On Saturday, I got a call from my sister Barb. It was the call you tell yourself is never going to come — or you convince yourself it’s so far out there in the future that you can safely keep it out of sight and out of mind.
My 86 year-old mother Grace was in the hospital, and it was deadly serious. Remnants of denial caused me to not even think about bringing overnight clothes until I was two-thirds of the way from Cincinnati to Columbus.
Mom’s temperature had hit 104 degrees overnight. She was rushed early Saturday morning to the emergency room and then to intensive care. The medical staff successfully stabilized her. Already quite frail before all of this occurred, she was now critically weak, kept alive with the marvels of modern medical technology which have advanced so impressively in the 14 years since I last watched them in action.
The first 24 hours would tell the tale, but Barb and I knew, barring a miracle — something the ardently Catholic Grace Blumer could have conjured up if anyone on earth could — that Mom’s time on earth would soon end.
A friend told me a story some time ago and repeated it when I called him Saturday. His late mother had been in a coma and came out of it several years before she finally passed. Thinking it was the end, he and his wife said the things they felt needed to be said. His wife even sang silly songs to lighten the moment. When his mom fully awakened, she was able to recite every word and lyric each of them had uttered.
Mom knew that Barb and I were there. She couldn’t talk because of the tubes in her mouth, but she responded to our voices and squeezed our hands when we held hers.
Sunday morning, the doctor told us that even the most heroic of life-saving efforts were overwhelmingly likely to go for naught. We were confident that our father and her husband Tom was in Heaven saying, “I’ve waited 14 years, one month, and 16 days to get her up here with me. That’s long enough.” Barb, who has been Mom’s heroic medical system and living arrangements shepherd for so many years, had the nurses disconnect the life-support systems. A short time later, Mom passed away peacefully.
Several things struck me as the ordeal unfolded in the four-day blur from Mom’s arrival in the hospital to Wednesday’s repast.
One was the feeling, despite our obvious sorrow, that we had just witnessed a happy ending. Grace Blumer was a wonderful and devoted wife, mother, volunteer, and a certified really smart person. She earned a degree in chemistry in the 1940s, not exactly a commonplace occurrence for women of that era. Now she has gone to meet up again with Dad, whose love for her was — make that is — about as genuine as it gets.
Another had to do with some of those I called about Mom’s condition. Their reaction was that we were in their “thoughts.” Not their “thoughts and prayers,” just their “thoughts.” Of course, I appreciated their sentiments, but it’s as if, 50 years after prayer was banned in public schools, religion has become so cordoned off from the rest of our existence and relegated to such a societal back seat that you take a big risk — one best avoided — if you say the word “prayer,” even in sympathetic conversations. When did that happen?
The third is how Mom’s death and funeral bumped up against Thanksgiving, and how we’re in danger of losing this uniquely American holiday to the false god of perpetual commerce and our insistence on being busy — not necessarily productive, but busy — during each and every waking moment.
George Washington’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1789 was about thanking God:
WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God … both Houses of Congress have requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God …
Imagine that: A “day.” 24 hours. Not just until mid-afternoon or early evening.
I’m an unapologetic advocate of capitalism under three eminently reasonable conditions: Its players have Judeo-Christian ethical foundations; the rules of the game are fair and clearly understood; and the refs don’t play favorites. Though the second and third items have been seriously compromised in recent years, the first requirement is the most underappreciated.
Capitalism does not devolve into a blind materialistic obsession with “stuff” if the “moral and religious people” Adams saw as vital to the Constitution’s survival have sufficient numbers and sway. It would appear they no longer do. Grace Blumer’s arrival in heaven means we have one fewer of them here on earth.
And finally, Congress wished for, and Washington proclaimed, Thanksgiving as a day of “prayer,” not of “thoughts.”
We would be wise to heed their recommendation.