Singing Mama Home

In the initial weeks after my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, I wanted to comfort her as she drifted in and out of lucidity. I remember sitting quietly by her bedside at the hospital, holding her hand. My first instinct was to try to sing to her since, all through my early childhood years, so many of my memories were accompanied by her singing. But confronting her impending death, I couldn’t sing. Each time I tried, I choked up.

Music was, and is, inextricably linked to my attachment to my mother. When I was a little girl, my mother would tuck me in and sing me our family lullaby, “Jesus Tender Shepherd.” She would turn out the lights, and leave the door ajar. Through the crack in the door, I heard the murmur of our settling household. But instead of sleeping, I often lay awake. After a half hour or so, I’d get up and tell Mom. Again she would sing,”Jesus Tender Shepherd,” turn off the lights, and leave the door ajar. Sometimes, there was a third or even fourth cycle before she became completely exasperated.

In my mother’s twilight moments, I wanted to bring that comfort to her. For several weeks, I continued to try to sing to her. And one day, I found I could do it. As agonized as I felt while watching her slow departure, I finally had the control to sing. I sang that childhood lullaby then, and later when we celebrated her life.

This past weekend, my ‘other mother’ completed her journey on this earth. The family, and those of us who are extended family, didn’t see it coming. But her medical setbacks turned from a trickle into a cascade, and finally into a flood that she could not overcome. And yesterday, I found myself by her hospital bed with my best friend and her sisters and brother, trying to find a way to comfort my ‘other mother’ as she did the hard work of letting go.

That afternoon, we had attended a vocal choir concert by the Adelphians of the University of Puget Sound, which they ended with their traditional finale, Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.” I started crying as I listened to the lyrics:

Tell me where is the road I can call my own, that I left, that I lost, so long ago?

All these years I have wandered, oh when will I know, there’s a way, there’s a road that will lead me home?

Rise up, follow me, come away is the call

With love in your heart as the only song

There is no such beauty as where you belong

Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home

After wind, after rain, when the dark is done, as I wake from a dream in the gold of day

Through the air there’s a calling from far away, there’s a voice I can hear that will lead me home.

Rise up, follow me, come away is the call

With love in your heart as the only song

There is no such beauty as where you belong

Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home

Hours later, reflected in the hospital’s dark oval window, we gathered around an unquestionably beautiful woman who had loved us, chastised us, teased us, cheered us, cried for us, and stood up for us. My best friend, her daughter and I sang “The Road Home.”

As I remember it, just as we finished, my friend’s sister noticed that something had changed. Mama’s hand felt different. Then she didn’t take that next breath. She was gone.

Our quiet vigil was interrupted by a rush of awareness, then panic and confusion. Filling the void came the impulse to sing. And what came to mind was the lullaby that my mother sang so often to me. This time, I could sing it, joined by my best friend. We sang Mama home.


Filed under Faith journey, Uncategorized

9 responses to “Singing Mama Home

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  3. Kristi

    Once again, Betsy, you have touched the core of my being with your words, your tribute and the love and devotion of your actions as you helped lift your friend home.

  4. Betsy,

    Absolutely beautiful, just beautiful. Reading it brought me to tears yesterday when you posted it, and let us know you had, and this morning as I read Sal’s comment that she sent back to you via email, and then the comments below here,

    Tears flowed, yet again.

    We sibs go to the house today.

    Love you with all my heart, dear.

    • John, I am still in the moment with all of you. I love you, too.

      Your sister Sally sent this message and asked me to post it for her:

      “Music of some kind was ALWAYS playing in our house, whether my mother’s beloved classical or something from Dad’s hillbilly roots. We could never go to sleep as children without music playing, often the same pieces. All of us siblings grew to love music with the same passion as our parents. I am eternally grateful to Betsy for singing my mother home. If Mom could hear at all, she would have responded to music best, especially sung from a loving heart and by someone she dearly loved. I hope others can be blessed by friends like Betsy S.”

  5. Deb Vosburgh

    There is no greater gift than being able to be present and involved in the passing of a loved one. I watched my mother die of Alzheimer’s and near the end of her life, when she was no longer conscious, I began placing a trail of stones along her pillow, telling her that those stones led home…which, for her, was always Vashon Island. As I laid along side her that final morning, whispering in her ear that it was okay to go, to let her parents, loved ones, and even our beloved pets, help her cross the bridge to eternity. That was November 18, 2008, and that memory is as fresh to me today as it was then.

    What a wonderful gift it was for you and Ellen to be able to “sing Mama home.”

  6. Bruce Campbell

    So many of our memories of Mom have a musical accompaniment, and she drew great pleasure from your development of your musical talents. As for me, I cannot think of her without hearing her sing “Jesus Tender Shepherd”. I remember it most vividly when she sang it to me when I was six, and had the mumps. I thought there was an angel in the room – perhaps I was right. Bruce

  7. Todd Stone

    Bets – absolutely beautiful …

    Sent from my iPhone

  8. Lissie Krauss

    Thank you so very much for sharing your experience, strength and hope . . . I feel acceptance . . . Lissie

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