My mother-in-law, aka “Lady Jane,” or “Mama Jane,” came to live with us last December. She had been living at the Waterford in Columbia, South Carolina, a wonderful independent-living facility, but the past year she had been declining mentally and physically. The devastating effects of isolation due to Covid took its toll.
We had been running up to check on her often; then, in December she tested positive. Thankfully the facility allowed us to stay with her and care for her. Her symptoms were mild, and once fully recovered, we decided it was time for her to come home to us.
It was one of the best things that has happened to us. We became the “three musketeers.” A commitment? Yes. Life-changing? For sure. No more foot-loose and fancy free. Any time Bill and I walked out the door together we had to make arrangements. But we wouldn’t trade the time we had with Jane for anything.
There is a profound connection to the past and to the future with these ancient treasures, our parents. I couldn’t get enough of Jane’s stories of growing up in rural ‘Missourah” – those simple times, fraught with difficulty and a lot of hard work. Splitting wood, growing a garden – not for fun, but for survival – foraging for wild greens in the fields and woods to bring home for dinner.
Nursing school in the 50’s, marrying young and moving from one side of the country to the other and back again as her hubby progressed through the ranks of the FAA. Raising her kids in cowboy country (Wyoming) where they raised horses, sheep, and of course, a garden. My hubby, Bill, has endless stories of his childhood – I envied this boy who grew up in such a wild, free country with one adventure (or misadventure) after another.
Once settled in, Jane, Bill and I established a comfortable and very nice routine that included a lot of eating (Jane had a healthy appetite and a monstrous sweet tooth), watching NFL (Go Chiefs!), Scrabble (she beat me more than once), Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House audible books, complete with popcorn; birthday parties and family dinners, sitting on the front porch in the sunshine, taking short walks in our quiet neighborhood…
On Feb 6th Jane woke up very short of breath and in pain. It was scary. We called 911 and she was admitted to our local hospital with pneumonia and sepsis. It was nip and tuck, but she pulled through. What a tough woman – she had lived with Chronic Heart Failure for decades, came through Covid with no trouble.
Through it all, I never heard Jane complain once. Not ever. It didn’t matter how bad she was feeling or what was going on in her life – if you asked her how she was, on her worst day, she would say, “All things considered, doing pretty well.” She would recount daily all the things for which she was grateful.
The sepsis took its toll on Lady Jane, and from the hospital she went to a local rebab facility. Here we settled into a different kind of routine while she recuperated and worked to regain her strength. She made the best of institutional life – she continued to recount her blessings and kept a good attitude.
It was not wonderful though, and to take the edge off the situation, I gave Jane the spa treatment every night: a facial, a scalp and hand massage while listening to a hymn playlist, then guitar playing and hymn singing while she fell asleep. She would often comment that she was spoiled, to which I replied, “Good, that’s the plan. We’re family, and we take care of each other.”
One night we had finished with everything but the hand massage. The hymn playlist was playing, then went silent. As I reached out to take her right hand, the most beautiful and haunting acapella voice began, “Precious Lord, take my ….” My hand connected with Jane’s at the precise moment we heard “hand.” As I started massaging in the lotion, more acapella voices joined and continued…
“Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, help me stand…
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on, to the light
Take my hand, Precious Lord, lead me home…..” (Click below to play song)
Good thing Jane’s eyes were closed so she couldn’t see the mess I was becoming with every passing phrase, tears dripping off my chin.
I felt God speaking: “Do you see how you love and care for Jane? How you want to comfort and care for her, make sure she is never again lonely, how you want to attend to her every need? If you feel this way how must I feel about you?”
I knew these words were meant for Jane and I personally – His daughters in the room that night. But also for our loved ones, for all God’s children, for every person born into this woeful world. Another download about the Love of God. My, how we must need to understand this, so much more than we realize.
The song finished. Never had I heard that song on my playlist. A 58 second song? God is very efficient. His revelations and interventions, that change you forever, can accomplish more in one minute than a lifetime of our own striving.
A Presence was palpable while we continued with the hand massage. We listened to the song again and again.
“That’s beautiful,” Jane commented.
I finally finished up and left. Sitting in my car, too overwhelmed to drive, I thought and thought about what had just happened and what it meant.
As it turns out, God was not done manifesting Himself in Jane’s room, not just yet….
The next morning Bill came to stay with Jane. She was sleeping, so he sat quietly, working on his computer, waiting for her to wake up. She started to stir. Still half asleep, a smile kept flitting across her face. Then her feet started wiggling, as if she were dancing, maybe.
Then, with eyes still shut, not even realizing anyone was in the room, she mumbles,
“embracing the promises…”
Then moments later: “I felt someone speaking to me.”
She said it again: “I felt someone speak to me.”
Then she said, “Jesus is my Savior.”
We think Someone paid her a visit. Someone who loves her and was getting a mansion ready for her.
I guess that should have been our hint that she was not long for this side of eternity. We had clung to the hope that she would regain her health and come back to us, but it was not to be.
My last conversation with Jane was in the middle of the night, two nights before she passed.
At this point conversation was minimal and difficult for her, both physically and mentally.
She woke and I asked if she needed a drink. She nodded yes. After a few sips of water, I ran my fingers through her hair, and told her to rest now.
She shook her head firmly. “No.”
I leaned in close and asked, “What do you want to do Jane?”
She mumbled something unintelligible and I asked her to try again.
She struggled to frame the words. “I…take…care ….of..you,” she said.
I struggled mightily to maintain my composure and replied, “I appreciate you taking care of me Jane. I love you.”
She continued, “We…take…care …. of …. each other.”
Then she drifted off, saying, “Wonderful, wonderful….. so thankful…..”
That is a conversation I will never forget. I will do that, Jane. I will take care of the ones around me, take care of my family, just the way you wanted to take care of us. And I will determine to be ever thankful, ever grateful, just like you were.
I would like to end this on a lighter note by recounting our observations about Jane and the fun times we had.
Our funny Jane
Jane was a serious, quiet person who was wickedly funny when you might least expect it.
Here are some of our favorites:
- While taking care of her during Covid, I was concerned about her swollen ankles. One night I asked if I could take a look at them. “I charge,” she drawled in her Missoura accent.
- We were watching the NFL play-offs one evening (Go Chiefs!) and… eating popcorn, of course. I could get Jane to watch anything with me as long as popcorn was involved. Realizing Jane had no napkin for her buttery fingers, I ran to get her one. When I handed it to her, she said, not taking her eyes off the game, “That’s alright honey. I wiped them on the couch.”
- While in the hospital, the staff would quiz her a couple times a day to test her mental acuity.
“What is your birth date Jane?” “4, 24, 34.”
“And do you remember where you are?” “hmmm…” “Remember Jane? You knew this morning…” “Same place as I was this morning….”
- Bill was feeding Jane one day. She was hooked up to myriad IV’s, oxygen, tubes everywhere. She takes a bite. “Mmm! That’s good.” She looks up at Bill. “You know, I’m only here for the food.”
- The doctor came to check on Jane one morning.
“Good morning Jane! How are you?”
“All things considered, pretty well.”
“Any chest pain?”
“Any shortness of breath”
“Not too bad….”
“Are you eating and drinking?”
Jane’s eyes twinkle, she smiles, raises her eyebrows and says, “And being merry…”
- While in rehab the physical therapists would come twice daily to get Jane out of bed for her exercise sessions. One particular day she was not having it. They tried every trick in the book, but there was no getting her out of bed that day.
They finally relented and said, “Okay, we’ll just do some exercises laying in bed today. Just a little exercise, please Miss Jane.” She looks up at them with a defiant twinkle in her eye, raises her index finger and does a couple “finger burpees.”
- When having dinner with our family, she would usually sit by Bill and pull pranks. If he got up from the table, he would come back to find that his dessert had vanished.
A woman of contrast
Jane called herself “Plain Jane.” She was simple, however, she was not superficial. We had wonderful conversations about all manner of philosophical and spiritual matters.
She admittedly was not well-read, yet possessed uncommon knowledge on a variety of topics. She was a very intelligent woman whose interests included nature – specifically birds and flowers, and raising animals and vegetables; also health and nutrition, and arts and crafts. Thanks to her dedication to healthy meals, this carried over into our family, which continued with my kids’ families. She left a legacy of health-conscious children and grandchildren.
She was a lovely, gracious lady who was sometimes a pickle. 🙂 If she dug in her heels, you might as well just quit. You will get nowhere fast.
She was passive, yet a rebel. She was a nurse in a family of educators. She walked down the halls of her assisted living facility with no walker and no mask, though she had been asked again and again to use both. She had no regard for Hollywood tripe, celebrity worship, shallow pop culture or the usual fluff that enthralls most. I totally get where my hubby came from now. It was amusing to interact with this older, female version of my husband. 🙂
What a wonderful time we had with Jane. We all wish we could have kept her here for a lot longer. But God had other plans, it was time for her rewards. When she left she took a little piece of every one of our hearts. I’m so glad we will meet again someday – the circle will not be broken…