More than eight months after I lost my mom, I am grateful I only have two big regrets. The first, not bringing her home to us sooner. The second, leaving two of her rings unprotected at her assisted living facility. She still wore her wedding and anniversary bands, but kept the others in a Tiffany-style box in her bedside table. One featured a ruby surrounded by diamonds; the other, a cluster of diamonds. The stones were small, but each a dazzling reminder of the love with which they were given and received. Years later, both were cold-heartedly stolen.
Dad, who died in 2002, was a gregarious man who came to America from Norway with very little. He worked hard and loved showering Mom with gifts, like those rings. Mom, born Sigrun Håheim, also came from Norway. She was a vibrant spirit, bursting with love for God, people, and life.
For years, Mom suffered from peripheral neuropathy, but her health started declining in earnest in early 2019 when she was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Her condition deteriorated further throughout the year. In December, doctors told us she had a spot on her pancreas, Atrial Fibrillation, and a urinary tract infection (UTI). What struck me most wasn’t the dire diagnoses, but her steadfast faith in the midst of them. “I just long to see Jesus,” she said. “To touch His face.” She was ready to go, but had more to endure.
When COVID hit in March, senior living facilities locked down, isolating millions of elderly men and women, including my mom. In April, I had to wish her a happy 86th birthday through a plexiglass screen. In May, she was admitted to hospice and I was granted special visiting privileges. We were reunited! I cherished the hours we spent watching Church services on YouTube, reading the Bible, and just being together.
Last June, my siblings, Heidi and Larry, came to Huntsville for what would be a farewell visit. We stayed together in our house. Mom, who barely spoke in preceding weeks, poured her heart out, declaring her unconditional love and trying to right any wrongs.
I continued to marvel at her faith. She later shared that she went to bed every night wondering when she’d wake up in her other room, the one Jesus said our Father was preparing for her (John 14: 2-3).
By August, she was extremely weak and frail. We finally brought her home. Two weeks later, on August 28, her breathing changed. I jumped to her side and held her hand, recognizing the guppy-like breaths that indicate end-of-life.
After initially bursting into tears, I pulled myself together. “Mom,” I laughed, “You don’t want your last memory down here to be of me bawling my eyes out.” I flipped the switch, gave her my best smile, and told her how much we loved her. She could go; we’d be okay.
When she slipped away, I could almost see her spirit rising to follow Jesus to her heavenly home. But her earthly absence crushed me. Suddenly, I was the one gasping for air.
The next morning I stepped outside and a female cardinal flew by, hovering near Mom’s window. I smiled, temporarily comforted by the sign. Of course, waves of grief still come and go. Recently, I was driving and missed her terribly. Tears streaming down my face, I cried, “Mom, please tell me it’s real. That you’re in heaven and everything we believe is true.” Moments later, I saw a woman holding a sign that said, “Jesus is coming soon.”
Signs like these assure me that Mom is still here, even though she’s also “there,” in that highly-anticipated other room. As we honor mothers this month, I’ll be sure to give mine the shout-out she deserves. I’m certain she’ll hear me, and respond. I can’t wait to see the sign she sends next.