The Healing of the Dying

Morrow County Courthouse

A watercolor of Scottish man in a kilt playing the fiddle took the Judge’s Choice Award. I know because I was the judge who awarded it.

I’m not sure what time we got home last night but when I stepped into the house, hot from being locked up for days, I thought about how when I left the house last Thursday I had plans, different plans.

One of the fair superintendents of the Morrow County Fair expressed surprise that I would still show up to do the judging, given all that has transpired in the family over the past few days.

“Oh! No!” I said. “I wanted to be around all this creativity, and to see the beautiful works of art.”

Beauty — one of the most overlooked of God’s characteristics, I think — manifest itself in all sorts of mediums. Sometimes it’s a prayer and sometimes it is watercolor notecards painted with celery sticks, instead of brushes. (Blue Ribbon).

I enjoyed the drive out to Heppner. People often remark about how much traveling I do, especially in the car, and ask if I tire of it and the truth is rarely.

How else am I going to run into creatures like Mr. Coyote? He was just staring at me from the edge of the field until I pointed the camera at him at which point he decided to high-tail it.

Ever notice how great the sun feels after you’ve been cooped up in an office all day long or in the belly of a hospital with fans and AC running? I wanted to park the car and just walk out into the middle of the field and lay down. But then I figured there might be bugs biting me there and I hate bugs.

Mama gets a dose of Vitamin D everyday. I don’t know if that’s because this is Seattle and there is never enough sun here or because she’s confined to a hospital bed, unable to feel the sun on her face, unable to even tolerate the brightness of it streaming through the window.

They did do the biopsy. There was much concern that Mama wasn’t going to make it through the procedure. I received a text message asking me to pray because Mama presented with the highest possible risk because of location of the chest tumor, her inability to lie down, her inability to tolerate contrast. Doctors decided they were going to go in blind for the tissue sample. That meant that they hoped to get to the hard-to-reach tumor without nicking an artery in the meantime.

You don’t want to hear your surgeon, any surgeon tell you he’s going in blind.

The text came shortly after noon. I did pray but then I went by the store and picked up some groceries. Somewhere between Heppner and Hermiston, I decided I need to cook my mother a meal.

You expected something else from a southern girl?

It’s been so long since I made chicken the old-Crisco way, I wasn’t sure I knew how to make a drumstick golden anymore. Turns out I did.

Fried chicken. Baked potatoes. Apple dumplings.

Frying a chicken is something I learned to do before I graduated from elementary school. I remember I was so young that I  stood on a stool to reach the stove.

There’s a rhythm to scrubbing the potatoes and wrapping them in foil, slicing apples and shaking the cinnamon over top them, turning the chicken from one side of the skillet to the other. A therapist might say that the cooking was a way to bring order to the chaos of Mama’s cancer.

Perhaps. All I know is that it helped me pass the time as doctors fished around in her lungs, hoping to hook a piece of her.

Sometime after I’d brewed the sweet tea and taken the apple dumplings from the oven, Sister Tater called to tell me that Mama had survived the biopsy and doctors had been able to retrieve the tissue sample they need to help chart a course of chemo.

I loaded the car up with that fried chicken, baked potatoes, sweet tea and apple dumplings and arrived back at the University of Washington Hospital in time to hear Mama say that she just didn’t feel like eating anything for supper.

So Sister Tater and I sat in the corner of a hospital room, eating fried chicken and baked potatoes as nurses prepped Mama for a blood transfusion.

“This is good,” Sister Tater said. “Thank you.”

Two nurses stand at Mama’s bedside, reading off numbers and double-checking prior to hanging the pouch of blood.

“You still here?” Mama said to one of the nurses who has been at work for what seems like the entire day.

“I never leave,” she answers. “What’s the point?”

One of the nurses is from Baton Rouge, wouldn’t you know it? God’s poetry in the middle of the night.

The transfusion will take four hours to complete.

There’s a rhythm to the healing of the dying, too.

Mama is so cognizant, so alert, so much herself – telling the nurses how she worked the profession for 42 years, how she always wanted one of those New Orleans shot-gun houses, how she thought we’d be here partying all night – that if you didn’t know any better you’d think the diagnosis couldn’t possibly be right.

Thank you for your prayers. Mama asked me to read to her your comments. Apparently she not only wants to hear from God but you as well.

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