I leaned in close to her sitting on her bedside and played the fiddle with a clarity that I had not heard come from my fingers in some time. It was almost as if God was helping me give the most important performance of my life. My mother Pearl was having a very tough time by Tuesday afternoon. I could not get her eyes to focus on me and no words could find their way through the thickness of the fluid that was filling her throat and lungs even though she tried. As a caregiver I was still resolved in trying to help but when I had seen the foamy white liquid begin filling her mouth I finally knew that I had little left I could do. I called for the Hutcheson Hospice nurse to come and see if there was anything that could ease her situation.
I had exhausted my options but then remembered something that news reporter Rebecca Cruz told me some months ago after an interview where they taped some fiddling within her earshot following a hospital stay. She remarked how mother came to life when she heard me play.
I went and pulled out my fiddle and even though I think her eyes were already covered with the veil of death, when I pulled the rosined horse hair bow across the string s to play Amazing Grace, she raised up and her eye lids opened. For the next 30-45 minutes as we waited for the nurse I played tune after tune, Old Rosin the Beau, The Old Gospel Ship, Soldiers Joy, Ill Fly Away and so many others.
After she laid her head back on the pillow my tears rolled across the top of the burgundy fiddle as I knew this would be the last time I would play for the one that made music possible in my life the person whose positive input I sought through life. Not sure how well she was hearing, I laid the curled scroll of the fiddle upon her chest so that the sound vibrations could flow through her body. I stopped for a moment, leaned down close to her ear and said Momma, thank you for my music. I love you. She once again opened her eyes acknowledging what was said.
While I had known for almost three months that the doctors gave her only some weeks or months to live, it was hard for me not to hold out hope that this time as so many times before the grim news given would be overcome by my mothers sheer tenacity and strength of will.
As I sat near my mothers hospital bed in our living room Friday night, we were settling down to an evening of television and we finished watching Wheel of Fortune and turned over to The Andy Griffith Show.
I had finished feeding her a bit of vanilla ice cream. While I did not want to admit it to myself, it was apparent that my mothers time to make the crossing was getting closer.
The sound often referred to as the death rattle shook through my soul with each breath that escaped from her worn and frayed lungs.
I tried everything that I knew to ease her breathing using the nebulizers to give her breathing treatments, making sure she swallowed her medications properly, patting her back to try to get out the carbon dioxide that traps inside the body of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
She had lost her voice on Thursday and was speaking at a whisper but she still answered as I tried to make things more comfortable. It seemed our efforts had helped by Saturday when the doctor came, but once again deep into the night the sound reverberated through our house and I once again repeated the steps we had done thousands of times before through her 13-year ordeal with this disease. I could tell she was tiring of the efforts when she began spitting out her pills and removed her nebulizer mask. I couldnt help but get a bit frustrated with her because she often balked through the years about taking all the medications her condition required. I know she felt my frustration and I wish I could take it back, but what I did not realize was that while I was still fighting to keep her, she was resolving to the fact that her fighting days were through. Of course I could not accept that.
As I spent the rest of the night beside her on the bed with my arm around her and her head resting on my shoulder as she slept, I knew that I was doing all that I could just letting her know she was loved.
By Sunday she breathed a bit easier and I had within me the false hope that perhaps the medication was helping. As I stood beside her bed after seeing to her cleaning needs she reached up and grabbed my hands and said to me in her whisper I will have to leave it in your good hands.
Of course I knew what this meant, she knew her time was near and she wanted me to know that she was giving all she carried over to me.
I looked her in her eyes and said, Mom. Thank you for all you have done for me, and she replied Your welcome. Your welcome. Of course I had said this many times before but it was so much more meaningful this final time. The last words she uttered to me last Monday night were, Ill be alright. I Love You. But by Tuesday at lunch there had been a dramatic decline.
The night nurse Dianne McNutt confirmed my fears Tuesday evening that she was in her final hours. She prayed with us both before leaving, praying for mothers comfort and my consolation. As we prayed we held mothers hands and when we reached the Amen, once again she opened her eyes and reacted to let us know she heard and was praying along with us. I propped her up where I thought she would be comfortable. I spent the next hour or so sitting by her side. I played a few more tunes for her, talked to her telling what she meant to me and read some verses from the gospels. As bedtime approached I lowered the hospital bed slowly so not to disturb her if she was asleep. The death rattle shook the house, even rising above the volume of her oxygen concentrator and air mattress and if she was blessed to be sleeping, I did not want to wake her to find herself drowning beneath it.
I pulled the couch beside the bed, leaned over to her and said, Mom, Im here and I love you. Good night. I took her right hand and slipped my fingers between hers and held them tight throughout the night as I slipped in and out of sleep. Shortly before five I awoke, I guess sensing that the time was near. I just looked up at her watching her labored breath. As the tears streamed down hitting my pillow the death rattle stopped. I sat up, leaned in as her lungs made their final attempts at breathing and said Mom, I love you and I will see you again and I hugged her tightly knowing I would never again feel the caring touch of her hands. I held her hands as long as I could from the first time I reached up my five little fingers and grasped hers until this day her tired and worn shell was taken away. Now I will only feel her presence in my heart, my dreams, my memories, and every step, action and decision I make for the rest of my life because so much of who I am comes from her teachings to her little boy and her adult son.
Now she has passed those things into my Good hands. I pray that God lets me rise to her expectations throughout the rest of my life. I know she dedicated her life to Christ many years ago and that I will see her again but while that brings hope it does not ease the pain of the earthly goodbye.
Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as Officer Randy Goode on TVs In the Heat of the Night, now on Turner South. His latest CD release, Gods Children, is by etrecordshop.com. He is a member of the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. He is a columnist and staff writer for The Catoosa County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.