It is a Great Gift to Carry the Cross of Someone You Love

Titian (1490–1576), "Christ Carrying the Cross"
Titian (1490–1576), "Christ Carrying the Cross" (photo: Register Files)

Mama slipped through my hands.

It was as if her bones were strands of boiled spaghetti, as if she was liquid rather than solid.

I fought the fall all the way down.

She landed in a sprawl against the oxygen machine, her head wedged between it and the portable potty. “Ohhhhh,” she moaned. I tried to lift her, but those spaghetti bones and her little bit of weight were too much for me.

The master bedroom, where my husband was, is all the way across the house from where Mama and me. I yelled for him to come help me. Yelled again and again. Yelled so loudly that my throat strained.

He didn’t hear me.

I left her there and ran to the master bedroom, yelling his name as I went.

He was able to lift her from the floor, and back onto the bed. Meanwhile, I collapsed on the small sofa at the foot of her bed. Throughout the last week, from her first collapse into unconsciousness on Tuesday night, all through that long night in the ER, and then through her rousal the next day and lapse back into deep sleep from which she could not be awakened … a sleep that lasted for four days … I never cried a tear. I couldn’t cry. My eyes were dry and I just kept going, one foot in front of the other foot.

But when my husband lifted Mama from the floor and put her back on her bed, I sank onto the sofa at the foot of her bed and broke into great, gasping sobs. I cried until the muscles in my chest hurt from the exhaustion of the sobbing.

Meanwhile, Mama, half conscious, kept mumbling something. I got up and sat on the bed beside her, but I still couldn’t make out what she was saying. I leaned forward until my ear was almost touching her lips.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she said.

I looked her over for injuries. All I found was a a skinned place on her cheek and a small cut on her finger. I washed both of those and put antibiotic ointment on them. While I was doing this, she slipped back into her unconscious world of preternatural sleep.

The hospital discharged her to hospice, so they are my new go-to for help. I hope I never have to take her to an ER again. I called hospice and they came right away, checked her out and determined that the only injuries she had were the cut on the finger, the skinned place on her cheek and a bit of a knot above her left eye.

Meanwhile, Mama slept.

We had a good day Wednesday. I got her up, sat down on the side of the bed with her and fed her a few bites of scrambled egg, topped off with Ensure. Then, I took her to her adult day care, which she dearly loves. She only stayed a half day, but she did ok with it.

I brought her home, put her down for a nap. Then, my son and his girlfriend came to watch her so my husband and I could go out for our every Wednesday night Mexican food dinner. When I left, the girlfriend and Mama were sitting on her bed, watching baseball on tv and eating ice cream.

The only wrinkle in the day was that hospice was unable to draw her blood, because, despite all we can do, she was still dehydrated.

Then, yesterday, she wouldn’t rouse. She wanted to go to the bathroom, and when I tried to get her to the portable potty, she slipped like water through my hands and onto the floor.

She slept all day yesterday. We could not rouse her. Hospice sent a social worker and a chaplain to console me. They did this without my asking, as if they just knew I needed them. They did help.

Then last night, Mama wouldn’t sleep at all. She was up all night, and I was up all night with her.

This, my friends, is what it’s like to live pro-life. It’s love wearing combat boots.

It is also the antithesis of what the former Archbishop of Canterbury said when he recently pronounced that euthanasia is a “profoundly Christian and moral thing to do.” I read that piffle and my first thought was that the Archbishop has sold his soul to the Baals. My second thought was, poor Archbishop; poor, puffy and self-referencing little man.

Whatever you do, do not follow the shepherding of such a lost and wandering shepherd. What he is saying is straight from the pit.

Caring for someone who is dying is a tough boogie. I’m not denying that. But it’s also a privilege. It’s a gift of love and a determined, day-by-day fealty to both the person you care for and to the God Who made you both.

My husband told me to go out for a drive after we got Mama back in bed. He took over to give me a break for a few minutes. I drove around, listening to piano music and praying. Interestingly, my prayers were not prayers of petition, and they weren’t prayers of complaint.

What I found myself praying was a long stream of thank-yous. Thank you for my Mama’s long life. Thank you for giving me such a wonderful and loving mother. Thank you for my husband. Thank you for my sons who are ever-ready to help. Thank you for such good medical care. Thank you for hospice. Thank you for our comfortable home where we can shelter and care for her. Thank you for the loving and kind people at the Catholic nursing home who have told me that if I can’t manage her care at home, they will take her.

Thank you most of all for what You did at Calvary, for the great gift of eternal life. Thank you for the Church and the sacraments that give us the assurance we are ready to pass into your loving hands. Thank you because I know that when she goes to you, she is going to the arms of love and that I will join her there in a few years.

What people who have bitten the apple of death think when they advocate for something as dastardly as euthanasia is that life is only meaningful when it’s productive in the workaday world. They exaggerate the suffering of natural dying all out of proportion to what, given the enormous aids of modern medicine, it actually is. They pretend that family members like me are too frail to step up and care for our loved ones, that we’re got something else that’s oh-so-much more important to do.

But in truth there is nothing more important that being there when the people you love are down for the count and need you to walk through it with them. I was horrified and terrified every second of the time that Mama was sliding through my hands and to the floor. I was panicked and, again, terrified when I couldn’t lift her and couldn’t get my husband to hear me.

I was temporarily shattered with grief and emotion afterwards. I sobbed and then I hiccoughed and cried some more. But I had help all over the place from my husband, from hospice, and from God.

It was the Holy Spirit that brought me back around from grief to gratitude as I was driving in my car.

I would not, for all the sleeplessness, the moments of terror, the aching muscles and slow descending good-bye, give up one moment of this time with my Mama. There is nothing else I could be doing that matters as much as this. Walking Mama home is a gift of love to her, to my kids, to myself, and ultimately, to God. It is eternity work.

Poor, mixed up Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. He has lost his way, and he is using his position as a religious authority to lead others astray, as well. These comments of his are spiritual and moral poison. They are from the pit.