A month I’ve put off writing this post. Some of it I texted myself an email the day of, so I wouldn’t forget. Some of it, I’m writing for the first time…
I’ll just tell you now, you’re going to need kleenex.
On, Jan 27th, my husband and I were celebrating my Father-in-law’s birthday. We’d been out to dinner with my inlaws and arrived back at the house to have cake and play cards. As we were sitting down to play, I received a text from my mom. It simply read “Your Aunt Betty may not make it through the night.” This is a daunting text to read, regardless of whoever the “who” is… The day before my mom and I had been talking about how she wasn’t doing well. She was in ICU. I’m actually fuzzy on the details, so I wont make any up here. She’d been battling cancer with chemo and it was killing her. She’d been terribly sick due to the chemo. The October prior, I’d seen her. My grams, her sister, had come to visit me for the first time in the ten years we’ve lived in Georgia… and we took her to see her sister who lived about 2+ hours from me. it was a nice visit. My mom, grams and my youngest and I all went. We met Aunt Betty at a McDonalds and we had a coffee and chatted over and hour. Then we went across the street to an Appleby’s and chatted some more while we had lunch. It was such a nice day. Watching my grams, who’ve I known my whole life interact with her sister was comical. We kept laughing at them laughing at each other. Aunt Betty told Grams how much Micah looks like my grandpa. That was the last time I’d seen Aunt Betty… at Grandpa’s funeral… December 2003. Why do we do that? Why do we take our family for granted? Why don’t we drive even if it’s “too far” and visit? Why don’t we “take an extra day off” even if it’s an inconvenience? … I don’t know… and I will forever regret not getting to know Aunt Betty even more. ….
So there were were… playing a round of cards and I received that text. I quickly text back “Where is she?!” I wasn’t sure if she’d been in ICU in her town or if she’d come to the atlanta area. My mom responded. She was in her town… 2.5-3 hours from me… “Who’s there, is Danny there?” I responded to her… We’d just talked the day before. THE DAY BEFORE! And I’d asked her to let me know where she was that I wanted to visit her. She told me she called Betty’s son Danny (her cousin) but was waiting to hear back from him. I hated that I’d found out she had been in the ICU and I hadn’t know about it or even knew where she was… My mom replied no. That he was on the way, but he may not make it in time. “Do I need to go?” I typed back. I lept up from the table. I dialed my mom. “Do I need to go?” I repeated to her… I can’t remember what she said. Something like “if I could” or something. I don’t know. I just remember thinking that I was heading to Blairsville. I told her I’d call her back and I threw on my tennis shoes, made a full cup of coffee, and grabbed a banana. Jamie had been on the phone with his brother and I flailed at him and mouthed “I’m leaving!” He got off the phone, and I filled him in. Praise the Lord, he is such an understanding soul. Also so thankful that Jamie’s mom was right there. I asked her if she’d handle the kids in the morning, if I didn’t come back that night. She was so sweet. She said she’d go with me, if it weren’t for the kids. I never even thought about that. I hugged her and told her I was so glad to just know I didn’t need to worry about them. That was what was needed. Jamie was googling me directions to the hospital and I was literally on my way less than ten minutes later. I made a couple calls to key people as I flew up 285 and called my mom back. She was so grateful. She said that Danny was still in MO they were on the other side of St. Louis heading my direction. Okay. Get there. Get there Get there. That’s what went through my head. Get there. I started singing loudly. It’s the best kind of medicine when you’re scared or stressed… So I sang. I am grateful my husband had printed great directions getting to the town. I had to call him twice before I got to the hospital but it was my own fault I passed a turn. It took me about 2.5 hours to get there. I wasn’t sure they were going to let me in the ICU but by golly, I was the only blood relative in the state. I announced to the lady at the emergency desk that I was here to see my Aunt in room such and such. She seemed uncertain but told me I had to go to this floor and see that person. Ok. I did. I was led to a room that wasn’t ICU. I was a large room, with a flutter of activity. And my hands are shaking as I recall what I saw. My sweet great-aunt Betty barely looked like herself. There were tubes and wires and beeping. There was a medical student shadowing her nurse, and there was another nurse in there at that time, I don’t remember for what, but the room was crowded. There was another woman there. She had been there since noon. I was so relieved. All I could think about on the drive was how there was a family member of mine in a hospital room alone. I hugged her friend. A sweet family friend, I learned later. I put my purse down and told the friend I was going to stay with her until Danny came. She wasn’t so sure at first but Aunt Betty recognized me. I asked her if she knew me. She nodded. I wasn’t sure if she was nodding yes she knew me or if she was just nodding… The nurses wanted to know who I was, So I announced loudly that I was Kate her great-niece, Millie, her sister’s, granddaughter. Aunt Betty reached for my hand. She squeezed it. I told her I thought we had a bit more fun at Appleby’s back in October. She squeeezed me again. The friend seemed convinced then I guess, and she put on her scarf and coat and said she’d be back in the morning. I told her I was going to just tell my mom I made it. I stepped in the hall and dissolved into tears. Trying to pull myself together. I quickly called mom. Told her I was there. Told her about the friend. Told her I’d call her later. It was nearly midnight.
The next 4 hours I will forever treasure in my heart.
I sat with her. I held her hand. I told her how grams was doing and how big Micah had gotten since we’d seen her last. I told her little things I can’t recall now. She’d either squeeze my hand or close her eyes or pat my hand… She didn’t talk, but I didn’t care. I kept on talking. But at one point, I think I ran out of things to talk about… And I asked her if she wanted me to sing. She nodded. I asked her if Amazing Grace was okay. She nodded and closed her eyes as I began singing. I didn’t care who was in there. The nurses came and went. They checked her vitals, they gave her sponges of water, the did whatever else nurses do, in and out, in and out. I wont go into it all. Sometimes I had my eyes closed fighting back tears, sometimes I was looking into her eyes. I sang for probably an hour. I sang hymn after hymn. I don’t know how I even remembered all the words to all of them. I just sang and sang. I figured I’d keep singing until someone told me to stop. I kept thinking the nurses would “Sush” me, they never did. One, later told me in the hallway, that she had to leave the room at one point because she started crying. I never noticed. In that hour, in that span of time, it was just me and Aunt Betty. Sometimes she would pat my hand. Sometimes she would close her eyes and barely smile. Sometimes she would squeeze my hand so hard. One song, she didn’t like. I started “In The Garden” and she started shaking her head. I was so surprised. I stopped singing. I said “oh okay. You don’t like that song?” she shook her head again. I asked her if she wanted me to stop singing though, and she shook her head again. So I laughed. You know that nervous laughter? Well it came popping out! She gave me a half smile and I started humming something else. I sang and sang and sang. Then she pulled on my hand. I remember trying to figure out what what she was doing and it dawned on me. She was trying to pull my hands together. I said “Aunt Betty, do you want me to pray?” She nodded and closed her eyes. I prayed. I don’t’ know what I prayed about but I remember praying. I remember grieving in my spirit that Danny wasn’t here. I remember thinking I was going to watch this beautiful lady die in front of me. It was the most incredibly painful yet surreal and amazing mix of emotions I’d ever experienced. When I finished my prayer, the bustle in and around the room seemed to stop. Aunt Betty’s eyes remained closed. I felt myself drifting. I stayed by her side, and dozed on and off for maybe the next hour. Around 4am, she started moaning.
She was pointing to call button. I tried to figure out what she wanted, bed up? Down? She kept shaking her head. She’d been cold earlier, I asked if she was still cold. She shook her head. I didn’t know. I pushed button and asked nurse to come in … Nurse came in, she determined Aunt Betty was hot. Okay, hot. We removed the extra blanket from earlier. They took more vitals and then re-positioned her on her pillow. The nurse asked her if she needed anything else. She shook her head, but then in a raspy whisper she struggled to say, “I want to talk to Katie.”
I blinked. She hadn’t said a word the whole time I was there…
The nurse repeated: “You want to talk to Katie?”
Nurse asked her, “You want us to leave?”
Aunt Betty shakes head no.
I found my voice, “I’m here Aunt Betty,” I said as she squeezed my hand and said, “why you love….” her voice fade off and I couldn’t make out the last part of her question.
I asked her, “why do I love what?” looking at the nurse who shook her head, she couldn’t make rest out either.
She tried again in a very soft whisper, “why you love to have so many little children”?
I smiled. She could have asked me anything. And I didn’t know what to say to this question! “I donno Aunt Betty. I just do. God gave them to me huh? Three boys.”
She squeezed my hand so hard. She nodded. I looked at the nurse who shrugged back at me. We both waited. I will never forget this next sentence for my whole life, as long as I live I will carry this with me in my heart…. She said, “I think you love to have them so you can bring them to the Lord.”
Suppressing a need to cry out I whispered, “I hope so Aunt Betty.” Barely audible I made another attempt “I hope so.” Tears leaked out both my eyes. (They spill again now). She squeezed my hand.
And closed her eyes. “I don’t wanna talk no more,” she said.
“You don’t have to. I’m here. I’m not leavin” Aunt Betty nodded.
“Danny’s comin’.” I said. She nodded…
I squeezed the top of the nurse’s hand, she had laid it on my shoulder. She squeezed my shoulder.
My Aunt never opened her eyes again.
I have never experienced anyone’s last words before this.
I will carry her with me forever.
As I look at my children, and see these gifts God has given me, I will hear her words in my heart. As I retold this on the phone with a friend of mine after it happened, my friend said, “If you ever doubt your purpose, you just remember what your Aunt told you.” How could I not? Whenever I feel low, or inept, or lost… whenever I feel like life is spinning out of control, and it will… I need to just close my eyes and hear her sweet voice telling me my purpose. If I do nothing more than to lead these babies to the Lord, I will have done a great thing. I ache that her own son, my second cousin, didn’t get to hear her speak one more time. I am so saddened for his loss and his desire to get there… she died with no wires or whistles attached to her . She waited for her son to arrive. She knew he was there. His wife, Madeline, sat on her bed and talked to her at length. She squeezed Madeline’s hand. But she never spoke again. She didn’t smile or open her eyes. She slipped quietly to be with the Lord around 10:30am.
I left the hospital around 1:30pm, with promises to return on Friday for her service. I pulled in my driveway just before the bus arrived. I hugged my mother-in-law and crawled into bed. I slept until Jamie woke me for church. I cried my eyeballs out during choir practice. I’ve never felt the presence of the Lord so surround me as He was during choir. I wish I could remember the whole set but the one song I remember singing that night was exactly what I needed to hear/sing. “How can I keep from singing your praise? How can I ever say enough, how amazing is your love? How can I keep from shouting your praise? I know I am loved by the King, and it makes my heart, want to sing….” The end of the bridge says “I will sing for I know that I’ll sing with the angels and the Saints around the throne.”… And that is where my aunt is now. She’s in the presence of the Father. She is singing with the angels and the Saints who have gone before her. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more cancer. No more chemo. No more crying. Just praise. Sweet endless praise.
I find the date timely, that I write this up today… I’ve tried to write it out multiple times and haven’t been able to finish. I will finish today.
As I can barely breathe, my chest is so tight…
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of our second angel baby gone to Heaven. Even though the years pass. The pain when exposed is still raw. My heart is full, my home is happy, but my loss is still loss. I am thankful for the beautiful children the Lord has blessed me this side of Heaven, but I do yearn at times for those I’ll never know.
Perhaps my great grandma, who I know is up there rocking our babies, has lent one to Aunt Betty. And perhaps Aunt Betty is telling him or her all about the beauty of the Lord God Almighty. Who was, who is, who is to come.
And I will do all I can to lead these three to the Lord this side of Heaven. I will spend my time on earth in the hopes that I fulfill the purpose that Aunt Betty saw in me. And gave to me.