Kent’s family was gathered for happy hour in Walnut Creek, California, at the old family home we affectionately call “3067”. The family had labored in January to empty the house and get it ready for sale or rental, but then abruptly reversed course and made it modestly habitable again, so we could bring Mom James, the family matriarch, back home.
For two months prior to this, Mom James (Mom) had endured prolonged infections and a bout with sepsis leading to multiple hospitalizations and a brief stint in a nursing home, which did not go well. With Omicron going around, medical establishments were locked up tight. Mom James was not thriving in the absence of her loving family. There seemed no hope of recovery.
Then Kent conceived an idea. Let’s take care of Mom at old 3067. We’ll turn it into a nursing home and her children will be the staff! Then she really will recover with her family by her side every day.
A brilliant idea to be sure, but oh could it be done??? Kent asked for my assent, “Are you willing? I really need you to be in this with me."
The four very can-do James siblings took it on and created a cozy and even stylish nursing home for one at 3067. There was provision for family caregivers to live-in and wonderful Hospice East Bay provided hospital bed, Hoyle lift, oxygen and best of all, on-call nurses. On Friday, January 28th, Mom James left the hospital for the last time and came home.
One sticking point was Mom’s insulin. She had taken care of that herself for over 10 years. But who could do it for her at home? Not technically so hard, to be sure, but requiring care and precision and the nerve to stick your mom or mother-in-law with sharp objects twice a day. Kent’s younger sister and I were OK with needles generally, so we “trained” on insulin giving, figuring with two of us to alternate, we'd be covered.
After one week of care at 3067, Mom’s mental state rebounded. She seemed like herself again. Our Friday night happy hour had some light-heartedness to it. We were confident enough (even with the insulin) that my sister-in-law had gone home to the Sierra foothills to see her husband for a few days. We only wished that Mom's health would rebound too, and she could get strong enough to return to assisted living with her husband.
Then just before dinner, I got a phone call from Corwin Center, the nursing home in Redmond, WA where my mom, Marian, had lived for more than 10 years. Usually, such conversations began with “Marian’s fine.” Not this time. Instead, the evening nurse said, “Marian’s gone unresponsive.”
I should tell you that when all this was taking place, Marian (Mama) was 102 years old, in good health and quite dedicated to living. Only one week previous, Mama and I had sung songs and played chair volleyball. She had no chronic conditions other than short- and long-term memory loss.
So, the call was a shock. I passed the news to Kent’s family and retreated to a back bedroom to make more phone calls. Somewhere in there, I just sobbed. In my mind was a question, “Really? Now?”
It was as if the author of life stories just couldn’t resist sprinkling in one more plot twist.
After the tears and the calls, I felt two words from God: “Trust me.” I guess there wasn’t time for a book, or even a chapter to answer my question, but it was enough. God was with me. He gave me the peace to move forward and make decisions.
I stayed in California two more days. The following Monday, I flew to Seattle, meeting my sister arriving from New Hampshire in the airport with tears of joy. For four days, we sat by Mama and then God took her home. Kent’s Mom followed 12 days later.
I don’t credit God with dreaming up all the plot twists. There are other agents and personalities and wills at work in the world, both supernatural and natural. And sometimes it can be hard to tell a devilish plot from a divine one. As with Job, when the devil hatched a plot, and God permitted it for hidden reasons. As with Joseph, who understood his brothers’ cruelty this way, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
Even Jesus’ death was summarized by Peter similarly: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless man.” Acts 2:23
I do credit God with shaping a story of blessing in my life, even through days of pain and grief. As Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation (the plot twists not authored by God); but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (ultimately, God is Lord of the plot twist).” John 16:33b RSV my comments
My tale of two moms ends with gratitude for two amazing women, for the love we shared as families working together, and for the presence of God overcoming the pain with peace and even joy.