Thursday, November 29, 2012

Personal Wailing Wall

            The ring of the phone startled me.  I glanced at the caller ID and quickly lifted the receiver. “Hi Dad, what’s happening?”
            “Suzi, the hospital here in the Keys is unable to do anything more for your mother.” I could sense the helplessness in his voice. “They are ordering an ambulance to transport her to Mount Sinai Medical Center on Miami Beach tomorrow.”
            “I’ll pack today and leave for Miami first thing,” I said. “I’m bringing the kids with me, OK?”
            “I’ve arranged for you to stay with your cousins. They have plenty of room for all of us, so I’m sure it’s fine for you to bring the kids. But I’ll let them know.”
            I didn’t have the heart to tell my father why I would bring the children. My husband and I prepared for the worst. We had decided that I would drive the three children from Atlanta to Miami. He would stay home to work and fly down when I needed him.
            The kids and I finally reached Miami. Soon after settling the children in, my father and I headed for the hospital. At Mount Sinai Medical Center, we located my mother’s wing. As the automatic door whooshed open, a blast of antiseptic air met us head on. Walking towards the elevator, my desperate heart led me to look for the chapel. True to hospital pattern, a plaque on the doorframe to my left indentified the Surgical Waiting Room, and another door on the right, Chapel.
            “Hold on a second Dad,” I said. “I want to take a quick look in here.”
            My gaze drew straight ahead to the far wall, where coral rocks covered it like a fireplace surround, but without the hearth. Against the mottled beige rocks, words made of brass stood out, first in Hebrew, then in English—Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
            Many worried hearts had been there before me. Prayers written on pieces of paper and folded neatly were stuffed into the crannies of the rocks, making it a miniature Wailing Wall.
           While watching my mom experience what I consider torturous medical procedures and grave illness, I kept the picture of the personal Wailing Wall in my heart and mind. I reached depths of anguish, sorrow and heartache over and over, whether standing in front of that real mini Wailing Wall or the one I built in my mind.
           At my mother’s bedside, I saw she was so ill she could barely communicate with us. I watched my dad wring his hands. My own frustration rose.
           Dealing with my mother’s illnesses and surgeries had become a way of life for my family. I can’t count how many times she had been in the hospital. When I finally made a written list of her surgeries, because this is something hospitals and doctors want to know for their paperwork, the total came to 27.
            This visit entailed an intestinal blockage. A gall-stone the size of a Grade A extra large hen egg had made its way out of the gall bladder and into her intestines. The surgery was so rare the doctor told us he had it videotaped to be used for teaching surgeons. Nothing, however, could be considered rare with my mom. If something could go wrong or weird, it did. And this happened over and over again. I never understood why.
            At times, I compared my mom to the Biblical character Job. Job never found out why so many bad things happened to him, but in the end he learned that God can do all things and that he never wanted to be the one to obscure God’s counsel without knowledge. I learned to accept her life of constant medical challenges and God’s amazing, right on time gift of peace through each trial.
            Like Job, in the process I learned a lot of amazing things about God. Through standing by and watching my Job-like mother, God polished my character. He has convinced me that he will never leave me and I’m forever thankful he continually supports me and comforts me when I need it most. When I stand in front of my personal Wailing Wall and cry out of the depths to the Lord God of the universe, he hears and delivers his comfort and peace that passes understanding again and again.
            Because of the long distance to the Miami hospital from my parent’s retirement home in the Florida Keys, my parents decided it may be best to move to Georgia to be near my sister and me. We live northwest of Atlanta within miles of each other. Soon after this gall stone incident, the house across the street from me went up for sale. My parents really liked it and ended up buying it.
            After the move, Mom had a lengthy reprieve, not from doctors, but from hospitals. She stayed home from the hospital for almost two years. When she was up to it, her favorite thing to do was to attend church and Bible studies. My mom possessed quiet wisdom. When she did finally speak up, people would stop and listen. I’ll never forget the day in Sunday School when we were studying women of the Bible. That day we studied Esther, who at the risk of losing her own life, requested to speak to the king on behalf of her people. As we attempted to apply Esther’s bravery to our daily challenges, our class buzzed with conversation. My mom contributed with a saying we use to this day. She said, “You know, if you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space.” We all burst into a roar of laughter.  
            But when the day came she did have to go to the hospital for heart failure, we almost couldn’t get her to go. The medical personnel said she required what they call a “tune-up,” to remove excess fluids her weak heart could not get out of her body.
            The next two years were different—many more visits to waiting rooms, examination rooms, and hospital beds. I don’t know how I would have handled that time if my mother and father had remained in the Keys. During her last visit, one of her doctors pulled me aside and said my sweet precious Momma was in the last stages of heart failure. He didn’t give me a time frame, but in my heart I knew it would be soon. I tried to talk to my father about it, but he just would not accept the fact that she would be going home to heaven soon.
            I could sympathize with my Father, because even though I had prepared myself so many times, nothing prepares you for the actual event.
              Our last Christmas together, I got really sick. I had a case of kidney stones that sent me to the hospital twice. And afterwards I remained in pain. Come to find out, I needed a hysterectomy. The surgery went well, but during recovery I started feeling distraught and helpless. What could I do to help my mom? Without being able to lift anything, there wasn’t much I could do to take care of her. As she worsened, my dad became exhausted trying to do everything for her. As soon as I could, I walked over and just sat with her, trying to love on her as much as possible.
            Exactly three weeks after my surgery, my mother collapsed in a heap at the base of the stairs. We had tried to get her to a doctor’s appointment that day. I rode in the ambulance with her and went into this weird auto-pilot mode mixed with a little adrenaline. I don’t remember much pain and to my amazement I had energy to stay up all day and walk up and down hospital corridors, meeting every visitor and grandchild, to escort them to the emergency room bed two at a time. I took my Dad home that night, never to see my mother coherent again. Early the next morning I realized by my mom’s dire condition and the nurses quietly monitoring her, whispering to each other, that they had kept her alive with IV meds to give us the consideration of being able to say goodbye.
            Back to the Wailing Wall I went. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.” God used the tears to heal my heart. It felt strange to feel relief. My mother didn’t have to be poked or prodded ever again. I mourned the loss of my mom, but God comforted me and still does. I put my selfishness aside, because deep down I knew that I really didn’t want her to stay here any longer. It would just cause her more pain. I would have to wait to see her again in glory and oh, what a glorious day that will be.  
           Even though my mom lives perfectly healed and happy, I can’t help but miss her. Sometimes I catch myself reaching for the phone to call and chat. Through it all, I have discovered the cleansing power of tears. They wash away the hurt and pain. Visits to my personal Wailing Wall won’t ever stop. While praying, God’s children hold the key to survival in this broken world. They also receive his indescribable gifts, one of which is his sweet, soothing consolation.
My beautiful momma