OT: Oh Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded

Servetus’ back to school shopping, retail: two bras, two pairs of jeans, two tops, a dress, a button-front denim jacket. One bottle of body wash at Body Shop. All of my shoes are still in great shape.

Servetus’ shopping for mom, retail : seven panties in the next biggest size.

Servetus’ shopping for mom, thrift store: three pairs of slacks in the next biggest size.

As she said to me recently, she weighs less than she did on the day she married my father. She has no muscle tone in her legs or arms. Her abdomen is frighteningly swollen.

Servetus’ back to school lunch: cheese slice at Rocky Rococo’s.

Sitting in the mall, nursing a Coke and dreading my drive to rehab, I watch a little girl pester her mother mercilessly for a cookie, and watch her mother finally snap and yell. One of those things that happens every day. The mother looks at me, apprehensively, as if I’ll judge her outburst. I smile as compassionately as I can. I turn away.

All the things we don’t know and don’t plan for, never foresee.

If you knew your mother would die, would you ever fight with her? We know, and still we fight.

Fought. Mom has no energy for argument these days.


When I come into the rehab, mom looks (even considering the circumstances) horrible.

I say, “How are you today?”

She says, “Not so good.” She’s clutching the plastic arm of the bed and moaning.

“Where does it hurt?” I ask.

“My back,” she says. Again. I’ve spent part of the last four evenings massaging her back to try to help her.

The Dilaudid‘s having no effect at all anymore, she says. I ask when she took the last pill. The nurse says she’s maxed out her current pain medicine orders (Dilaudid, Fentanyl patch, hydrocodone, and something else I’ve forgotten) for the next two hours. I call the oncologist and leave a message and ask the nurse for a cold pack.

“Where on your back?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she whimpers.

I get the biggest possible cold pack from the floor fridge (the nurses have long ago shown me where everything is) and put it right around the nephrostomy tube exit points. I’m guessing. The back pain could be anything. Infection, further ovarian cancer growth pressing against the spin, kidney cancer growth, muscle pain, erosion of the tailbone from her worst bedsore, fatigue from lying in bed constantly for seven weeks, metastasis of any of six cancers to her spine. She lies down on her back and sighs in relief.

“I don’t want to pressure you,” I say, “but dad has been asking me about the funeral service and obituaries.”

“Yes,” she whimpers, “let’s do that now, before it gets worse.”

We’ve been fiddling on her obit since last summer — when she drafted it on a day when she was really depressed — and (at his request and the urging of the funeral guy) we wrote my dad’s on Friday. We’re done and I read them to her one last time.

“Okay,” she says, when I’m done, “that’s good enough.” From my mother, that qualifies as praise. I’m struck, again, by reading them, about how much of the text is taken up with things she did in the first half of her life. Valedictorian of her high school class, loved 4-H and acting in the class plays, married at nineteen, built a house at twenty-nine, children delivered at twenty-seven and thirty-three. Yet the thing I know made her happiest in the last few years — her job — is limited to a subordinate clause. I glance up at her face as I read and I notice she’s most affected by the date they built the house, and the number of years she was married.

I close those files. She also dictated detailed instructions as to her wishes about her funeral to me last summer, including the four hymns she wants (O God our Help in Ages Past — all eight verses! — The Lord’s My Shepherd, Rock of Ages, and Now Thank We All Our G-d).

Now it’s just the information for the brief biography they will read at the funeral (LCMS Lutherans don’t have eulogies) and the readings for the funeral. She directs me to call her childhood church to find the exact date of her baptism, and reminds me that the date of her confirmation is embossed in gold on the front cover of her hymnal. Noted. We also need a psalm, an Old Testament reading, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel.

My father walks in.

“Oh, good,” he says, when he notices what we’re doing, “you’re getting it done.”

I pause, and read him his obituary.

“That’s very nice,” he said. “Who wrote it?”

“Servetus,” my mother says, quietly.

“Oh,” he says, surprised.

Mom’s still moaning. I look over and she’s clenching the rail of the bed again.

“Do you want me to move the ice pack?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says.

“What hurts?” I ask. “Your lower back? Your spine? Your tailbone?”

“Try the tailbone,” she says.

I roll her onto her side, and feel for her tailbone. It’s distressingly evident, as is all of her spine, and there’s no pain when I push on the dressing over it — I think this is a bad sign, but I reposition the ice pack and roll her back over. She sighs in relief.

We start with the psalm. Since we’re singing Psalm 23, I suggest, she could have a different one. She rejects 46 and 130 (fine with me, they are both expressions of anguish) and says she doesn’t like 121 (who doesn’t like psalm 121? I think, but I don’t argue), and we settle on psalm 25.

Dad is bored and looking out the window. “Do you think you could replace our computer before you go?” he asks.

“Not in two days,” I say. “I could, but I wouldn’t do a good job.”

“Old Testament,” mom says, and gasps again.

“Is it still your tailbone?” I ask.

“Not sure,” she says.

I roll her onto her side and start probing her back. What’s left of muscles there are fully taut; she’s really in pain. I reposition the ice pack again and look at the clock. Another hour before she can have more pain medicine.

“Take some deep breaths,” I say, and put my head on her shoulder and breath with her to slow her down.

I turn back to the computer. “The suggested texts fall into a few different groups,” I observe. “You can have a story about resurrection, like Elijah and the widow’s son, or Elisha and the son of the Shunnamite woman, or you can have something from Job, which is by far the most popular text at sermons,” I go on, “Or Isaiah, which is mostly about comfort and expecting the Messiah.”

“I always mixed up Elijah and Elisha,” she said.

I laugh.

“Job 19 could be a problem,” she says.

“Why?” I ask.

“I don’t think worms will destroy my flesh,” she says. “Fire will get me.”

I shake my head a second, disoriented.

“Oh,” I say, “you mean from the cremation. Not hell.”

“Yes,” she says. “And we’re not doing the gravesite ceremony, so that more or less excludes Job 14.”

“Okay,” I say.

“Read me the texts from Isaiah,” she says.

After some discussion she settles on Isaiah 40: 28-31.

“Read that one more time,” she says.

This is starting to get hard for me. Thankfully I didn’t have to reread Job (“I know that my Redeemer lives”) but all of these texts are so emotionally laden.

I get almost to the end of the text. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,” I read, “they shall mount up with wings as eagles –” and my voice breaks, and I can’t go on.

“Take a few deep breaths,” mom says.

I take three deep breaths, and continue, “they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

“Good,” she says.

Dad is still staring out the window. “Do you remember that Maundy Thursday when we were visiting London,” he asks, “when we wanted to walk into Westminster Abbey and they said they were closed, except if we wanted to go to church, so we went?”

“Yeah, dad,” I say, and breathe in and out a few more times. “And we went again for Easter Sunday.”

“The organ sounded like a jet engine taking off,” mom observes, her voice still in the timbre of a whimper. “Epistle, Serv, I’m getting really tired.”

“Epistle,” I say, turning back to the computer.

“Do you have a favorite letter?” I ask.

“Not really,” mom says. “I don’t really understand Revelation.”

“No Revelation,” I agree. “How about Romans?”

“Romans would be good,” she says, breathing in and out. I look over at her, but her face is not in pain.

“Do you want that bit of Romans 6 that’s quoted in the catechism about baptism into death?” I ask.

“Not especially,” she says. “What other options are there?

“Nothing can separate us from the love of G-d,” I venture.

“The rest of that text sounds like it’s about martyrs,” she observes. “For his sake we are dying all the day long. I don’t want everyone to cry the whole time.”

I laugh, and the laugh sounds more like a sob. “Okay,” I say, “let me see what else is on the list.” I look up a few options. “Romans 5?” I ask.

When I read it to her, my voice cracks again and I have to stop after two verses. I catch my breath and continue, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because G-d’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

“I really like that,” she says. “In fact, put down that Pastor should make that his sermon text.”

“Check,” I say.

“Only if he wants to, of course,” she says, and a moan escapes her again.

“I’ll make sure he takes that as the sermon text,” I say. “You okay?”

“No,” she says. “Gospel.”

I look at the clock again. The nurse comes in with the pre-dinner pills, but no pain pill as of yet. She tells me she’ll get a new Fentanyl patch in a bit. I wonder what the remaining time matters either way but don’t say anything.

“Gospel,” mom says, again, after swallowing six pills and a lot of applesauce.

“OK,” I say. “The list seems to be divided into three categories: stories about people being raised from the dead or being healed, like Lazarus or the daughter of Jairus; things Jesus said about salvation; and texts about Jesus’ death.”

“Nothing about the passion,” she says.

“OK,” I say. “Do you have a preference between a story and a statement?”

“Read me a story,” she says.

I read John 11, the death and raising of Lazarus. I start at verse 17, and stop with “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Miraculously, my voice doesn’t break.

“That’s perfect,” she says, and breathes a deep breath out.

“I like ‘in my father’s house there are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you’,” my father interjects.

“Then you can have that at your funeral,” mom bursts out.

We both look at her, slightly surprised.

“Okay,” I say. “John 11 it is. I’m writing it down and I will email it to Pastor tomorrow.”

“Good,” she says, “that’s done.”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Great,” dad says, “now we can do mine.”

“I’m sorry, dad,” I say, shutting off my computer, “I don’t think I can do any more of this today.”


Mom’s dinner comes. She eats three segments of canned mandarin orange. I say, “Do you want some ice cream?” She nods. I walk down the hall to my sub rosa stash of popsicles and other treats and fish out the pint of Haagen-Dasz limoncello gelato. She eats about six spoonfuls. And a blackberry or two from the ones I brought the day before. Dad leaves. The second he’s out the door, she lets herself gasp in pain again.

“Why didn’t you say something?” I ask.

“He can’t take it,” she says.

I press the call light. It’s time to try some more Dilaudid. The nurse comes and gives her the pills and we wait a half an hour. No effect.

“Do you want me to rub your back?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “Or maybe just press on it.”

I roll her on her side and start pressing on her lower back.

“That feels so good,” she says. It makes me think of the pressing and massaging I did during the twelve hours I spent helping a friend labor in 1996. Is there something pressing on her spine?

“Wanna watch Wheel of Fortune?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says.

We watch the game. I actually beat her on one puzzle.

“Only because I am in pain,” she says.

“I’m sure that’s true,” I say.

The nurse finally comes in and replaces the Fentanyl patch. About a half hour later, the pain subsides. I call the CNA who empties the nephrostomy bags. We say the bedtime prayers (Now the light has gone away) and I give her a hug.

“See you tomorrow?” she says.

“Yup,” I say.

“I’ll be here.”

“I hope so.”

[Comments closed. Thanks for all of your good wishes and prayers for us. Guylty’s next *ooof* follows in a few hours.]

~ by Servetus on August 20, 2013.

One Response to “OT: Oh Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded”

  1. […] what, exactly. We walked along the Thames and I saw the Houses of Parliament lit up at night and had a wonderful memory of mom, visiting Westminster Abbey, which is right across from them, on Easte…. They bought us drinks and we sat for quite some time, talking about the play, about Armitage, […]


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