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MOM’S FINAL WORDS
By Gwen M. Plano
Worn out by time, mom lay motionless on the sheets. Life lingered but imperceptibly. At ninety-one, she had experienced the full range of life’s challenges. And, now, she rested her aged shell of a body and waited.
A farmer’s daughter and wife, her life was marked by practicalities and hard work. Always up before daybreak, she prepared the meals, washed the clothes and hung them on the clothesline, and otherwise attended to the needs of the household.
Her garden was a cornucopia of tomatoes and corn, of squash and lettuces. And the refrigerator always had freshly gathered eggs and newly churned butter.
Mom rarely paused, to catch her breath, to offer a hug, or to sit calmly. Time is not to be wasted, she taught. And so, she was always busy.
Over the years, there were multiple times that she almost died. But, with each surgery or ailment, she emerged from death’s clutches more determined than before – to surmount her difficulties, to forge a path, to care for her family. “Life is a gift,” she would say to us.
Mom knew poverty and uncertainty. Ration coupons from the war lay on her dresser, a reminder of harsh realities. Nothing ever went to waste in our household, not food, not water, not clothing. “Many have less than us,” she claimed. She would then insist we be conservative and share.
She knew sorrow well, having lost her parents when she was young, and then two of her nine children. As the years passed, she also lost her sisters and many of her friends.
Mom was a woman of faith. Throughout the day, you could hear her quiet entreaties. Prayer was always on her lips. When mom walked from one room to the next, she prayed – for this person or that friend or for our country. She’d stand at the sink washing dishes and invoke help, from the angels, from Mary the mother of our God, and from the Holy Spirit. “Pray always,” she’d remind us.
This busy mother fought death to the end, but when the doctor finally said that nothing more could be done, she simply responded, “I am ready.”
It was then that she met with each of her seven children. Barely managing each breath, she whispered her I love you and offered a few words of guidance.
When I was at mom’s bedside, she told me she loved me, mentioned a few family concerns, and then in a barely audible voice she said, “I don’t know what to expect.”
This precious little woman, who had spent her life busy with raising a family and helping with the farm, now was unsure of what would happen next. I was surprised by the words.
She taught me to pray when I was quite tiny. “Get on your knees,” she would instruct. “Offer up your pain for the poor souls in purgatory,” she’d suggest. Then, she’d lead us in the Lord’s Prayer. Mom had us pray for family and friends, for anyone suffering, and always for our country. She’d share stories of angels and saints, of miracles and wonders, of midnight visitations and afternoon impressions. This fragile diminutive woman had instructed my siblings and me of the invisible eternal. And, I lived with those images as a child until they became as real to me as the world we see.
Yes, I was surprised by mom’s words to me. “I don’t know what to expect.” But then I wondered, did she know? Did she know that I had studied near-death experiences? That I had written of the dying process? Had I ever told her?
I don’t know what to expect. Simple words, but a storm of thoughts followed. I held back my tears and took her hands in mine.
“Mom, I will tell you what friends have said and what the research has shown. The angels are coming soon, mom. You will see them in the light. Just follow their lead. Your sisters will join you, as will your mom and dad and your babies. Your whole family is waiting for you. It will be a wonderful reunion. There will be much joy.”
Her breaths grew slower.
I told her of Charles, a friend I met in my prayer group. He had died twice and because of that, he had no fear of his final death. Through his experiences, he saw that life continues. He spoke of celestial beings, of extraordinary love, of boundless joy. And, he told the prayer group that he looked forward to death.
I shared these things and more. And, as I spoke, her eyes closed, and her breathing slowed. She had fallen back to sleep, to the middle ground between this world and the next. And I wondered, did she really need to know what to expect or did she want me to remember that life never ends?
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