“Surgery isn’t an option,” the surgeon said with as much compassion as he could muster. “I’m sorry but what we’re facing are end-of-life issues.”
His words sucked the air right out of the room leaving only silence punctuated by unexpected emotions. After a few more kind words, heard by no one, the surgeon left us to process the news.
Doctors at a rural hospital had suspected an intestinal blockage so Mama was transferred to a regional hospital with the expectation of surgery. Was she even strong enough to survive surgery? We didn’t know, but she had no chance of survival without it.
This wasn’t the first time Mama faced such news. Eighty-three years earlier a country doctor told her parents their firstborn wouldn’t survive the night, but God had other plans. She survived.
Life was never easy for Mama. She was born at the beginning of the Great Depression; the oldest of eight children during tough times in rural Iowa. Though he was a strong, hardworking man, my grandfather struggled to meet the needs of his family. Yet, they survived.
Mama was always a lover of books and all things school-related; especially playing school with a captive audience of younger siblings. Her dreams of attending high school were dashed until it was decided she could move in with her grandparents to continue her education. Back home, Grandpa worked hard to bring about a rural school consolidation so that high school was an option for her the next year, and for her younger brothers and sisters in years to come.
College was Mama’s ultimate dream but it was out of the question. There were no funds. So, she moved 40 miles from home, rented a room from a widow, and went to work at a small-town bank. It was there she met a certain Quaker farmer who happened to be the church treasurer. Those much-anticipated Monday morning deposits were the start of a love story and a lifetime of adventures for our family of four.
My brother and I were raised throughout the Midwest; wherever Daddy found work in ranch management. Life was good for the most part with our share of ups and downs.
Daddy loved working with cattle and enjoying country life. Mama enjoyed being a rancher’s wife, homemaker, and mother, but she also continued to devour books – especially the Bible. She was quite a Bible scholar and led Sunday school classes and Bible studies wherever we lived.
When Glenn and I left home for the military and college. Mama’s prayers covered Glenn as he served our country and me as I lived out her dream at college.
Yet, God never forgot the desires of her heart.
After my parents were grandparents they moved to a town that was home to a small Quaker college. Mama boldly enrolled and earned her bachelor’s degree (with honors) in Pastoral Counseling. As her name was called, the community erupted with applause for their neighbor and friend – that non-traditional student. I did, too.
Caring for elderly parents delayed my parents’ retirement plans and also brought new opportunities but no regrets. God gave them many special times before another doctor said, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more I can do.” A few days later, Daddy’s battle with cancer ended and Mama’s journey as a widow began. Still, she survived.
Mama was resilient, wise, and coherent, but Parkinson’s was slowly stealing her voice. Her brain refused to carry words to her tongue. Frustration grew as her thoughts were trapped inside. I became her advocate, her caregiver, and her voice.
Now – this survivor, this overcomer – my strong Mama faced the end.
This recent illness zapped her strength leaving her already-hampered voice frail and weak; barely a whisper.
“I love you,” she’d say.
“I love you more,” I’d reply.
But Mama always had the last word. “More…back!”
Even in the silence of the hospital room that day, Mama was the first to speak.
“Let’s…get…this…show…on…the…road,” she said. “I’m…ready…to…go…home!”
Mama trusted God through life’s ups and downs. She knew where she was going and she was ready even if we weren’t.
The next few days were a blur of hugs, laughter, and tears as family and friends visited. In the wee hours of the morning on June 26, 2014, Mama took her final breath and was welcomed into the arms of Jesus. I’m sure that quiet Quaker was standing nearby, waiting.
That morning, as I sat in silence listening to her breathe, I held her hand as God gave me the words to write this tribute with my other hand: “My Mama’s Hands.”
They held me as a newborn, as she praised God for the little girl she’d so desperately prayed for and nearly lost. They fed and clothed and cared for me as a little girl who was so blessed to call her mine.
They disciplined me when I chose wrong over right, always taking the opportunity to teach me the difference and encourage me to choose more wisely next time.
They wrote letters and more letters to me as I lived out HER dream of attending a Christian college. They lovingly welcomed a young man into the family who asked me to marry him, even though she may have thought three months after our first date was too soon to be engaged.
They welcomed three grandchildren into the world, beaming with pride as she watched each one grow and succeed.
Mama’s hands wrote papers and took tests 35 years after high school to complete her own dream of earning a bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Counseling.
They later welcomed six great-grandchildren into the world, including one born just days ago. She loved each one.
These hands served the Lord faithfully, and devoured God’s Word, sharing it and blessing many whose paths crossed hers. They were often folded in fervent prayer for her seven younger siblings, as well as friends and family members, many of whom are now walking with the Lord due to her prayers and God’s amazing grace.
And, they just reached out to touch the nail-scarred hands of her loving Savior, Jesus Christ, as He welcomed her to her heavenly home.
What an honor it’s been for me to hold these hands and to now let go after walking her home.
Until we meet again, Mama, I love you and I’m going to miss those hands.
At Mama’s request, George Matheson (author of Streams in the Desert) was quoted at her funeral. She always said he spoke for her when he penned these words:
“I shall be satisfied if souls shall gather there when I am gone and say (she) wrought no miracles, but (she) spoke words about Christ, which led me to know Him for myself.”
Edith Nadine York 11-8-1930 – 6-26-2014