By Karen Steinhauser
I suppose that many times in life, I live in somewhat of a fantasy world. I am notorious for making a plan in my head and doing my very best to turn it into reality. Sometimes it works beautifully and other times I find out that there are just some situations in life that I have no control over. Therefore, my dream of how things will go end up crushed many times.
My mother had spent several weeks in the hospital starting in October. It seemed to be endless rounds in the ER, nursing home and the hospital. While at the nursing home, she broke her pelvis in three places, and the situation only worsened from there. My sisters and I watched a rather rapid decline over the next couple of months. It was somewhat of a roller coaster, as these situations can sometimes be. You think your loved one is going to recuperate, because they have a really great day, and then another setback comes; and on and on it goes.
Mother’s heart had gotten out of rhythm, and they were able to shock it back. When they came to talk to us and told us they were successful, I thought we were home free. Only to find out that mother had two heart valves leaking and open heart surgery was not an option. They gave us more gruesome details, that I choose not to think about. Mother was weak and exhausted from such a long hospital stay and just wanted to go home.
Of course, she could not go back to her apartment, and my house was the best option. I always decorate for Christmas as if a Hallmark Christmas movie might be filmed at my house. My favorite tree is always put up in the dining room. Every single time I had a plan to decorate that room this Christmas, something happened. It was almost freaky. I would be determined to do it and without fail, something unexpected would come up, and I would have to postpone.
God had another plan for the dining room. My dining room ended up being emptied of the dining furniture and replaced with a hospital bed and an oxygen tank. I still decorated it as best I could, because I wanted mother to feel cozy and comfortable. I put white lights on everything that would stand still and let me.
Her appetite was sparse at this point, but she would still eat vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet. I made sure the freezer was stocked. In my mind, Mother was coming home, and we were going to have a wonderful time of eating ice cream, listening to Christmas carols, and we would just move our Christmas celebration to the dining room.
I had a Christmas breakfast planned for the ladies at my church, and I was so excited because I knew just how much mother was going to enjoy seeing everyone. She arrived by ambulance on that Monday afternoon before Christmas. I walked up the sidewalk and met the ambulance as soon as it arrived.
When they started to get the stretcher out, mother began to sob. This was very unusual for her because she wasn’t one to show a great deal of emotion. The first thought I had was “oh no, she’s upset that she is having to come here and not getting to go home to her apartment”. I finally got up my nerve to ask her what was wrong. I was relieved when she told me, she was just so happy to be home and never thought she would live to make it out of the hospital. It was heart-wrenching.
Once inside, and she saw all the white lights, her excitement only grew. I think up until that moment, she hadn’t even realized Christmas was just a few days away. I told her how wonderful things were going to be, and that I would take absolutely the best care of her.
It didn’t take but a couple of days for me to figure out that things weren’t going to go the way I had planned or had them all worked out in my head. I cancelled my breakfast with the ladies from church. By Thursday morning, mother was no longer conscious. During the course of that week, someone was in the room with her twenty four hours a day. I already knew, but I found out even more so, what amazing children God has blessed me with. They jumped right in there, supporting me and being a caregiver to their grandmother. They had always been so close to her, and their bond was obvious to all that were around.
My sisters and I worked together and did the best we could to be there for Mother and each other. Mother only made it to Friday morning, before she made her journey on home. We were blessed with about thirty or forty minutes of her being conscious the Thursday night before she passed. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. As she sat straight up in the bed, after being unconscious for almost thirty six hours, she said “Aunt Lillie,” as if she were right there in the room with us. Aunt Lillie Wiseman has been in heaven for many years. I am convinced mother was seeing her and getting a glimpse of where she was going. Mother laughed and was the most joyful I have ever seen her. We got to tell her just how much we all loved her, and how she had always been there for us, before she slipped back into unconsciousness. It ended up being a pretty tough night afterwards in trying to keep her comfortable, but she went very peacefully the next morning with no struggle.
I’ve always been told how devastating it is when your mother passes. She’s the person who carried you inside of her body. If a mother has a true mother’s heart, she is the one who will always be there and love you when the whole world has turned their back on you. I know I always knew, no matter what had happened, and even if we were mad at each other, if I needed mother, she was but a phone call away. I have found myself feeling somewhat scared since she left this earth. I guess I lost some of my security. I know I will see her again, and we will have all of eternity together, but I thought she was immortal. I guess in many ways, moms are super heroes. They can fix things and make things happen that no one else can. Maybe that’s more of my “fantasy world” thinking.
Her death has made me even more determined to be the best “me” I can be. A mother/grandmother carries a lot of influence in her family. It’s up to us how we use it. Christmas has always been very special to me, and with losing mother three days before, I wondered if it would affect my future Christmases. I even wondered if I might not like it anymore. I came to the conclusion, that’s up to me.
What a special time of year for Mother to go home and celebrate with The One that we celebrate the birth of. What a blessing to have been given the gift of bringing her into my home and have Mother spend her last days, even her last moments here with us, surrounded by family, love, laughter and yes, a lot of tears. Tears that let her know just how much she was cherished as we assured her we would be ok, and it was alright for her to go on. All of this amidst the white, sparkling lights as Bing Crosby sang “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, and truly she was.
Mother was most proud of my writing. She loved reading “Lessons from the Heart.” After a major hiatus from writing, I knew the time had come to start back. If you have taken the time to read this as I have shared my heart with you, I thank you. The most precious thing that you can give someone and never get back, is your time. I will continue to write in loving memory of my mother, Edith Mae Neal Sparks. In the coming weeks, I hope we will meet again, as you hopefully settle down someplace quiet, maybe with a hot cup of cocoa, to read what has touched my heart and more importantly, what I’ve learned from it. As always, God bless.
Karen Sparks Steinhauser is an Estill County native that currently resides in Richmond, Kentucky. She is a Christian children’s author and speaker. If you wish to contact her or schedule her for an event, you may reach her by e-mail at Karensteinhauser7@gmail.com or 859-893-1758.