Five years ago, on May 30, I woke up with a single, foreign thought running through my mind: “This is the first day of my life learning to live without my mom.”
Mom had died the night before at 10:50 pm.
For the previous few weeks she had traveled her end-of-life journey in her apartment at one end of our home.
We were so blessed to experience this sacred time in this way—with Mom peaceful and comfortable in her own bed and me getting to care for her with the support of my wonderful husband and fabulous family and friends.
As her health gradually declined over time, it’s exactly what she and I had envisioned together.
Mom had remained in control of her healthcare decisions and out of the hospital for many years, and I’d promised that I would always help and support her wishes to do so.
In the last weeks of her life, we continued in the same manner as she made her way Home. She’d been enrolled in a community-based palliative care program for several months and transitioned into hospice in the last three weeks of her life.
At Mom’s side that night, as I watched her breathing begin to change, I told her it was okay to go.
After all, whether I was ready or not, Mom certainly was.
In fact, at one point within the previous two weeks, she’d looked at me with excitement in her eyes and said, “I think I’m getting closer!”
I smiled and assured her she was right, she was indeed approaching the new Life awaiting her—where she would join her Savior, my dad, her parents and sisters, and all the cherished family members and friends who had gone Home before.
When angels drop by
One night during this time, I had been in her room taking care of her and went out into the kitchen to get something.
When I returned, she looked at me and said, “Did you see those two men?”
“What two men?” I asked.
As lucid and matter-of-fact as if the neighbor had just dropped by, she said, “There were just two men here. While you gone.”
Having been a hospice nurse who’d worked with the dying for many years—and a firm believer that there is heightened spiritual activity at end of life—I knew this was real.
“What did they say?” I asked.
Mom kind of shrugged. “Something about it not being time yet.”
I nodded calmly as the hair stood up on my arms—then rushed from her room in excitement to go find Dave. “Honey, there are angels in the house!”
On my way back to Mom’s apartment I fell to my knees in gratitude that Jesus was reminding us that we weren’t alone during this difficult time and all was proceeding according to plan.
And loved ones stop in
Like many of my hospice patients, Mom also had visions of loved ones who had died before her.
I remember her sharing about seeing her mom and dad, though quite honestly, those last few weeks were such a blur that I don’t recall the specifics.
She may have said it was in a dream while asleep or during a time when she was more awake.
While some may believe such visits are hallucinations of some sort—as was suggested by a never-invited-back member of her healthcare team—I instead view them as comforting gifts commonly experienced by the dying.
A glimpse of Heaven
When Mom’s breathing began to change that night, I put my hand over hers and leaned in to whisper what I’d said all along, “I’m right here. I love you. Go when you’re ready. I’ll be okay.”
And in those last seconds of her life here, as I felt her preparing to step across the threshold for Home, I almost felt like I got a glimpse of Heaven by being there with her—as if I was looking over her shoulder, a child peeking with anticipation at what lies ahead.
Mom, one foot in Heaven and one foot on Earth, eager to move forward.
Me, excited for her and grieving for me—knowing I was about to lose her as she stepped into Jesus’ arms.
When she took her final breath, I fell to my knees by her bed—grateful to know she was already savoring the incredible love and perfection of her eternal Home.
When butterflies show up
After my dad died, Mom said she was always comforted when she saw yellow butterflies, because they reminded her of Dad and gave her a sense of his presence.
In the same way, although Mom isn’t physically present with me anymore, I take comfort in what her hospice chaplain told us as we were both struggling to imagine a world in which we’d be apart.
He said that once she died, she could be more present with me than was possible in the limitations of living on Earth.
I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it’s certainly a comforting thought.
Which is why I’m going to hope she doesn’t mind when I say, “Hi, Mom!” to the yellow butterflies that show up just when I need them most.
And when two butterflies are diving through the air and playing together, I greet both Mom and Dad, knowing they’re enjoying Heaven together.
I’m so grateful for the comfort of such powerful gifts.
For the angels and butterflies God sends to remind us that we are not alone.
That my loved ones are happy and secure with Him.
And that they’ll be waiting to greet me when it’s my time to come Home.
Feature photo by Alex Kelleher on Unsplash.