First, the Tomb

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Diana Trautwein -First the Tomb3

The rain falls steadily, beating against the translucent plastic of the skylight across the hall from where I write. It’s a drumbeat that reminds me that fruitfulness requires dark, wet days. Lots and lots of dark, wet days.

Life continues to teach me that there is no resurrection without the darkness of death; there is no rising without first being down. Sometimes that down-ness is imposed on us—by life, by circumstance, by some kind of struggle, which we did not deserve or earn. Other times, we trip and fall, choosing unwisely or forgetting what we know to be true. No matter what has brought us low, however, the truth of it remains: there is nowhere to go but up.

I am watching closely as my mother winds down for the last time in her long life. We moved her this week—again. Fifteen years ago, we moved her and my dad from their lovely retirement home in Orange County, California to a smaller, two-bedroom apartment in a senior community nearer to family. Three years later, after my dad’s death, we moved my mother to a one-bedroom unit in the same facility. Eight years after that, we moved her across the street, into an assisted living studio. One year later, we moved her 120 miles north, to a single room with bath, inside a dementia unit, minutes from our home.

Now, four years further down this journey toward death, she is in a still smaller room, one with a hospital bed and an RN down the hall. We moved mama into skilled nursing last week, sorting through the debris of her life one more time, parsing her existence into smaller and smaller pieces.

I hoped she would be oblivious to this change. So much of her cognition is gone, so many pieces missing from the beautiful puzzle that is my mother. But she knew. And she was frightened and confused, wondering why “her family” wasn’t nearby. Though she couldn’t tell you a single name, she somehow knew the residents and the caregivers in her 16-bed assisted living wing. Now she is part of a much larger space, with many more people, many more wheelchairs, longer distances to travel from bedroom to activity center to dining room.

It will take some serious getting-used-to, for both of us. After four years, I know most of the CNAs by name in Heritage Court. I know no one in Smith Center. I knew many of the residents in her hallway; I know only a handful in this larger-yet-smaller space. The simple act of going out to lunch is complicated because we’re further away from the parking lot. There is no space in her new room for a second chair, so visiting with her is more awkward, less comfortable.

She is still going down, still falling. And this time, this final time, I will not “see” her rising, at least in the physical sense. But, oh! I know she will rise.

Why do I know this? Because of what I believe and because of what my eyes tell me right now.

It’s a curious thing to be an aging woman with a still-living aging parent. Mom is 24 years ahead of me on this journey to the grave, and even in her increasing frailty, she is still my teacher, my example. Yes, I am doing the care-taking now. My brother and I pay the bills, I make the doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, try to bring a tiny bit of levity and light to her increasingly dark world. She cannot see well, she cannot hear well, she cannot think well. But she is still my mama and she can still surprise me.

“You are hastening my death!” she said to me in her anxiety, as I gently (and S L O W L Y) walked her from her former space to her new one. She may well be right, but who knows? That anxious sentence came in the midst of the walk, the change, the unfamiliarity. But less than an hour later, sitting in the “new” dining room, she looked around and exclaimed, “Why, this is a beautiful room! And the food is good, too!”

She rises, you see.

Yes, she rises. Right to the end, and beyond …

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Diana Trautwein
  • Bev Murrill

    Oh gosh! How beautiful, Diana. How astonishing for us to know that all of those who love Jesus will rise. Despite our loss and our lack and our brokenness, the dementia of our days that shows itself in our poor decisions and foolish thoughts… still, we will rise. Thanks so much for this.

    • pastordt

      Amen, amen, amen. We will rise! You’re welcome – and thank you for reading and commenting.

  • There’s a humility to this idea of rising that I need to hear and live with. As you said, we have to experience death before we know what it is to be resurrected. Jesus made Himself low, and God raised Him up, and I’m seeing (with joy) that this is how God responds to humility.

    It’s encouraging to me to hear about the ways in which your mum is adjusting to her new surroundings, accepting your decisions for her. And also to hear about how God is strengthening you for this hard road that you are walking together.

    • pastordt

      Thanks so much, Michele. I’m grateful that you find encouragement in these words — I surely find it in yours.

  • sandyhay

    Your words reached way down inside to a very tender place. Thank you Diana.

    • pastordt

      You’re welcome, Sandy. Thanks for reading and encouraging.

  • HisFireFly

    With you dear friend, in the thin air, through the narrow spaces, in the pain and the wonder, until the rising and beyond

    • pastordt

      Thanks, Karin. Lovely to have you beside me, even if you are halfway around the world!

  • S.Etole

    Such a beautiful spirit your mama has.

    • pastordt

      She truly does, Susan. And so do YOU, friend.

  • DeanneMoore

    The change that is inevitable with this dying process must be faced with both compassion and grit I’m finding as I am a caregiver for my Dad as there are storm clouds on the horizon for him (for us) after restaging studies done last week. We won’t know what he’s up against for a few months. My hyacinths are rising after their days in the dirt and the dark of winter. They are giving me hope. I wish I could slip one in a vase and set it on your writing desk.

    • pastordt

      Yup, the fearsome twosome – compassion and grit. So sorry for your dad’s struggles — is it inevitable for each of us at some point. And I can see your beautiful hyacinths in my mind and that is enough. Thanks for that sweet picture.

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Diana, I copied this to take to my hair appointment, where I had some time to read, and I was in tears. My stylist wondered what was wrong. You have graciously taken us upon this journey of intimate darkness, which always, always ends up being penetrated by shafts of brilliant light. That your mother could show her appreciation, even in such dire straights and even, perhaps, when she wasn’t fully aware of her sentiments, only goes to show that she has lived her entire life oriented toward the Light. Because she lived fully, vibrantly in the light, now it can’t help but shine beneath the cracks of dementia and old age. Her true, true essence cannot help but shine through. It was hard enough to watch my father die, but we could communicate, and he could understand. I can’t fathom what this journey is for you and your mother, and I am so terribly sorry. But I can also tell that you treasure every moment with her, because you treasure her. May the Lord continue to bless this journey to the tomb, which in reality will be her journey to the womb of eternal rebirth.
    Love
    Lynn

    • pastordt

      Such beautiful words, dear Lynn. Thank you, thank you. I do believe the truest thing about her is still there — her lovely spirit and genuine compassion for others. I am so grateful.

  • Oh, Diana. I so look forward to your stories about your mother, because they are so tender and beautiful, but at the same time, I grieve that this is your story. What a good daughter you are. I know it’s been a long, hard journey…and yet, it’s obvious that the LORD has met you at every turn. Sending so much love. xox

    • pastordt

      Yes, the Lord has been faithful and ever-present. I wish we didn’t have to walk this particular road together, but I’m grateful for Presence as we do it. Love back to you, dear friend. SO GRAND THAT YOU SAW SANDY!!!

  • I am just puddled here, Diana. With grief. With love.

    • pastordt

      I’m pretty dang puddled myself, friend. Thanks for the solidarity.

  • Handsfull

    So beautiful, and so hard.

    • pastordt

      Exactly. Both things are terribly true.

  • Diana this journey is so familiar to me, even though it happened at a much younger age for me and my mother. That feeling of shrinking and pulling apart the complex puzzle of our mother’s lives in their final days is so excruciating. My heart is with you through it. <3

    • pastordt

      And I am so sorry it happened so young for you, Bethany. You will carry your grief for her always. Hopefully, you will also carry the light that she bore while she lived — that is what I want to cling to as my mom fades ever further from this life.

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Oh, Diana, it is a brutal truth that we face watching someone die–soon they will be gone. But the journey you have chosen is worth it all.
    Losing your mother in pieces sounds painful–may God be with you all as the end comes.
    Shedding some tears as I type and pray.

    • pastordt

      Thank you for your words and for your tears, Jody. Both mean a lot to me.

  • Oh, Diana, even in the struggle and the sadness, you find so much beauty and write about it so gracefully. Many blessings to you, dear Diana! xo

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Gayl.

  • Margie Bicknell

    I will be praying for you, my friend. You and your mom are ahead of me and my mom on this long journey toward the final rising. Be at peace when you cry for the woman who held you in her arms, for your arms are around her now…..even if she can’t remember whose arms they are. Your mother’s journey is close to ending in the arms of Christ. But it’s so hard to wait on the Lord, trust in the Lord, when you watch her go oh so slowly. Blessings and peace to you as you wait on the Lord’s timing.

    • pastordt

      Thank you for these lovely words, Margie. Praying for you as you come along behind us.

  • Ann Kroeker

    Thank you for pulling back the curtain to let us peer into the room where you sit, day after day, bearing witness in these closing days of a life well lived, living yours as well as you can. You will rise, too, Diana. You do rise, with these words, with these reflections that hold truth and hold out truth.

    • pastordt

      Oh, goodness, Ann. Your words are so very kind and gracious. Thank you.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Diana, thank you for sharing your mother and your journey with us in a very honoring and truthful way. The letting go is altogether heart-breaking, yet as Christ followers, we grieve with an enduring hope that we will see our loved ones again. Not as they are now; frail and ailing, but forever alive and whole. No more tears. No more confusion. No more moving. Tearfully joining these others in prayer as you prepare to say goodbye to your beloved mother.

    • pastordt

      Thanks for the kind words and for the tears, Caryn. No more moving – yes! Except to move HOME.

      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

        Yes! That’s what I meant. No more moving once we’re HOME. <3

        • pastordt

          So grateful for that truth.

  • “…the last bend in the road.” A bittersweet and momentous time. Thinking of you so often.

    • pastordt

      Exactly the right description, Marilyn. Thank you.

  • Yes, dear Diana, your mama rises!
    Sending you all love and comfort.

    • pastordt

      Thanks so much, Martha.

  • Angela M. Shupe

    Diana, this resonates deeply with me. I’m so sorry for your pain and your mama’s, too. I’m walking this journey with my mother. Her last move was four years ago. and like you, I knew the caregivers & residents in her former place of residence. It was a bittersweet move, but necessary. Slowly, I’ve gotten to know the people at her ‘new’ residence. Your heart & love for your mother is beautiful. I hold out hope that, as you said, “No matter what has brought us low, however, the truth of it remains: there is nowhere to go but up.” Praying for you and your dear mama. Thank you for your lovely, moving words!

    • pastordt

      Such lovely words! Thank you, Angela! And blessing upon blessing as you and your mama walk this same hard/beautiful road.

  • Lane Arnold

    The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. I love how you bring your light from the Light Himself into this dimming season…but, yes, we proclaim, we declare, she will rise!

    • pastordt

      Amen, amen. Thank you, Lane.

  • This is stunning, Diana. Love you.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Tina.

  • jmaurer4

    Remarkable words from a remarkable daughter. Thank you, Diana, for sharing your mom with all of us.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Joellen. You are too kind.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    Beautifully written post, Diana. I am sorry you’ve had to make such painful-but-necessary decisions. I also pray God’s blessings upon you, Diana, as you travel this difficult journey. Praise God your mother WILL rise, more glorious even than when she was in her earthly prime. Appreciated your insight that dark, wet days are required for fruitfulness, and death is required before resurrection. A kingdom perspective does indeed transform our outlook!

    • pastordt

      Thanks for these kind words, Nancy.

  • Gwen Acres

    Dear Diana, you have faithfully shared this long journey as you have faithfully walked it with your dear mother. Thank you for letting us see your very personal glimpses behind the dark veil of dementia. I “saw” and felt the difficult transitions you made with your mother, from one level of care to the next. I keenly remember the challenge of those as a care giver. And now you both wait for her final Home. How blessed you are to have one another!

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Gwen. She is adjusting a little better this week, but is increasingly weak – she fell asleep several times during lunch yesterday. I think those lunch dates are winding down. ☹️

  • 1lori_1

    Diana,

    I have followed your journey somewhat and it echoes that of my best friend whose Mom has been gone a year this December. My Mom is now having memory issues and it’s a whole different ballgame. My heart aches for you, but as you said so eloquently and truthfully she will rise, they will rise. Eventually so will we but the darkness we have to go through at times is paralyzing. My prayers are with you! Lori

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Lori. I remember your friend’s journey very well, and the way you wrote so beautifully about it several years ago. I am SO SORRY that you are now dealing with this with your own mother and will add you to my prayer list, which is ever-growing. This disease is epidemic. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.