This is a Guest post written by Geneva Echols
For the last year an a half I have worked as companion and caretaker of an adult woman living with severe limitations and disabilities. I was asked to move in with Anne and take over the daily care of her, her house, and her needs. Though I work as part of a team of caretakers, I am in the unique position of being the lead nurturer and authority in Anne’s life, though she is almost twice my age.
I am convinced that the Lord lead me to this job, this life, and this family. And He has been present here every day since.
I moved in 2 weeks before Anne’s mom, Terry, passed away from ovarian cancer. I knew them from church, when I moved down to GA in 2011, but I had only really gotten to know them when they rented me a room while I looked for an apartment in 2013.
Terry was someone to look up to; to immediately admire and esteem. She exuded confidence, faith, intellect and patience. She would make the time to invite you to her home for food and conversation, always leaving the guest with a sense of worth, love, and acceptance. But even as she accepted you, she would gently guide anyone towards the Lord through example mixed with active listening. In short, she is one of my heroes, and I will always be grateful that the Lord put her in my life.
Terry was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014. I still remember the night she called me to tell me. I was alone in my apartment, sitting in the dim evening light. I answered her call expecting to chat and maybe talk about our weekly dinner. She was calm as she explained that all of the symptoms that we had been observing were not just prolonged indigestion, but a large tumor that was now inoperable. She didn’t have many answers or even a clear understanding of what the next step was, she just knew that she had to start making some plans for the future. My role in that plan was to be part of the team that cared for Anne. Without thinking about what that might mean, what might be asked of me, I said yes.
I started coming to the house on the weekends in 2015. Friday night I would accompany Anne and Terry to their family dinner, then stay to put Anne to bed. Then on Sunday’s I would come over and hang with Anne until dinner, then after the meal, put her to bed. That was the extent of my official “training” and experience of taking care of Anne.
Terry’s health continued to decline, despite all the intense treatment and care she was receiving. Terry had known she was terminal when she was diagnosed, but I still think she was prepared to live and fought her way to the end. And yet she still did an amazing job preparing Anne, the household, and her family for the day she would pass. Me moving in and learning the ropes was part of her preparation.
On February 26, 2017, early in the morning, Terry slept peacefully. At that time we had a hospice nurse there overnight. Even so, Terry’s sisters had been taking turns checking in on Terry, and spending the night. This particular morning, neither sister was there. I came downstairs to have an early coffee and enjoy the peaceful sunrise as I read the Word. I chatted briefly with the nurse as I prepared my coffee, and found out that her car had a flat tire. She asked if I wouldn’t mind sitting with Terry while she went to the garage and filled the tire with air. Of course I agreed and sat in the comfy chair placed within sight of Terry, though out of the room so as not to disturb her.
I had made a resolution to read a chapter of the Bible a day. So I opened my Word to somewhere in Genesis, and started to read. The peace of the moment was profound. The light was softly coming in Terry’s room, and from my vantage point I could see her slowly breathing. I kept checking every few passages or so, looking up and waiting for her chest to move. I saw it a couple of times. And then, it didn’t rise.
No noise, no last movements in any other part of her body. Her chest just stoped rising.
I waited and waited. I didn’t want to raise the alarm or even move closer incase I was over-reacting. So I turned back to the Lord. I prayed for her, thought of her with love and respect. In that moment I let myself feel the loss to my own life that her passing would mean.
The nurse returned soon after that. I rose from my seat and asked her if she thought Terry was breathing. She tiptoed into the room and gently called Terry’s name. I wasn’t expecting there to be any response, so I honestly wasn’t surprised when there was no movement. The nurse felt her hand and started to try to find a pulse. When she released Terry’s hand to feel at her throat, I held Terry’s hand myself.
Cold. Soft and cold. Her fingers tips were white and her arm was only just barely warm.
And then I looked at her face. It was so peaceful and almost smiling. I was glad for her. This was the best possible way for her to pass on.
The nurse instructed me to phone her family while she got in touch with the Social Worker who would do the pronouncing. I got ahold of Terry’s two sisters who live in town. They were there within the hour.
In the meantime I had to tell my family, and most importantly, tell Anne.
Anne knew that her mom was dying. She had been with her through the whole illness; doctor’s visits, change in diets, shifting of responsibilities – the entire process. But just because you can see something happening in front of you, even if it is part of your daily life, does not mean that you are prepared for the consequences.
It was time for me to wake Anne up. I did what I had done most other days – gently repeated her name and brushed her hair back from her face. She smiled at me. I didn’t know how to say it, but I figured I couldn’t make it any better than the truth. “I’m so sorry Anne, but just a little bit ago, your mom went to heaven”. She burst into tears. I held her, hugged her, smoothed her hair back and wiped her streaming tears. I don’t know how long we stayed there, but I knew I was prepared to stay however long she needed.
She indicated that she wanted to get up, so I slowly got her ready. I didn’t want to hurry anything or make anything to jarring. She intermittently cried throughout the process.
When we came out of her rooms, the social worker was there with Terry’s sisters. They were doing the necessary preparation and paperwork required when someone dies. I asked Anne if she wanted to see her mom. She said no. I wasn’t going to press the point, even though I still wonder if that was a good decision.
I gave Anne breakfast, all the while dwelling on the huge change this morning had brought. We were still sitting at the table when it was time to take the body out. The funeral home had come to get it. Anne was sitting with her back to the hall and the door, so she was not going to be able to see the body. I asked again if she wanted to see her mom. She said no. I told her this was the final time to see her mother’s body. She said no. I wanted to make sure, knowing how much of a difference it made for me when my mom died, so I asked again if she was sure. She said no. I left her facing the window, her back to the hall, guaranteeing that she would not see the body. I held Anne’s hand and turned around, following the gurney with my eyes and a little part of my heart.
Thats when I started to cry.
It was an immense honor to be there that day. I look at that morning, at that day, as the beginning of my life with Anne. And though I miss Terry often, and worry that I am not doing her efforts justice, I am amazingly grateful to have been there when she moved to Heaven. The days and weeks that followed that morning where challenging and confusing, but Anne and I got through them together. It brought us together like nothing else could. And that bond will keep growing as we continue through the years together. The event that has brought me in to Anne’s life and family is tragic, but I am grateful and happy to be here. I am honored by the great blessing it has been and will continue to be.