Friday, May 4, 2012

Of Thin Places and Life

FYI: My latest novel, Seeing Things is available free as an ebook at this link until Monday the 7th. Download at B&H Publishing here. Enjoy!

 If you've been reading along with us this week, you've participated in a discussion that presses us toward writing "transcendent and eternal" stories. Katy started the discussion on Monday by writing about thin places--"where the veil between the physical and the spiritual was so thin, you could touch hand to hand with God."

Some find themselves in that nether world and recognize where they are. I truly believe all of us have walked there but missed the veil that heaves with His presence. That's why we must always be present and conscious--as writers and human beings.

Six weeks ago, I sat beside my mom as she stepped beyond the veil into eternity.

You have to know this about Mom to appreciate the story I'm about to tell: She was a toucher. If anyone strayed into her personal space, they received a hug, fierce with intent, and that intent was love. She once patted Senator Robert Kennedy on the cheek when the crowd pressed too close to hug. Her only chance to touch him was to snake a hand to his face and pat. She hugged her oncologist when he told her the cancer had spread to her liver. "You have an awfully tough job," she said and gave him another hug. And for twenty years, she hugged as many who would allow as a greeter at her church.

That was my Mom.

During the final week of Mom's life, either my sister or I slept at our parents' house with a baby monitor on high to hear her calls for help in the night. She drank less and less, ate even less. We watched as she shrank away from her bones. Up until a pesky brain tumor had shown up in December, my aging mother had run circles around me. Mom chugged through life with the throttle open. Now, her legs wouldn't support her. She'd almost slipped through my arms during a transfer. I worried I wouldn't be able to care for her.

And yet, we touched. She loved a long hand massage with lavendar-scented lotion or to have her face washed with a hot--the hotter the better--cloth and to be slathered with Mary Kay lotion, a gift from a friend. Always, we kissed goodnight. Always, we held hands as we talked about big things, like if she wanted a little apple sauce or a teeny tiny milk shake.

Her eyebrows lifted at her choices, "A milk shake sounds good." And then one sip was all she could manage.

On Saturday night, my sister arrived to take a shift as caregiver. I needed to go. To sleep in my own bed. To be held by my husband. Open the mail. Pull a few weeds. Walk the dog.

My sister called at 10:30 the next morning. "Patti, her breathing is different. You better come."

Indeed, Mom was panting more than breathing. I looked under the blanket. Her legs were tinged blue up to her knees, not a good sign. My sister and I--and this may have hurried Mom's leave-taking--sang off-key hymns to Mom. After all, how do you cheer someone into heaven?

Well, we followed Mom's example. We kissed her. Told her we loved her. Thanked her for loving us into strong women. She was beyond responding, beyond touching. When we talked to her, she opened her eyes as square as windows, but they didn't see us.

We settled in for a wait, long or short, we didn't know. Dad held her right hand; I held her left. Sis stroked her leg. Her every breath was a relief and a surprise, a source of agonizing suspense. Would this be the last?

Through all of this, Mom remained perfectly calm. We waited. All that was left was to revel in the warmth of her hand, the familiarity of it. I also agonized over my own remaining days without that hand and those strong arms.

Suddenly, Mom dropped our hands. Dad tried to recapture her right hand. She batted him away. She stared forward, reaching ahead, she seemed to be beckoning with her hands. Within moments, her arms relaxed and she took her last breath.

When she dropped our hands, we believe the veil tore for Mom. She stepped into eternity where she was greeted by the Lord Himself, and she was, of course, hugging Him.

I'm like the other ladies of Novel Matters. I love the thin places, the places where light and shadow shift, "where places [are] both one thing and another." In my parents' living room that morning, there was death and life, sorrow and joy, and something else, undefinable yet eternally familiar.

I'm not sure how sitting with Mom as she passed will change my writing. That remains to be seen. I only know that the experience has changed everything else. Eternity is very, very near. The thin places are nearly palpable, expected, hunted. Everywhere.

I didn't write Mom's story here to receive condolences. I wrote to encourage you to embrace the thin places and to infuse your writing with the humanity and sacredness of them.


Susie Finkbeiner said...

Oh, Patti. This is a beautiful thin place. I could hardly read it through the tears.

From how you describe your mom, I can only think how much you are like her.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I remember standing in that thin place listening to my dad's last breaths on the ventilator a few years ago.

Patti, how I wish I could wrap you in a firm embrace & hold you, hold you, hold you.

Thanks for writing about this.
~ Wendy

Nicole said...

Truly seen. You've been to them and the visit enriched you. Beautiful, Patti.

Kathy said...

A rich revelation of how we need to keep in touch with one another both physically and spiritually. My mother is 90 years old and failing but I still see her spark as she maintains her dignity and independence at home with a caregiver. Thank you for your poignant story of your mother. She made an indelible mark on your life.

Patti Hill said...

Susie: Like any mother-daughter relationship, there were times when my mom's left felt like a leotard that was much, much too small, but those are the very things I miss about her now. And yes, we are a lot alike, something my sister LOVES to point out.

Wendy: Your words are a warm embrace, always.

Nicole: I'm encouraged to keep hiding in the cleft of the Rock (Jesus) that I might see His glory.

Kathy: Kiss your mama's hand for me.

Patti Hill said...

Ha, Wendy, NOT my mom's "left" but my mom's love in that first line. Oh brother!

Kathleen Popa said...

"Eyes square as windows." How could you write so brilliantly at such a time? I love how you pay attention.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I have seen the veil 'heave with His presence'. What powerful words you use! Sometimes it ruffles or shivers but at those times of someone passing through it HEAVES!
Our lives are richer because you gave us this tribute. We will all remember your mother and look forward to meeting her when it is our turn. Thank you and stay close to that veil!

Anonymous said...

Patti, what an incredible story, and how beautifully you tell it. It makes me think of the passage, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." I can tell by how you describe her that you are so much like your mother. And knowing you, she must have been one incredible woman. Love you!

Patti Hill said...

Henrietta: You will love Mom! She'll be the one hugging everyone as they arrive.

Sharon: Yes, precious! My sweet sister, Kathi, and I emptied Mom's closet today. I was doing just fine until I came across her robe. Hugged that for a good long while. We're not done with Mom's belongings. We still have her sewing room and dresser. I did find a stack of cards Geoff, my son, had made for his grandmother for the past five Christmases. She LOVED anything handmade. Love you, too, Sharon.

Amy K. Sorrells said...

What a beautiful post and journey, Patti. What a privilege that you shared it with us. As a nurse, this subject has been especialy near and dear to my heart lately, because I think we can and should do so much better at ushering loved ones and patients into Jesus' arms. They should all be as lucky as your precious mama. Blessings, Patti, and thank you!