On Earth as in Heaven

Dear old Mum is fading. At the very respectable age of eighty-eight, her hitherto teeming waters of life have now slowed to a trickle.

Life, for the most part, consists of pouring herself out of bed into a reclining chair in ‘the snug’, where she eats and sleeps and then pouring herself back into bed for another long and wakeful night.

Mum has decided that she wants to die peacefully at home and we are doing our best to see that it is so.

One might have thought that such a request would be fairly easy to accommodate, nestled here in the fluffy green pillows of the South Devon countryside, overlooking the ever-changing sea.

But a few other octogenarians got there first and the availability of end-of-life care, we discovered, is virtually non-existent.

Being a farmer’s daughter, a wartime evacuee, a nurse and the owner and Matron of her own residential care home, she is both stoic and familiar with the topic of death.

A taboo subject in most households until needs must, for us it is discussed in the manner of one asking for the butter to be passed at the breakfast table.

It was on this very subject, (death, that is- not passing the marmalade) that we sat down to discuss the finer details of mum’s funeral.

She knew that she wanted to be buried in her local church, next to her friend and former resident, Freda, who passed at the Biblical age of one hundred and five.

Beyond that we hadn’t discussed it until now, so convinced were we that she would outlive us all.

She had prompted me by nearly expiring in front of my eyes and calling for the last rites to be read, only to make a miraculous recovery just two hours later by leaping up the stairs like a startled gazelle.

Mum decided that she didn’t want a fancy funeral and would like the cheapest one going. Given the choice of a Bronze, Silver or Gold package, she immediately opted to be wrapped in a sack and tossed in.

She nodded off mid conversation, as she is wont to do, so I waited patiently for her to recover.

Sleeping on it, even for a matter of minutes, seemed to have settled things. She didn’t, after all, want a cardboard coffin in case she fell out in church and startled the congregation but the cheapest wooden one should prove more than adequate.

She was only disappointed the funeral company didn’t offer the ‘Brass’ option for the thriftiest customers.

I booked it over the phone in front of her and she was pleased to obtain a further cost reduction by virtue of a discount card she produced from her purse. Her eyes glinted with determined satisfaction at this outcome.

We then moved onto the topic of the service itself and her personal choice of readings and hymns.

Whilst Mum moved, snail-like to the loo, I took a brief break and wandered into the conservatory.

It was hot and bright with a light sea breeze blowing through. The swallows swooped in and out of the garage where their young waited to be fed.

One stretched out a wing as he rested on the telephone wire.

“You can sit in the conservatory if you like.” I said, coming back in to meet her as she returned to her chair.

“Sit in the cemetery?” she replied. “It would be nice and shady there – not so hot.

Not like the conservatory.”

“I think your hearing aid is playing up again” I said. “It’s beautiful! I see the bourgainvillia is out.”

“Oh! you got a bargain out? where?,” she said with quizzical interest.

I smiled, trying to be patient. It’s not easy when you’ve been up at five a.m. helping her out of bed. Worth it just for the sunrise from her bedroom window though. (Main picture)

“I could give you a piggyback,” said I.

“I always used to give Dennis a piggyback- little Denny- he was always hot. Didn’t like the hot weather.”

Mum doesn’t want a eulogy but simply asks those present to understand that she is a Christian: one secure in her faith and in the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Her chosen reading explains that he is, ‘the light that shineth in the darkness.’

Who likes the dark? I say.

We paused to contemplate together what such a life might look like.

“I hope I shall go on learning,” she said, rather sweetly I thought, with the kind of humility that isn’t fashionable these days.

She wore then a rather melancholy look whilst appearing to give a critical self-assessment of her life’s work, as she looked down at her warm winter socks: her feet are always so cold.

“ I had hoped that somehow I would be better than I am by now,” she offered with an air of repentance. “I’m disappointed that I’m not a better person,”

I was sobered by this admission and after a moment of thought replied,“Well if you didn’t think so, I suppose you’d be proud or deluded. And neither one of those would do you much good.”

At that moment the phone rang and I jumped to answer it.

It was either the Doctor or someone in a call centre in India enquiring for the second time that day whether Mum wanted them to make a claim on her behalf for past misselling of Payment Protection Insurance. I was eager to catch either one.

I found that it was neither. It was the adult social care team, who had helped perform her morning and evening ablutions for the last weeks, due to the unavailability of other help. The lady on the end of the phone said she wanted to speak to Mum to thank her as she had been a very special person to care for and was liked by all the different carers who attended her. “A lovely lady,” she pronounced.

“You see, Mum. You can’t have been that far wide of the mark. Anyway, heaven and earth aren’t nearly as far apart as we imagine.

Some people are so blinded by selfish pride or self-congratulation, or worse, self-righteousness, that they descend into a sort of hell on earth. They simply refuse to move even a little bit closer to heaven or to accept responsibility for the full life they were made for.”

I recalled a quote from Clive Staples Lewis on the subject:

“If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

The man clearly knew his stuff.

The truth is she has been a wonderful mum. Flawed like all of us, but caring and loving and too humble for her own good.

I shall miss her when she’s gone.

Notes:

In case you’re wondering, her chosen reading is the one I quoted above from John 1:

The Word Became Flesh

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

……

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

11 thoughts on “On Earth as in Heaven”

  1. Jim,thank you and your very special Mum,this was a most inspirational look at life and death that we all need to be able to relate to.I don’t expect Audrey to remember me,but I wish her a very peaceful ending ,and may God be with you all,x

  2. Jim not your normal blog but was a very moving one …you have described your mum to a tee as well as adding a little humor to it …
    Yes death is rather a taboo subject but you have made it sound if i might say not such a taboo area to talk about thank you for that …
    Please give our love to mum and tell her we are thinking of her .. bless you for being there for her at this sad time ….

  3. I enjoyed reading your blog Jim. So beautifully written . You describe her so well I almost feel I know your Mum. Bless her. I only hope my children are so compassionate when my time comes to pass over. We would all wish to be surrounded by our loved ones and maybe share a joke or two at such a sad time.
    I’m new to blogging and hoping to investigate as I’ve never entered the blogging world as yet.

  4. I loved reading this chocked me a little but funny in parts and loving also made me think more about my end on earth I’ve just paid my Funeral. I want a simple one as we come into the world with nothing so we go out with nothing .i hope people will think of me kindly as I try my best to be as thoughtful about other as I can and if I can help anyone I try .I loved your blog,thank you for sharing we should all make our last wishes know give your mum a kiss 💋 on the forehead from me she should wonderful xxxxx

  5. Very moving , the subject was also recently discussed in our family, as my father is worried about the cost and he really wants it to be a cheap as possible ! I just asked him to say what he wanted and where he wanted to be after he has gone and told him we as a family will honour his wishes, look out Pedn Voundar beach 😂😂♥️
    But we should talk about these things and thank you Jim your mum sounds like a real lady x

    1. Its good you had the discussion and agreed the arrangements. My late Mother told me what she wanted after the funeral but nothing about the service. The strange thing was when the time came, I knew what to do. x

  6. So many are in denial as far as death is concerned. It is part of life, you start the dying process as soon as you are born. There are those that fight it every step of the way and those that accept what they cannot change and leave this earth peacefully. When the body starts to fail us and our days are really just existing it is hard to not welcome the end of this life. I have a book called “Just in Case” with different sections on what to do when (not if) I die. This includes my funeral wishes and notice to be put in the local paper. Although my family do not want to discuss the contents it will be a big help to them when the time comes. For all of us riding the train of life, when it stops, ready or not, we must get off.

  7. Jim, very moving and well written piece. Tell your mum I was asking for her. She always looked after me well when I visited your parents home all those years ago. Stay Strong.

  8. Jim, that’s so lovely. I lost both my parents last year. They had both planned their funerals and talked about them with us, including their choice of music. When it came to arrange mum’s there was a gap, so dad chose a Glenn Miller song that held special memories from when they met in a dance-hall. When we sadly arranged Dad’s just three weeks later he had a gap too. We put the same song in there for him, seemed a natural choice. It’s a real privilege to be able to honour and respect our parents’ final wishes, however hard it is for us. You’ll do a great job ❤️ Thinking of you and your family. 😘

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