It began the night before. She’d been taken to the Emergency Room by her daughter and granddaughter. The old woman’s brain was broken by age and the mental disease that had plagued her all her life. For unknown reasons, her medications had stopped working and deep depression had set in. Depression had given way to paranoia and she’d been too afraid to eat or drink anything for days. Her back was stooped. Her body frail. Her lips were cracked and bleeding. She refused water and the daughter knew without fluids, she would soon die. The old lady fought them but the daughter and granddaughter finally got her into the car and drove her to the local hospital.
It had been hard to find a vein in her shriveled arms. Without fluids for days, her veins were small and hidden. But finally, an IV began to drip needed fluid back into the old lady’s body. Maybe that’s what triggered the moment. No one really knows. But instead of incoherent ramblings, her words became a stream and they made sense.
“I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I love you all. All I wanted to be was a good wife and mother. And I’ve failed. Please forgive me. I love you all.”
The repentant flow continued for more than an hour. Everyone was surprised, including the medical team. Especially the daughter. In all her years of accompanying her mother through the awful hallways of mental illness, this had never happened before. The old lady named all her family members with acute recollection. She spoke by name her children, grandchildren, her sisters and her dear husband. “I love them all. I am so sorry,” she kept saying.
The hospital assigned her a bed for the night and continued her fluids. By then the granddaughter had gone home to her husband and baby. It was just the daughter and the nurse listening to her. “Should we get the chaplain?” the nurse asked. “No,” the daughter said. “Just let her talk.” Finally, the old lady stopped talking and the daughter drove home to get some sleep.
By morning, the mental illness had claimed her mind again. She was wandering the hospital hallways in silent confusion. But when the daughter arrived, she was sitting in a chair in her room. That when the miracle began again. She spoke of her childhood and recounted experiences as a young adult that the daughter had not heard before. Things the old lady was sad about and things she was ashamed of. Things that had caught in her conscience and remained hidden for more than 70 years. She was making her Final Confession.
The daughter listened, her breathing slow and quiet as she leaned against her mother. This woman who had caused the daughter so much pain, so much distress for much of her life, was sharing her secrets, bearing her soul. In this moment, the old lady became a sister-in-pain, a comrade along the hard journey of life who needed to know she was heard. She needed to know she had been forgiven. “We forgive you, Mama. You are forgiven. We love you. Jesus loves you.” the daughter said quietly.
When the sons arrived, the miracle continued. She didn’t recognize the eldest son which could have hurt him since he was her favorite. Their relationship through the years was the closest by far, of all the siblings. But the hurt of not being recognized was dimmed by her stream of conversation about how much she loved the elder son. “I love all my children but he is the special one. He is so close to me,” she said.
For the younger son, it was the old woman begging for his forgiveness that tenderized his heart. When he called his elder sister who lives far away from the family he said, “Sis, you can’t believe what’s happening. She’s asking for forgiveness. Apologizing for everything.” The elder sister felt sad to be so far from the miracle but the soft sound in her brother’s voice made up for all the sadness. She’d long ago forgiven her mother. And to hear forgiveness in her younger brother’s voice filled her heart with joy.
The miracle continued for hours and almost filled the day. But some miracles don’t last forever. This one didn’t.
By the time they brought her husband to see her, she’d slipped back into the dark forest of mental illness. She didn’t have any special words for her beloved husband and mistakenly called the eldest son her husband. By the next morning, she was thrashing about, tearing out her IV. The family was back to living the hard life of loving a family member with severe mental illness.
But they had their day of miracles and that will be enough for them.
I know because I am the eldest daughter, the one who lives far from the family. I listened on the phone as my mother asked me for my forgiveness. And I heard each sibling recount the miracle as it was happening. Our mother had awakened from her confused darkness and said to us in the light the things that children need to hear. She told us that all she’d really wanted was to be was a good mother and that she knew she had failed. She’d asked for our forgiveness. And she told us she loved us.
Our miracle may be over but its effect will linger long after my mother goes home to be with Jesus. Which we believe will be soon.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.