Respirations: Memoirs of a Record-Keeper’s Daughter

The Need to Record

I am the family’s record-keeper, and never has this role been as important to me than after my own mother’s memory began to fail, and she could no longer fulfill the role herself. Now, it is not only her memory that has failed, but her respiration, too. Respiration, from the Latin “re-” meaning again and “spirare,” to breathe. Her body lay quietly in her bed, her struggles past. Her hands still warm with the blood her weak heart had beat into them. But her life, her spirit? It is not here. Now, more than ever before, I must remember. I have an insatiable drive, an unquenchable desire to remember, to remember each precious detail. Memories are all I have left of her.

Once, years ago, I sat before this computer. I wept here then, as I do now. In desperation, I asked, “Mama, Do You Remember?” knowing very well that she couldn’t; she didn’t even know my name. I prayed and hoped that something beautiful would be born from the words of my pain. I pray the same now. How strange that the ache then is the same as now, though Mom was still living and breathing. The internal pressing of the pain can only be born through fingers breathing words to life. Without words, no tears will surface, either.
The cursor flashes on the screen, and between its pulses, my vision blurs and my eyes cannot focus on the black and white that ought to contrast in front of me. No matter. I don’t need to see to type. I only need to feel, and feelings are abundant. “Don’t forget a single detail, of her, of her death,” my heart pounds. “Remember everything.” But, I am only human. I will forget. While every moment of those last two days with Mom is significant, some memories will fade away, only to be resurrected as a gift in eternity. Even the moments I fail to record, God will never forget. He was there, orchestrating each moment, even if the moments never recorded into time’s history by a mere mortal, by me.

For nearly two days, I sat by Mom’s bedside, waiting for her entrance into Heaven. For 43 hours, the concentrated combination of years of emotions pressed on me intently. From my brother’s text on the road after he left Mom’s side, “Don’t stop. Get here as quick as you can,” to my son’s exclamation at her bedside, weeping after Mom’s death, “The tears just burst out of me--so many sad and happy feelings all at once,” there in a nursing home room, a lifetime of emotions were felt, built around a singular relationship.


It was a Sunday morning when I drove across states to join my dying mother. But before I left, I worshiped in my home church, celebrating All Saints’ Day. Mom was included in the prayers of the Church, for peaceful last moments in Christ. We sang “Jerusalem the Golden,” one of Mom’s favorite hymns. I wept softly, unable to sing most of the verses, knowing the pain that would inevitably come in the following days. I ached to crawl into bed and weep unabashedly, but a long drive awaited me.

Because of the urgent nature of my brother’s text, we drove six hours with only one rest-stop, waving to my brother on the road midway as he returned home. On the car ride over, my sons asked many questions about sickness, God, faith, and Heaven. “What will we do if Grandma has already gone to Heaven when we get there? What will happen to her? How will we be able see her body, but she’s in Heaven? Will she see Jesus right away, or wait until Judgment Day? Is it okay to feel happy that Grandma is dying? Will Grandma know everything again when she gets to Heaven?” I felt profoundly unprepared for such questions, but the Holy Spirit gave me the Scriptural answers the boys required.

The last few minutes of the drive took place in pitch dark penetrated by my headlights reflecting a light snow that promised to thicken. After I had parked in the nursing home lot, I hustled the boys out of the car and entered the building, not knowing if Mom was still alive.

As we entered the common space, I avoided eye contact with the employees, not wanting them to tell me news one way or the other. I needed to find out for myself. I heard hymns playing on a CD player as I walked into Mom’s room. But for the light of a lamp, Dad sat in the dark by her bedside, holding her hand. She was still breathing, but not normally or regularly. Not knowing how long we had, the boys and I greeted her with hugs. I told her I had come, that she would go to Heaven soon.

I texted Mom’s sisters, and they and their husbands came shortly. It was a sort of vigil in the lamplight, with the hymns playing. As “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” began in the background, I cried: in joy for the sure hope my mother and I share, but also in anguish for the physical pain my mother was enduring, and the personal pain I must live through until the time of that resurrection. My aunts and I spoke of the “birthing room” prepared in Heaven, as God readied her to pass from temporal to eternal life.

The hours passed, and evening faded into night. The nurses’ shifts were changing. A handful of employees came into Mom’s room, coming to say good-bye. I was surprised, shocked even. My heart screamed: “This is all I have left of her; there isn’t enough to share with you.” These nurses leaned over my Mom’s bed, kissing her forehead or hand. They whispered meaningful words that I could not hear and will never know. These strangers, who cared for Mom when I was no longer capable, loved her. Yet, my heart raged with jealousy for a lost time, for a relationship stolen from me by a disease I could not tame single-handedly. And yet, through the envy, I could not truly be stunned: Mom was simply lovable. Her faith shined even when her mind could not communicate. Thanksgiving was the only antidote to my deep-felt jealousy. Thank you, God, for providing these compassionate, loving caregivers for Mom. And thank you, God, for Mom’s witness of You to these caregivers, through the Bible passages throughout her room. The only redemptive quality I can see from this ugly disease is the eternal redemption of others, whom God dearly loves.

Mom’s fingertips were turning blue. Her sisters said their goodbyes and drove my father home. Around my son’s bedtimes, her O2 sats were bouncing between 60-70%, quite low. We would stay in Mom’s room as long as necessary. Crunching through the accumulating wet and slushy snow, I got my pillow and my sons’ sleeping bags from my trunk. I made a nest on the couch and my sons camped in their sleeping bags on the floor in Mom’s room. Throughout the night, Mom’s breathing was irregular. She stopped breathing, often for nearly two minutes at a time, and then would gasp another breath. The boys slept soundly on the floor, but I was awake much of the night, listening to that nothing between breaths, counting seconds of silence turning into minutes. But it was not yet God’s time for her.

Living Amidst Dying

The sun rose on Monday morning, and Mom still breathed, not having entered her Heavenly rest during the night, as we were told to expect. The nursing home employees eagerly cooked breakfast for us and brought in plates, anxious to do something to help. Having not slept well during the past night, emotions were additionally drained throughout the day as Mom’s breaths erratically continued. Over fifty times throughout the day, I thought it was her earthly end, yet, another breath came.

My son concentrated at the square table in the day room, pencil in hand, the sun shining through the large picture-window onto his math book, the math book brought along not because he needed to keep up with his math schedule, but because math is certain and predictable, and death is anything but that. I could observe him through the courtyard as I looked out from the window of Mom’s room, holding her hand, soft and freckled. Down the hall I could hear my other son practicing his assigned piano songs, conscious that the beautiful music he was creating on that grand piano might be the last sounds Grandma heard before hearing the Heavenly choirs. Every half hour or so, the boys came back to check on Grandma, and check-in with me, sometimes with a question or observation: “What do you think Grandma will see first? The angels? Or maybe Jesus?” “Probably Jesus will be a Lamb, though, like it says in Revelation.”

It was a long, precious day. My dad was gone for medical appointments. For about two hours that afternoon, I read aloud from the Bible, until my voice was hoarse, the same CD of hymns cycling constantly in the background. I wondered which hymn would usher her into Heaven. Mom, the boys, and I prayed together. We sang together. We cried together. We learned that time is a precious gift from God, and to slow down and savor it. We reflected on the legacy of Christian faith that Mom passed on to me, and I am passing down to them. We considered that the purpose of life is to be ready to be in Grandma’s position at any moment—ready to die in Christ.

Another Evening, and Morning

To everyone’s shock, evening came again, and our vigil continued. My father, finished with his medical needs, offered to spend the night in my stead. I packed up the boys, kissing Mom’s forehead before we left, offering, “Until we meet again.” We spent the night at my mom’s sister’s house, blessedly cared for after having been caregiver for so many hours. Exhausted, I slept soundly in a dark room with my phone near my head.

I awoke, light bathing the guest room, streaming in through the window blinds. I could feel despair in my gut before I could cognitively understand: my mother was dying, or had perhaps already died in the night. Scrambling for my phone, I checked it, but there were no messages. The boys and I ate breakfast quickly, almost guiltily, and hustled out the door, to return to my dying mother.

When we arrived, I was surprised to find Mom convulsing and vocalizing, nearly thrown above her bed without her body touching it. I quickly sent the boys out of her room, to the day room. I thought, “Surely, this is it,” but she continued to breath, the convulsions continuing every ten minutes or so. After a few brief conversations with caregivers, we collectively realized she had not been given her normal morning medications. Somehow, the computer had not assigned that they be administered, likely because no one expected her to be alive to receive them. Medication was given to her orally, though a bit violently, due to her straining. Within a few minutes, she had relaxed and began to rest once again.

I held her hand, lacy with blue extending toward her wrist and lower arm from lack of oxygen. I spoke aloud to her about the boys’ activities, noticing her glassy stare. One of her pupils was enlarged, and the other pupil was tiny. When I asked, I was informed that this was normal as her muscles lost control toward the end. But, just how soon would this end be? It had been going on for nearly two days since I arrived!

Mid-morning, a hospice worker arrived to wash Mom. Dad and I stepped out, reluctantly, and joined the boys in the day room. They were wide-eyed and concerned about Grandma’s pains they had witnessed when we first arrived. I soothed them and said that the nurse gave her some better medicine, but that all of this is getting Grandma ready to go to Heaven. One of my sons contemplated that maybe Jesus was still putting the finishing touches on Grandma’s mansion (John 14), so she had to wait a little longer. The boys were very familiar with this verse, as it was my confirmation verse, for which Mom had done an elaborate, intricate cross-stitch, which now hung framed on the wall above her bed. Not to be outdone, my other son added that Jesus was letting the paint dry just a little more. A pale blue, of course: Grandma’s favorite color.

The morning was drawing to a close. Before I made the trek across the state, I had originally considered leaving by this day at noon if Mom had not yet died. I felt heavily that I could not indefinitely leave my family and my responsibilities. I had had an internal struggle of when I should leave home before I came; now, I struggled with knowing when I should leave. My father solved conflict simply: a transplant patient, he needed me to take him home to get his anti-rejection medications.

I don’t remember saying good-bye to Mom. I guess that I must have. I remember more vividly the “until we meet again,” of the night before. But, as I left that day, I knew I would not see her again on earth, leaving for home after dropping off my dad. I deeply desire a specific “last moment” memory with Mom, but I don’t have one. I scribbled my cell phone number on a coffee-soiled piece of mini-notebook paper from my purse, slipping it into the hand of the nursing home administrator, telling her she should call me if there was any change in the next few hours. I could come back. But, I could not stay indefinitely.

Going, And Coming Back

We drove away, my dad in the passenger seat. When we got to his house, I walked my dad in and made sure he took his medications, leaving the car running with my boys still in it. I returned to the car, put it in drive it with a heavy heart, and pulled out of his cul-de-sac onto the country road westward, toward home. I handed my older son my phone to text his daddy that we were on our way home, passing through two roundabouts. While he was punching in letters, the phone starting vibrating in his hand. “Mom, the screen says it’s Grandma’s nursing home!” I commanded that he answer it, but he didn’t really know how. As soon as it was safe, I pulled over to the side of the road, and called back. The administrator said she was so sorry, but Mom had passed away. It had been less than thirty minutes since I had left. She died alone, quietly in her room, and was found by the nurse who had just checked on her. I must trust God called her Home in His own perfect time.

“I’ll turn right around and be there in twenty minutes,” I told the administrator. Circling back through those same roundabouts, a different direction this time, symbolic of my own life. I pulled up next to my father’s house, retracing the same tire prints in the snow I had left only ten minutes before. Again, I left the car running, and walked into my dad’s house without knocking.

He turned around in surprise. “Did you forget something?” I shook my head. “No, Dad. I got a call. Mom went to Heaven.” I think we must have hugged. I stood by his TV and asked him if he wanted to call my brother, or if I should, and he indicated that I should. I called my husband after. I told him, now that he had his medications, we should go back to the nursing home and meet with the mortuary, or whatever it was that people do after their loved one dies. As he packed a few things, I went to Mom’s closet and poked around to find something pretty for her wear in the casket. I had in mind a particular black and white dress, but it was nowhere to be found. In fact, nothing in her closet seemed familiar. Aside from losing over one hundred pounds, in the past three years, she’d lived in her own house (but had lost the ability to organize anything), my house, the first nursing home, and the second nursing home. I guess most the clothing that I remembered her in had gotten lost in that shuffle, or didn’t fit any longer. But, there was one gem left, hanging precariously from a gnarled, rusted, wire hanger with some yarn twisted on it: her peach swirled mother-of-the-groom dress from my brother’s wedding.

As I pulled it out of the closet, I remembered her sitting in front of the mirror in my hotel room, the morning of that wedding, wearing this dress. I was brushing her soft, thin brown hair, dusted with just a few greys. She was bubbling with excitement. I took her glasses off her face and set them on the faux-marble countertop, gleaming in the fluorescent overhead light, so I could gather up a few stray hairs into the french twist I had made for her. I had side-swept her bangs, a brand new look for her, and she smiled into the mirror with eagerness.

But when I once again entered her nursing home room, she was neither smiling, nor eager. Silence saturated the room: the CD player had finished its hymns. I wondered what song had been playing when she died. I’ll have to remember to ask in Heaven. I reached out to touch her hand, and flash-backed to touching her own mother’s hand after she had died. But then, Mom had been with me, alive. Now, her hand was stiff, but still warm. Her face, and even her body, looked the same in death as in life. Only, she wasn’t breathing. I waited. After 43 hours of watching her stop breathing, and breathe once again, I expected another breath. It never came. Her respirations had finally come to an end. In this life, she would never breathe again.

Death is a spiritual birth into Heaven, but it is also much like earthly birth, in reverse. Labor pains one moment, an unimaginable life transition the next. A visible life one moment, an invisible life the next. My labor with my first child lasted the same number of hours I spent with my mother as she was birthed into Heaven. Mom slipped into the hospital room at the last moment to view the first moments of life for her first grandchild. My two children slipped into the nursing home room to sit at the side of their beloved grandmother, to share her last moments moments of earthly life.

My dad went in search of some of his things that had been removed from the room in the hour we had been gone. I moved a chair so I could sit and keep holding her hand, my head tipped forward. My little son knelt by her knees poking up the blankets, and sobbed. So did I. We both felt deeply the joy and sorrow commingled in the moment.

Eventually, my neck ached from the awkward angle at which my head was hanging. I rubbed my wet cheeks with the backs of my hands, and got up. I wandered over to a box of correspondence which included dozens of letters I had written to Mom over the many months she lived here, our only communication between visits since she moved. I gathered the notes messily, some of them unopened, and stuffed them in my purse bag, not realizing until two months in the future that I would never again write her a letter.

A soft knock echoed from the door. It was a pastor from the local congregation who visited Mom regularly. He looked at me, confused. Apparently, when he entered the building, the staff had not informed him of her death. But, he could sense something wasn’t right. I said simply, “She died a few minutes ago,” and he walked away. I don’t remember seeing him again until the funeral.

A woman from the funeral home came by. It was time to take Mom’s body away, as God had taken her soul. I was surprised: so many people referred to her body as if it were her self. “It’s time to take your mom to the funeral home.” Wait. Mom’s body is here, but here essence isn’t. And yet, her body was all I had left of her for over a year, as her mind became clouded. Many times, while she lived, I fought offense when people said she was not herselfwhen certainly she was no one else, only the same person fighting an awful disease. Now that her spirit had been freed from her illness, it was deeply important to me that her body not be called her self, only her body.

Others had warned that I would not want to be present as Mom’s body was hoisted onto the gurney and jerked away. But, I was compelled to stay. It was all so unreal; her body looked the same living as dead, save for an unpredictable breath. But for closure, I needed to see it. And, it turned out, the coroner actually needed me! Though Mom’s body was emaciated, moving it still ought to have been the gentle job of more than one person. I fumbled by her body’s feet to press a button and raise the bed as high as it could go. The coroner fully unzipped the black bag on the gurney, nearly turning it inside out as it hung from the stainless steel platform, and spread out a crisp white sheet from within to cover all the unwelcoming black plastic. She said first I would lift the legs, and then she would lift the shoulders, and we awkwardly deposited Mom’s body on the sheet, on the bag, on the cart. The woman respectfully wrapped the white sheet around her, and slowly pulled up the black bag, zipping it. I panicked for a moment—surely she can’t breathe in there! But, I remembered that she no longer needed to breathe, for her spirit had been taken to God.

Over the body bag, the coroner gingerly arranged a colorful quilt, which from my perspective, served no obvious purpose except to hide the fact that there was a lifeless body inside. The breasts of the woman who had nursed me, hands of the woman who brushed my hair, the arms of the woman who held me, were so useless that a heartless world could only tolerate them in an oversized garment bag. I followed behind the gurney-pushing-woman, who seemed more familiar with the nursing home layout than I had ever been. As she opened the facility door, the cold wind whipped at us. She asked that I get some clothes together for her viewing, and that she wouldn’t drive away without them.

I had already picked out the dress. But what else did she need? The body of the mother who had labored and birthed me, washed my bottom, wiped my nose, and rocked me gently, both as a baby and a heart-broken young woman: that body needed clothes for the resurrection. I went through her drawers and stuffed several options into a canvas bag, hoping at least some of it would be appropriate. But I could not find appropriate footwear anywhere.

I braved the cold gusts and returned to the coroner in the parking lot, noting that the body and the cart must have been put in the trunk already, for they were nowhere to be seen. Awkwardly, I shoved the bag toward her, asking if she would also be at the funeral, desperate for a maternal influence in a lonely, raw, and novel situation. She assured me she would be there if she was available. As she opened the driver’s side door to the hearse, I suddenly realized that bodies in caskets often wear jewelry, but Mom had none. I quickly instructed the coroner to wait, while I unhooked the cross necklace around my own neck, a gift from my husband and children. Off of my wrist, I pulled a bracelet she had given me, years and years ago. Surely, Mom was already decked out in a glorious white robe, but I still wanted her to have something beautiful in her casket. As a girl, I always used to borrow her jewelry, and so, it would be fitting for her to borrow mine. She could always give it back, when she walks barefooted to find me, when we next meet on the Last Day.

Forever with the Lord 2019 0002

Funeral Preparations

After the coroner left, the rest of the day was a fog. Over the phone, we set up a meeting time for the next day at the funeral home to go over details, but the funeral was set for Saturday. We called my brother, and he would drive over in the morning to make it to the meeting in the afternoon. I dropped my father off at his house, again, and drove to the store to buy some food to bring to my aunt’s since we would be staying for the rest of the week. I remember in the dingy checkout line, placing our packages on the conveyor belt, my son asked me if Grandma could see us now. I responded that I don’t know what God allows people in Heaven to see, but that she probably had a lot more exciting things to do than watch us in Walmart, like meeting Jesus and getting reacquainted with her own parents. And, meeting my miscarried babies, I thought.

That night at my aunt’s, I dreamed there were evil people trying to take advantage of my mother, and I desperately tried to protect her, but couldn’t. How happy I was, when I awoke, that now no evil can pain her, that nothing can separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For the past few years, I struggled to speak of Mom in the present tense, not the past tense. She was living, though our relationship was drastically changed. Now, I no longer needed to fight that verbal battle, for her earthly life was truly past. It felt surreal to be grieved, though our most recent relationship was unchanged by death. It had been years since we could communicate the way healthy people talk, or share normal interpersonal intimacy.

My brother had already written my mother’s obituary during the last days of her life, save the date of her death. I had expected I would do such a thing, and perhaps would need to do such a thing for my own sake, but I found myself relieved and grateful that he had done it. The funeral director praised his obituary, saying it was the finest one he had seen done without coroner assistance. I felt proud of my brother, having shared so much of this journey with him. We chose hymns and readings with the pastor. Others talked about the meal and the myriad but necessary fine details involved in any large social gathering. People need to eat, even at a funeral. But the hymns and the readings were the only thing I really cared about. That, and keeping peace between family members.

The next day, my brother and I emptied the nursing home room where Mom had lived. I filled a few totes with things I wanted to save or give away to family members. But most of the items in that room had little sentimental value, having only been part of her recent life there. I desperately desired tangible memories of Mom in the form of her belongings, but they were not to be found in that room. I am not certain, but I believe the items of my childhood with her are in a storage unit somewhere. I am sad that I cannot have them now. Perhaps they will again be mine someday, and bathe me in the comfort of memories with her. I’m sure if I ever find them, there will be many tears on that day.

Saying Good-Bye

Two days later, the surviving family gathered in the vestibule of the same church where Mom was baptized, confirmed, married, and buried her two parents, and the funeral director closed her casket in the front of church. We were reciting the Lord’s Prayer. All I could think was, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you. Thank you.” I did not actually have thankful heart, only a desperate heart, a heart convinced that thanksgiving is the only antidote to negative emotion. My most precious memories, both good and bad, are preserved only by giving thanks in the gift of a moment.

Our Heavenly Father comforted me through His Word in a way that only He could at the funeral. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23). “I know that my Redeemer lives...and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God,” (Job 19). “Praise the Lord...who forgives all your sins and heals all your disease, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,” (Ps. 103). “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him....In all things, we are more than conquerors,” (Rom. 8). “I believe in… the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

My oldest daughters brought along piano music which they had played before the funeral. They hadn’t rehearsed for this moment; rather, their whole life prepared them to share this gift with everyone in attendance. My oldest daughter worked with her siblings, cousins, and the organist to share “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb,” the same lullaby Mom sang for me as a baby, the same lullaby we sang for her when she lived in my home. “And when my short life is ended, by His angel hosts attended, He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.” We also sang one of her favorites, “Children of the Heavenly Father.” “God his own doth tend and nourish; In His holy courts they flourish. From all evil things He spares them; In his mighty arms He bears them. ...Though He giveth or He taketh, God His children ne’er forsaketh; His the loving purpose solely to preserve them pure and holy.” Many times, I told my children the story of singing that song as a child with Grandma, wondering what kind of creature a ‘purpasolee’ was. Later, a child told me he expected God had created a ‘purpasolee’ just for Grandma in Heaven, and she would be giddy with excitement to introduce me to it when I got there someday!

In some ways, it seemed unfaithful to be happy at Mom’s visitation and funeral, but it was truly joyful to see so many friends and loved ones. When I realized such a feeling was a foretaste of a Heavenly reunion, I felt the balm of a conscience released. Surrounded by family and friends, my heart felt almost entirely happy for her gain. To think: when she and I meet again, she will remember everything! In a complete role reversal, my earthly mind is the foggier of our two minds, and finally, everything is clear for her!

The casket was wheeled out of the church, and hoisted down the stairs by dear relatives. The darkness of the old-fashioned stairwell was not apparent until the double-doors to the outside were thrown open. The hearse was waiting to envelop Mom’s casket. And so was the earth. At her grave site, muddy snow squished beneath my feet. I touched the light blue velvety floral pattern on the casket for the last time. From dust we came, and from dust we shall return (Gen. 3). Lord, none of life has any meaning, apart from the Resurrection! Our hope is in you.

Long-Term Reflections

The day after her funeral, exactly one week after I had left my own church and driven to be with her, I worshiped in her home church, where they celebrated All Saints’ Day, and gave thanks to God for her faithful life and death. We also sang, “Jerusalem the Golden.” Two All Saints’ Days, celebrated on two slightly different church calendars, with two different melodies for “Jerusalem.” Celebration of all the Saints Triumphant, which now included Mom, book ended a week of immeasurable grief and joy.

When Mom died, I wasn't so much sad that she died, as I was sad that she ever had dementia to begin with. Yet, even when her mind was gone, I still had her body, at least—I could hold her hand, stroke her hair. I knew she would have reciprocated and communicated if she had only been able. As the weeks since her death have passed, sometimes, my body aches with loneliness. God seems so far away, so unreal. I desperately want my Mom, her physical presence. What good is a powerful God who isn't even here to comfort me physically, to take away my pain?

When I feel this way, the Holy Spirit sets my skewed record straight, and I remember: Christ is with me bodily, physically, to be my strength and comfort. That's what His incarnation is all about: God taking flesh. The pain I feel, Christ felt so many times on earth, as He wept for Jerusalem, for Lazarus. He gave His own body to death for me, and feeds me physically, in an astounding way, with His true body and blood. There's no intimacy or strength or comfort greater than that. Yet, when I commune, it is not with Christ alone, but with all the saints who have gone before, including Mom. She and I are still connected physically, through Jesus, and will be united once again because His death redeems my own, and His rising from death will raise me, too. While this reminder doesn't completely make the pain go away, it is still a good, good salve: one day, He will make all things right, and there will be no more tears.

The memoir I have just shared is a sort of grasping to fill the role of record-keeper that my mother once filled. I desperately want to hold on to all the details, afraid that someday, my memory may fail, just as hers did. And not only did her memory fail, her body failed, too. The grasping to save precious memories is not just what drives me, but the earth-shattering certainty that, unless Jesus comes back first, my useless, lifeless body will one day lie in the cold ground, just as hers does. The truth is that just as Mom’s respirations failed, in the end, mine will, too.

And yet, her respirations have only just begun! The same dictionary entry that says “Respiration, from the Latin ‘re-’ meaning again and ‘spirare,’ to breathe,” also notes, “See ‘spirit’.” Mom’s soul, her spirit, is truly alive, in Heaven this very moment! It is easy to think of Heaven in an ethereal way because we cannot see it, somewhere “out there,” almost as if it were imaginary. But, God tells us it is real. There are real people there carrying out real actions in real time. There, more than ever before, all the believers in Christ are truly infused with the breath of life—the Holy Spirit! Her respirations on earth have finished, and God has called her home. But now, the ultimate life, the Life that the disease in her body ached for, has finally awakened her spirit! Now, Mom resides with the True Record-Keeper, Who knows all things from eternity, Whose memoirs, beginning with the Book of Life, have only begun to be recorded.

Special thanks to my dear friend, Sarah Schlicht, at Fresh Frame Photography for the photo.


Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).


'Tis the Season To Be...Ailing?

Ask anyone which season is filled with the most sickness, and the answer will be "winter!" Winter is often associated with illness, and research supports this! But, why would winter "cause" illness? What can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Why Are Illnesses So Common In Winter?

While it might seem like only an urban legend that illness increases in the winter, there are actually a number of reasons for an association between the onset of illness and the cyclical changes this time of year. Let's take a look at them.

1. Decrease of Sunlight

If you live in a Northern latitude, the season of winter has notably fewer hours of daylight than summer. Lack of sunlight (and lower temperatures) leads to fewer opportunities to soak up the sun, which means less production of Vitamin D for your body. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to respiratory problems and chronic infection. In fact, some researchers theorize that lack of Vitamin D explains the seasonal rhythm of the influenza virus.

How to combat this issue:

  • Food. The National Institutes of Health encourages people to get most of their Vitamin D through natural food sources. The flesh of fatty fish, such as salmon, is a wonderful way to add Vitamin D to the diet. Egg yolks are another source of Vitamin D. Some research suggests that the Vitamin D in animal products is more potent than in other foods.
  • Supplements. Cod Liver Oil is an excellent supplement  for natural Vitamin D (and also Vitamin A, which is important for the immune system), and has been used throughout history as a panacea for good health. Look for sources from pure waters, so the oil is not contaminated with heavy metals. Members of my family use this brand of cod liver oil daily. Supplements of Vitamin D can be bought inexpensively. Do use with caution, however, to avoid side-effects from too much Vitamin D.

2. Increased Sugar Consumption

Celebrating the holidays, for most of us, includes many indulgent treats. Starting with the sugar-laden door-to-door collection that our kids bring home on Halloween, through the decadent desserts of Thanksgiving and the cookies of Christmas, to the extra alcoholic beverages on New Year's Eve, research from Cornell University demonstrates that holiday weight gain is real. With the average American consuming over 150 lbs of it each year, sugar can cause immune disruption, as well as a host of other health challenges.

How to combat this issue:

  • Choose Treats Wisely. While there may certainly be a place for sweets in celebration, moderation is key. As delicious as an extra helping of dessert may be, is it worth risking the sore throat or cold a few days later? Also, beware of the harms of sugar substitutes. Make a majority of your indulgences whole foods.
  • Focus on a Healthy Diet.  Include rich nutrient-dense meats and healthful fats in your meals with friends and family to enjoy tasty food without immunity compromise.
  • Consider Intermittent Fasting. IF is a power tool which encourages the consumption of all of one's calories within a few hours of each day. Those who practice it find many health benefits, including decreased inflammation. It may also help you kick the craving for sweets, as your body heals from the hard work of digestion for most of the hours each day.

3. Increased Stress

Holidays ought to be a time of joy and celebration; but for most people, they also include a fair amount of stress in the form of shopping, planning, baking, interaction with distant relatives, and more. Not only does chronic stress contribute to a depressed immune system, it may also lead to poor digestion at a time of year when we indulge more than usual, which means fewer nutrients absorbed.

How to combat this issue:

  • Simplicity. Plan ahead to focus on the meaning of this season. It's okay not to have elaborate meals and dozens of gifts.
  • Self-Care. Getting enough rest and exercising regularly help your body deal with stress. (Just don't stress about not getting enough sleep or forgetting to exercise!) You could also experiment with stress-relieving breathing techniques.
  • Essential Oils. Essential oils are concentrated liquids from plant sources that are effective by means of the frequency of the oil. They can promote relaxation and healing by their ability to bypass the blood-brain barrier. Many essential oils are calming and may relieve stress, such as lavender and frankincense. Many essential oils can also kill air-borne viruses and bacteria.
  • Consider supplements. If you aren't able to relieve stress in the ways listed above, consider adaptogenic herbs or supplements to support your adrenal system on a short-term basis.

4. Low Humidity and Temperatures

Winter air is dry air. Research has connected low humidity with increased respiratory illness. However, if one tries to combat low humidity by making the air too humid, it can backfire by creating a perfect environment for mold. The ideal humidity, neither too high nor too low, will be good for you and bad for pathogens, such as the flu virus.

How to combat this issue:

A Wellness Toolbox For Your Family

Aside from implementing the solutions listed above, here are some general wellness tools to consider for your family. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, as well as children, should consider these with caution and in conjunction with a health care provider.

Vitamin C/Zinc

This combination reduces the severity and duration of the common cold, with little to no side-effects. Further, taking a daily C supplement may help your body produce collagen, which is excellent for nail and hair health.


Elderberry has been used as a folk remedy for thousands of years. Moreover, science has now shown that elderberry compound can kill the flu virus in a laboratory. It also seems to reduce the duration of colds.


Echinacea is an herb used to reduce the likelihood of catching a cold, as well to shorten the duration of colds, among other health benefits.


Numerous studies show that probiotics play a key role in boosting the immune system.

Hand Hygiene

 The Centers for Disease Control state that handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent yourself and your family from getting sick. Don't eschew this easy and effective wellness choice! (Pro Tip: Hand sanitizer is not an equal substitute!)


Immunoprophylaxis is the attempt to prevent disease by the act of innoculation, also known as vaccination. While there are many preventative means for supporting the immune system, vaccination is in a vastly different catagory than natural support for the immune system; there is strong evidence that vaccinations cause many serious side-effects. The concerns regarding vaccination for prevention of the flu are numerous. First, real influenza is a respiratory virus that produces a fever, not a "stomach bug." Influenza shots and mists are helpless to fight this kind of illness. Second, proponents of the flu vaccine will claim that it is "safe and effective," but show little evidence to support this, with a vast majority of studies compared to other vaccines, rather than a true placebo. In fact, scientific studies show a) that repeat flu shots increase the risk of contracting the flu, b) that children who received the shot were 3 times more likely to be hospitalized and 4 times more likely to develop a respiratory infection, c) that the supposedly safe ingredient in the flu shot called ethylmercury has a higher concentration in the brain and longer half-life than methylmercury, and d) that it has a low efficacy rate and little safety evidence for young children. In the face of all of this evidence, talk to your doctor about whether it is really a good choice for your family. Making use of many of the tools above (especially vitamin D and Elderberry!) should leave you confident in the face of illness, not victimized, as vaccine manufacturers would have you feel.

Sick Anyway?

Sometimes even the best preventation can't stop an illness. Remember, though, that many illnesses' durations can be shortened with some of the supplements listed above. Also, your diet is vital for healing. Stay hydrated with herbal teas, spring water, and ginger kombucha (and skip the high-fructose corn syrup lemon lime sodas). Get some protein with gelatin stirred into antioxident rich juices (and skip the sugar-laden dye-heavy Jello)! Make your own stock by boiling a whole chicken in water in a covered pot on the stove for a few hours (and skip the canned noodle soup).


Wishing your family good health this jolly holiday season! (3 John 2)

(Please see our disclaimer on the bottom of this page regarding medical advice.)



Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).


Excerpt from Mothering Many: Allowance

Here's an interesting excerpt from Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or MoreEnjoy the variety of responses and real-life ways that moms make allowance work for their families (or not)!

What are your ideas about whether or not children should receive allowance?

  • I don’t think allowance should be based on doing chores. I think if you’re going to give an allowance, then give it. But, do not loan any money for extras. Chores are simply required because you live with your family.—Shannon
  • I think children should have an allowance so they will learn about managing money. I also want them to learn how to tithe. However, I don’t think large amounts are appropriate. I’m thinking about starting my 5- and 7-year-olds at around $1.50 a week. Obviously this topic isn’t hugely important to me, or I already would have implemented it, but it is something I want to try.—Kate
  • Ours are too young for this, but we do want them to learn the value of a dollar. We have started some introductory work in this area by giving them a little money to spend when we hit garage sales. I also give them the opportunity to sell me the candy they receive from people. And if they don’t sell it to me, I just throw it away after they go to bed! Mwa, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!—Betsy
  • I’m not sure about this one; it’s always confused me a little. Kids shouldn’t be paid to breathe, and everyone has to chip in to keep things in working order. If you eat here, you work here. On the other hand, who doesn’t like getting rewarded for a job well done? We all do! The older kids have small jobs they get paid for outside of home. This summer, I’m paying my 11-year-old daughter to be my gardener. She’s in the middle of four boys though, so I feel like she does so many other things automatically, and this is one way I can reward her.—Karina
  • I’m not against allowance, but I don’t see the need for it in our family. Plus, we just don’t have the finances to do it. I think it’s more important to show the children how to work hard for the family. Our children are needed.—Sheri
  • My husband is a financial planner and this is how we handle allowance. We pay each child, once they turn 3 years old, a set allowance on the 15th each month. For instance, our 3-year-old would get $3 a month. Ten percent of the total amount goes for tithe (30 cents). Half of the gross amount ($1.50) automatically goes to his savings account at my husband’s work. This savings can be used for education, house down payment, or business start-up costs, as an adult. The rest ($1.20) he has to spend on his own. Because our children have all their needs and wants pretty much met, they usually just have me keep their money in their account. Lately, they’ve been saving for family vacation treats and extra things that would not be paid for by us, like souvenirs. In the Parable of the Talents, the master gave the servants “talents” which could also be viewed as allowance, since it wasn’t payment for a job. It was a “test” to see what they would do with their master’s money. The servants spent, buried, or invested that money and each received his reward for his actions. In the same way, we give our children part of our income. My husband instructs them on the hows and whys of using money properly. But in the end they either spend wisely or unwisely and each will eventually receive their “just reward” for their spending actions. As far as working outside the home, we don’t really want our children doing that, so that’s not an option with our own family’s values and vision.—Lissa
  • We don’t do allowance. They help because we all live here. Don’t get me wrong; the kids don’t do all the work while I read a book or visit with friends. We all work together and all play together. They rotate with what they do. They all understand that the more they help, the more time there is for fun.—Amy
  • First, we do a stewardship class with them. Right now, they each get one dollar’s worth of dimes on Monday; if I have to do something for them that they can or should do for themselves, they lose a dime. If there’s any money left on Sunday, they split it between church and savings.—Dana
  • We don’t do allowance. Our philosophy on this has evolved over the years. But, I believe we are definitely settled on it now. Basically, any chores we would do ourselves that benefit the entire family are the responsibility of the entire family to work together (or individually) to get done. Any chores that we would hire someone else to do (like going to a car wash), we could instead hire one of our children to do. This provides an opportunity to teach them and give them an apprentice-type job that they can learn from. We have paid our 10-year-old to mow the lawn because my husband wanted to hire a gardener to do it. She is learning to be efficient and do a good job and hopefully will be able to work for someone else in the same way someday. We have also not paid the agreed amount if the job was not done properly—also a learning experience! It takes time, but it’s worth it! We also pay our 13-year-old to babysit for our date night once a week. She has been doing this for 2 years and makes $1 per child per hour. It’s a deal for us and a deal for her since she couldn’t find a job at 13 that pays that much! She has learned from this experience, but it has required us to keep a close eye on the process to make sure it was done to our standard.—Tina
  • We’re still trying to decide about this. We’d love to hear ideas on the subject.—Laurie
  • I tell my children there are things we are rewarded for on earth and some just in heaven.—Diana
  • We will probably put something in place at some point, but aren’t doing it yet. We are not opposed to the idea. We think it helps them to appreciate money and learn to use it wisely. It can also be helpful as a motivator, depending on how you set it up.—Sarah


The Value of Thinking in Latin before Age Ten

My just-shy-of-ten-years-old son, at 6:40 a.m on a Saturday, arising at that hour of his own volition, was working through this Latin sentence at the dining room table:

“Volo cum discipulis meis Pascha facere.”

“Pascha” he knows to mean “Easter.”

“Facere” he knows to mean “to do or to make.”

That didn’t make sense, so he asked for help.

→ Click to Continue Reading →


"Let It Go" Lutheran Parody


The music sounds rich at Mt. Olive today,

Every member can be seen.

A kingdom of Norwegians, and it looks like she’s the queen.

The usher’s pointing folks to the front pew inside.

(He) Couldn’t fill it in, Heaven knows he tried.

Do let them in, do let them see.

We’ve got donuts, hotdish, and coffee.

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know:

I love jell-o.


Let it go, let it go!

Can’t hold it back anymore.

Let it go, let it go!

I love the Book of Con-cord.

I don’t care what they’re going to say.

I’m a Luth-er-an.

Ole and Lena never bothered me anyway.


It’s funny how forgiveness

Makes earthly things seem small.

And the guilt that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all.


It’s time to learn what God can do.

This is most certain-ly true--

Learn right from wrong, What does this mean?

I’m free!


Let it go, let it go.

I’m not one with the wind and sea.

Let it go, let it go.

We’ll not have heresy!

Here I stand, life-long Lutheran.

Let the world rage on…


God’s power flurries through the air, it’s all around.

My soul, it once was utterly lost, but now is found.

And one thought crystallized like an icy blast:

I’m never going back, my sin is in the past!


Let it go, let it go!

I’ll rise on the last dawn.

Let it go, let it go.

That guilty girl is gone.

Here I stand, God’s child I say!


Let Satan rage on:

The lutefisk never bothered me anyway.

This parody was written a few years ago in preparation for a talent show advertised in my church bulletin, which I later learned was actually for the Christian Day School children, so I never performed it! I recently rediscovered it while cleaning out my files. You're welcome for getting the song stuck in your head!


Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).