Last Sunday morning, Betty passed away peacefully in her sleep.
She was my friend Renee's mother.
I had the privilege of getting to say my goodbyes to Betty the night before. Though I'd only met her a few times, I had always enjoyed her company. It was easy to see where Renee's sense of humor came from.
Betty had had a massive stroke six days prior to my visit, and had been unresponsive from then on.
There was an oxygen line in her nose; her mouth hung open. She was breathing rhythmically, in and out.
Morphine kept her comfortable.
I bent close to her to face and rubbed her arm gently. Renee' was standing in the doorway of the private bathroom a few feet away, listening, I think. Tears ran down my cheeks as I struggled to find my voice. No one else was in the room. It felt like holy ground, just the three of us women and God.
"Miss Betty, it's Zoanna. I don't know if you remember me, but I'm one of Renee's friends. I just want to tell you I'm kind of jealous that you will probably be seeing Jesus before I do."
I paused. All I could think of was how lovely must her views be from where she lay. Heaven's brightness, a cloud of witnesses cheering her on: You're almost here. Just a few more steps!
Bolstered by their cheers (since they are cheering me on as well), I spoke to her with renewed strength in my tone.
"We'll be celebrating your life tomorrow while your whole family is still in town.
They want to tell stories and share memories. And I'm sure we'll laugh a lot. You all are so funny. You've raised a good family, Miss Betty. Everyone loves you."
I wanted to sing a hymn, but the words wouldn't come out. Joy sometimes sings without a voice.
"Renee' told everyone who comes in this room to tell you that it's okay to go now, Betty. It's okay. You can go now."
I caressed her arm and told her how soft her skin is.
Renee' piped in at that moment, "It's Estee Lauder. Kept her wrinkles away till she was i rehab. She didn't have her makeup there." I thought of my mom, who has very soft skin and few wrinkles for a 71-year-old woman.
That's when I really started to cry. I turned and looked out the window, tears choking my words. I thought, "How do you say goodbye to your mother? How? How do you say all the things that are in your heart, all your thanks, all your apologies, all your questions about how to be a woman facing the milestones in your own life stages?
How do you say I wish you could be here to see all your grandchildren get married? I wish you could stay to see my joy in becoming a grandmother while you enjoy the overwhelming love of God to grace you with greatgrandchildren.
How do you say, "I'm afraid of being a widow, Mama"? Hold me, Mama, and tell me everything's going to be okay. How do you say, 'Mama I need your wisdom about this empty nest I'm dreading and the silence that will surely fill the house when the last birdie has flown away. Will I welcome the silence later? Will my life have meaning and purpose when I'm no longer in charge of everyone's meals, or schedules, or education, or choice of friends?
Help me, Mama. Help me. Help me let go because it feels like I'm losing the people above and below me in this sandwich of relationships.
I want to say, take Jesus's hand, Mama. He's reaching out to lead you Home. But don't let go of my hand with your other one! Please don't let go of my hand!
Then I hear Jesus say, ever so gently, "It's okay. Let go of your Mama's hand, and take MY other one. I am big enough to walk with both of you, no matter where you are."