mom strength. She adored her grandchildren and loved her daughter in law.
After a few hours, everyone was gone except Andrea and me.
Before I arrived, Mom told Andrea to make up a bed for me at her home. She was frequently thinking of others. Despite my mother’s insistence that I get a good night’s sleep at her house, I never considered leaving her room for an extended period of time. Andrea stayed with her the previous night and the room was big enough to accommodate both of us that Thursday night.
Mom had a comfortable night of sleeping. Having us there made it easier as she mentioned how Andrea being there Wednesday night had put her mind at ease. The toughest thing for my mom when she was put into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), was the constant 24 hour care of the ICU team, although she realized they needed to monitor her closely. She wasn’t in pain, but found it hard to adequately rest or sleep due to all the various treatments.
Friday started well and Mom ate a good breakfast. Her spirit was positive. At this point, I was severely tired and in need of a good shower. I cleaned up at Mom’s house (only 5 minutes away) and got some breakfast. I was back in less than 90 minutes. Andrea did the same when I returned.
The day was filled with numerous people stopping by, many who cared deeply for my mother, including three friends of mine who hadn’t seen her in quite some time. Mom asked that we not have too many visitors, so we made sure the crowd was never too intense.
Some people sang her hymns while others read the bible. Being a religious woman, these moments touched my mom. Many came by to pay their respects or simply be by her side. There were a good flow of people throughout and it never became too much to bear for anyone. She enjoyed the comradery. I asked my friend Sean to pray in the afternoon and he delivered a beautiful one with her. I could see that she was moved. There were times when my mother was sleeping and in those cases, someone was usually there to hold her hand.
In mid afternoon, Mom’s energy was in full force and she decided to make some improvements to her memorial program. She couldn’t have been more lucid, as she was able to give key points to me and the pastor about what she wanted to change, despite having a breathing mask on. After she was done, she said these words (more than once) with about 10 people in the room:
“If people plan to come to a funeral, tell them not to come, I want it to be a celebration.”
Those words were classic IGP (her initials) and what I affectionately called her sometimes. She never wanted anyone to be down about her death, but to think about her and the life that she lived. I had heard her say those words on many occasions.
In the next hour, we had a wonderful moment, courtesy of family friend Delmar and his brilliant idea. He suggested having a Mother’s Day celebration for my mom a week early.
Andrea and her sister GiGi got cards, a ballon, a cross and an angel pin. All who were in the room wrote messages and signed the cards. When we entered the room, Mom was curious about who thought to do this. We each took turns reading our messages to her. She was in tears often, happy throughout and was immensely touched. It was a loving moment of honor and celebration.
Considering the circumstances, the day couldn’t have been better. It was 5pm. She ate some dinner, although it wasn’t long before she was resting again.
Shortly after, my mom was in hospice care, as there was nothing more to be done. Her health wasn’t going to improve. She looked intensely in my eyes and I could see that she knew the end was near. It was a powerful moment. My mom had been prepared for this day, thus the aforementioned message to the deacon that she was ‘ready to go home’.
Close friends and family, including several from the church were with her all evening until about 10:00pm. She hadn’t been alert all night. Everyone left soon thereafter, with only Andrea and me remaining. We prepared for another night of sleep by her side.
As I was dozing, the nurse called us up to Mom’s bedside. She told us that she was slipping away. Andrea and I held hands and watched her take her last breath. It was 11:24 pm on May 1. At that moment, I was so happy to have my cousin there. She had looked after and cared for my mom in ways I never expected. I was full of both sadness and gratitude.
The day had been surreal for me, yet I remembered what my friend Dee in Sweden had told me before I left. He said to “be in the moment George”, which I did to the best of my ability. When one is losing a mother, there is no preparation for that. So much was going through my mind, but I did stay fully present.
The toughest thing I ever had to do was saying goodbye to my mother. We were very close and enjoyed a wonderful relationship. I couldn’t have asked for a better mother or childhood. She made me the man that I am, including the invaluable lesson of giving, which inspired many who came into her life.
It was almost unbearable to be alone in the ICU room, knowing that I would soon leave my mother’s body for the final time. I don’t cry easily, although tears were abundant. There has been lots of good in my life, although one of my greatest gifts was having Isabella G. Payne for 77 years.
It was a blessing to be able to spend time with my mother during her last 24 hours. One of her final acts of strength was waiting for her son. I will always be grateful for that.
Happy Gswede Sunday!
|Mom and I in Sweden|