…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (C.S. Lewis)
I experienced the impossible in the twilight of a morning.
The weight of glory described above, a burden of glory our thoughts can hardly contain.
In Hebrew this weight is called kabowd.
Kâbôwd: properly, weight, but only figuratively in a good sense, splendor or copiousness—glorious
I had been at my mother’s bedside for three straight nights. Hospice had called me to return to my hometown where she now lived, so I flew across the country to her side. For the previous ten years I had been at her side caring for her as she progressed through the stages of Alzheimer’s.
During her time with me she often sat in a chair near the kitchen window. At random moments she would look up and say to me, “I want to go home.” I learned that statement is one many Alzheimer’s patients say when they are seeking safety and security.
For her it had a deeper meaning.
Sometimes, in frustration, I would answer her sharply, “Mom, you live with me now. This is your home. It’s hard to live by yourself, so you are here so we can take care of you.”
Even with my brisk tone she would look up into my face and answer gently, “No, I want to go home.”
And with a soft smile, she would point her finger up, toward the sky. “Home. To Heaven.”
In the middle of that third night I had been sleeping on the couch. I heard her rustling, so I entered her room to check on her. As soon as I stepped through the doorway, I felt it. The weight of glory. The presence of God. The weight was like a blanket. A heaviness enveloped the room. A presence of comfort and of peace. The weight was not a burden. Or fearful. The weight evoked fear in the sense of awe.
I sat down in a chair by the bed and lay my head on her chest. Her breaths were shallow and labored. I watched the rise and fall of her chest as I lay my head on her abdomen, the place where my life began. Psalm 139 calls the place we are formed a secret place, the cether. With my left cheek to her belly, I watched the rise and fall of her chest. At times there was a pause, and I would count the seconds between ……10……20…..30 seconds until the next breath, a gasp as her chest rose toward the sky and the clavicles above her heart opened and closed, opened and closed, in and out, in and out, like angels wings ushering in breath.
Earlier that day the hospice chaplain told me the Hebrew word for breath was ruach. Spirit. Breath.
She wrestled between taking in ruach, breath, and giving into ruach, spirit.
Her eyes suddenly opened.
She looked at me.
Then she looked toward the window.
She sat up. She had been paralyzed from the waist down. She leaned forward and reached toward the window.
The presence, the glory in the room grew heavier. It was a presence of peace, not fear.
I had been fearful all my life. Fearful of the dark. Fearful of shadows. Fearful of death.
But here peace, not fear, filled the room.
I could see her reaching toward glory, but hesitating, looking back at me.
Her eyes bright and glassy gazed at me, then turned toward the window. She reached forward, as if trying to grasp another’s hand. Her eyes turned back toward me in hesitation, back and forth. back and forth, toward me, toward the window.
With one last push she reached toward the window, toward glory, then withdrew her hand. She lay her head back on the pillow.
She was not ready to leave yet.
I spoke to her gently in Tagalog, her native tongue of the Philippines.
“Pasok na, Mom. Sigi na. Pasok na.”
“Go ahead, Mom. It’s ok. You can go.”
She closed her eyes. The intervals of the rising and falling of her chest continued.
Exhausted, I returned to the couch until the morning sun appeared.
Breath’s anticipation hovers at the beginning and the end of life. Breath ushers in life. Anticipation fills the room. There is a sigh of relief when a child takes in her first breath and releases her first cry. My mother was there, waiting for that cry when she was at my side for the birth of my children.
And at the end, we wait in reverse as we anticipate the last breath. The family surrounds her quiet bed, ushering in and out of the door my sister, my children, my nieces, my nephews. We all surround her as she gasps for life, supporting her with their presence the way she supported each one of them throughout their lives.
That evening I went home to rest after the long three days of vigil.
That night my nephew Gabriel went to visit my mother. The caregiver let him in. He sat quietly by her bed, said a brief prayer, and told her goodbye. Like the angel Gabriel, he was the last one to visit my mother.
At dawn the next morning, my caregiver called me.
“Vina, you should come now. Her breath is slowing down. I think it’s time.”
I took my time, for we had been waiting for a week. I sat on the front porch for a moment to pray. In my devotional I read these words:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall we him as he is. 1 John 3:2
I turned to my husband sitting next to me and said, “Mom will see Jesus face to face today.”
“It’s Sunday,” he said, the one who took his mother-in-law into his home for ten years to care for her. “She was waiting to go on a Sunday.”
A moment later the phone rang. It was the caregiver.
“Your mom is gone now. She is at peace.”
I looked out over the water. On the horizon a cloud had formed. Its shape was of an angel wing reflecting over the water. Angel wings that ushered Mom to where she wanted to be.