Starlene ran her fingers through Momma's soft white curls. Pale lips that hadn't spoken in weeks had fresh chapstick. Pillows and a little stuffed animal were carefully arranged, propping up her fragile neck and easing the pressure from her hips and ankles. A little black CD player stood among pictures on the dresser, softly playing the soundtrack for today.
"The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning. It's time to sing your song again. Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes."
Momma's tiny frame seemed to float beneath the flowered sheet that had been carefully tucked and retucked all around the edges of the bed. The tiny stitched flowers moved up and down, barely detectable, as air wandered it's way to Momma's shrinking lungs.
Sounds of the other residents came from the halls. It was bedtime, and the nurses were leading shuffling old men back to their rooms and tucking in chattering ladies who pieced together random words like mismatched quilts.
Starlene sat in her spot next to Momma, where week in and week out she spoke stories to pale gray eyes that didn't know her oldest daughter anymore. Everything was settled and paid for, all the details had been checked and rechecked, friends had popped in and out to give comfort, and now Starlene sat by Momma's bed and smiled. She had said goodbye dozens of times in recent months and somehow Momma seemed to hang on despite what the doctors said.
"You're rich in love and you're slow to anger, your name is great and your heart is kind. For all your goodness I will keep on singing, 10,000 reasons for my heart to find."
Neglected, cold coffee sat on the dresser next to a picture of a teenage girl with painted lips. She was sitting on a beach, leaning against a young man with thick dark hair and smiling eyes; her husband of 56 years, gone 3 years now.
"You know, Momma", said Starlene, "Sissy is flying in to see you tomorrow. She will be here soon. But if you can't wait we understand. If you want to go see Daddy, you just go. It's okay. You can dance with him."
The hospice nurse arrived. She had orthopedic shoes and soft, long fingers and kind eyes. "Your Momma's on the journey", she said softly.
"And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come, still my soul will sing your praise unending, 10,000 years and then forever more."
The next morning my friend Starlene crawled into bed with her Momma and whispered into her ear to hold on, that Sherry was on her way from the airport. Breathe, Momma, breathe. And she did.
Momma slipped away later on that day to go dancing while her daughters were making calls in the corner of the room. She just slipped away quietly, closing a chapter of a life well lived. Goodbye, Momma.
"Sing like never before, O my soul, Jesus, I'll worship your holy name."
Starlene, your devotion and respect for your Momma has changed me forever. It's awkward and heartwrenching to watch you say goodbye, but I'm a better person for it. May you be blessed for your faithfulness, and may your children honor you the way you have honored their grandmother. I love you.