It is a sad, strange, and surreal moment to stand at the bedside watching the one who brought you life, lose her own. The one who went through the birth pangs to bring you life, now suffering the pains of death.
In case you noticed my online absence the past 2 weeks, I was out because my mom, Melva Joan Noland, became ill and died at 80 years old on September 22. She was diagnosed in late 2009 with Alzheimer’s. Various doctors and therapists came to different conclusions, due to my mom’s symptoms also often appearing like stroke damage; but regardless, the reality was, while my mom’s body was still alive, her mind was slowly dying. Up to this point in her life, she was always in remarkable health; in fact, the last time she had been in a hospital was to give birth to me. No hospital stay from 1959 to 2014 is quite a blessing of health.
Her last two years were spent in a nursing care facility in Texas (her location of choice) near her three sisters. During my last visit there in mid-July, the Lord made it clear to me that my mom was going in and out of recognizing me and I would not see her again. Or, for certain, she would no longer know me at all.
So before leaving, I sat on the bedside and reminded my mom of how in 1981, weeks after my dad had died, I storied her through the Bible and explained the Gospel. How that evening at her kitchen table, she understood for the first time that Jesus had died for her. I led her through a prayer and then a few days later, she went to the pastor at the local church I attended, “made it official,” and was baptized. When I pastored, she came many times to the town where we lived, and sat under my teaching. While always very childlike in her faith, I saw her grow. That day at the bedside, as I told her Jesus would come soon to take her home when she had had enough, her eyes lit up like I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Even with a weak body and a clouded mind, her spirit connected to my words about Home.
Two months later, almost to the day, on Saturday morning, September 20, my aunt called to tell me, after my mom had been brought to the hospital by ambulance, that the doctor said since I was 12 hours away, I needed to get there. My mom was experiencing kidney failure and an issue with her lungs. By the time I arrived that night and over the next day, my mom was never responsive, but in obvious pain. By Sunday afternoon, I made the call, with the support of my 3 aunts, to stop all efforts to fight the inevitable and just make her comfortable until she passed. The doctors agreed and supported the decision.
Monday night, September 22, I stood by her bedside and watched her breathing go from labored and struggling to faint and peaceful. Then, at 7:49 PM, I was there when her spirit left and went with Jesus, just as I had told her would happen when her time came.
On Thursday afternoon, I gathered at a graveside with 45 other people and led my mom’s memorial. It was my final service to her as her son. We shared stories, laughed, cried, and reflected on a life remembered most for serving people. I read the story of Tabitha in Acts, which always reminds me of my mom. I shared that, while Tabitha received a physical resurrection from the dead, my mom would experience the same in the spiritual realm.
So, why am I sharing this personal information with you as I return to my post? Because I know many of you have, or are walking through something like this, or will be much faster than you realize. My mom’s diagnosis came as a surprise to us all and changed life from that point forward. But here is the closing point: When you watch a loved one take their final breath, you realize how real—or not—your faith is. In that moment, you simply cannot afford to believe in a fairytale, a myth, or a legend, but only in a loving and merciful Savior who really does have a room prepared in His eternal house for those who have trusted Him.
I bet my mom is sewing curtains for her neighbors’ rooms right now. She’ll get to hers later, after everyone else is taken care of.
When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. —Jesus in John 14:3 NLT