Monday, August 20, 2012

Grace at the River

As a small child, I loved nothing more than to snuggle up to my mommy in her bed whenever I got a chance. It was usually when my father would be away for a few days at a conference or whatever. Now he was gone. Dead at the age of 85 from a combination of Alzheimer’s and heart, he wouldn’t be returning.

When it had become apparent that mom and dad could no longer function on their own, I had built an apartment for them at one end of my home. It worked well because I was able to run in and out of their place at all hours of the day, yet continue with the demands of my own life.

Now it was 13 years later and Mom was 96 years old. Quite often at night, I would get her into bed and snuggle in beside her to make her feel  loved and secure – and that’s what I did on March 3, 2005.

Even though I was 59 years old, I still needed my mom. Life had become very difficult. Family complications had left me feeling emotionally isolated and exhausted from trying to keep everyone happy and on track. Mom was my refuge, the one with whom I was secure in the knowledge I was loved and precious. Only with her, could I relax and cease my emotional striving. The very thought of losing her would bring tears to my eyes and an icy fear of living without her.

I know mom sensed my need for her to stay with me. Even though she had little quality of life by that time, she hung on. Day after day, she submitted to total care, despite the fact that it must have been so difficult for her. Her dementia had robbed her of the ability to participate in real relationships with anyone but God and me. She had gotten to the place where she didn’t recognize people and totally trusted me to care for her. The funny thing was that she couldn’t remember what she’d had for lunch and her words were often jumbled, but if I were to ask her to pray, her spirit would come alive and she would speak with power and passion.

And so that night, I cuddled up beside her, under the covers. The house was quiet. It was about 11 p.m. I remembered that I had forgotten to give her a manicure that day and made a mental note to do it tomorrow. An old, old hymn that I hadn’t heard for many years started to roll through my mind and I began to sing softly.

    Shall we gather at the river,
    The beautiful, the beautiful river;
    Gather with the saints at the river
    That flows by the throne of God.
                                (Robert Lowry, 1864)

As I pulled the words from the far recesses of my memory, I had a sense of giving them new life as the comfort of the words united the generations that had sung them. The gentle melody, sung for over a century by hearts joined in purpose, assured us that we were not alone. We were part of something bigger. Something very precious. I knew the song was a gift of comfort to Mom and I was grateful to have it to give her. Mom said, “Oh, I wish we could just jump across.”

I was momentarily confused, but then asked, “You mean jump across the river, Mom?”

“Yes,” she said.

I was quiet for a few moments, thinking about what that would mean. But then I knew it was time. I couldn’t be selfish. I had to give her permission to go, so I asked, “Mom, would you like me to pray that Jesus would come and take you home?”

“Yes,” she said.

And so I prayed, thanking God for Mom’s life here and handing her over to His faithful hands.

All of a sudden, with joy and delight in her voice, Mom exclaimed, “Victor!”

Again I was confused. What did that mean? Suddenly, I remembered her brother, Victor, who had passed away a few years before. He was a wonderful Christian man, dearly loved by all of us. Again she exclaimed, “Victor!”

“Mom – are you seeing Uncle Vic?” I asked.

“Yes!” She was radiantly happy. In a breath, she was gone. Uncle Vic had come to escort her home.

I  got up and sat at her bedside. Taking her precious hand in mine, I traced the veins and sinews and bones in her hand the way I had done as a child sitting beside her in church. There was no sense of separation, desperation, loss or grief. Everything seemed so normal. I called the nurse to come and make the declaration of death. Knowing her home to be at least a half hour from where we were in the country, I got the file and polish and gave Mom the manicure she had not had earlier in the day.

When the nurse arrived, she asked if Mom had been a Christian. “Yes,” I said, “but why?” She proceeded to explain that she had seen so many deaths, but always saw the peace that was on Mom’s face on the faces of those who died as Christians.

When the funeral director finally drove away with Mom’s body, I said goodbye to the nurse and went up to my bedroom. It was two a.m. What does one do when one’s mother has just died, I wondered. Looking for a place to put my thoughts, I turned on the television. “Nite Lite” was just starting. I had hosted it for seven years and so knew the screeners and crew well. As they announced the topic for the night, I was shocked! It was, “What Do You Do When You Have Just Lost a Loved One!”

I dialed the number and told one of my friends what had just happened. He insisted that I must tell the story on air. So - within moments, I was telling the entire viewing audience about Mom and the old hymn and jumping across the river and Mom seeing Uncle Victor. It was amazing. It was God.

To this day, I have never grieved the passing of my mother. It was time.

© Diane Roblin-Lee, 2012

Note: Following the death of my mother, I felt it was important that the world should not lose her wisdom and essence and so wrote a book called The Wisdom of Grace with a foreword by Rev. David Mainse. It’s available online at

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