Mother Mary

My elderly mother-in-law is doing chair yoga while simultaneously slurping a giant milkshake. She moves her upper body, holding senior-citizen-friendly poses, pausing between positions to take noisy slurps from a five-gallon cup.

If I’m being honest, this is highly entertaining. Because every time the TV instructor says, “Now point your jaw to the sky, stretch your neck, release all toxic energy, visualize stress leaving your body, your body is a temple that…” he is interrupted.

SLUUUUURRRRRP! goes Mother Mary with her vanilla milkshake.

Then she resumes her yogic sun salutation.

Milkshakes are a vital piece of Mary’s diet right now because she’s been losing a lot of weight lately. Nobody really knows why she’s been dropping pounds. All anyone knows is that one day her weight was normal; and the next day she was slight.

So Mary’s nurses and caregivers devised a way to get extra calories into her body. They started spiking her milkshakes with Ensure packets, vitamins, and other essential nutrients which have transformed each shake into a glorified bucket of Quikrete.

Mother Mary’s arms look much smaller than I’ve ever seen them. So do her legs. Her body is leaner than it was a few months ago. And she’s in pain. Sometimes Mary’s caregivers roll her wheelchair around in the house and I can hear Mary moan because her knees are killing her. It’s even worse when they bathe her.

But otherwise, she is the same Mary. Her dry, almost imperceptible sense of humor is still intact. She can still remain quiet for long periods before unleashing a subtle zinger that will fly over the heads of her unsuspecting victims. Such as:

“This bourbon and Coke tastes all wrong. I don’t want to taste the Coke.”

And: “Oh, doesn’t your new haircut make you look so much better than your last one.”

This kind of humor grows on you. Because you’re never really sure if it is humor.

Lately we could all use some humor. Especially since Mary’s family called hospice to begin caring for her this week.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not because she’s ill, and she’s certainly not bad off. It’s nothing like that. But right now Mother Mary needs more day-to-day care than she’s been getting, and hospice is the best way for that to happen.

The hospice people are cheerful and helpful. They have the happy, easygoing dispositions you’d expect from people of their caliber. Some of them would make excellent chair yoga instructors.

The funny thing is, in the past I’ve written dozens of columns about hospice nurses. But this is the first time they’ve ever been involved in our personal lives. I now realize that everything I’ve ever heard about them is true. They really are heaven sent.

Still, everyone is a little nervous about what this means, having hospice in the house. Yesterday, for example, everyone sat in the living room while a hospice person explained the situation to Mary.

The nurse explained that hospice was here to keep her comfortable, and for us not to misinterpret her circumstances as “terminal.” This helped put everyone at ease. But I noticed that my wife never stopped wringing her hands.

Next the hospice chaplain visited. And even though he was a great guy, the undeniable fact was, a hospice chaplain was visiting the house. Which makes you stop and think.

Then a hospice social worker visited.

Afterward, my wife interviewed a few more caregivers.

Then a guy delivered a Hoyer hydraulic lift.

Then came a new oxygen system.

Growing elderly is very busy work.

When the hospice people finally left, a cloud of sadness lingered over the house. And even though everyone knows nothing is wrong, there are changes on a distant horizon.

That night before bed, my wife rolled into my arms and cried. She tucked her head into my shoulder and her tears wet my shirt. She didn’t have the stamina to weep for very long, for she was too exhausted. All I could do was hug her. I had no words.

Amazingly, over supper the next night, Mother Mary was upbeat. This magnificent woman showed not even a trace of self-pity or worry for herself. She sat across the table from me, smiling. Slurping her milkshake.

“Are you comfortable, Mother?” said my wife, adjusting her mother’s wheelchair.

“I’m fine.”

SLUUUUURRRRRRP!

“Do your knees hurt, Mother?”

“Ha. Do they?”

SLUUUUURRRRRRP!

I watched my wife try so hard to be a good daughter. I watched her attempt to maintain a cheery face, even though I know she is breaking inside. Because none of us knows where life is taking us. And to make matters worse, there is a pandemic going on.

But if you could only see what I see this morning, a cheerful Mother Mary, with her cotton-white hair, and her slender arms, doing chair yoga. It is a blessing to behold.

I watch her move her head slowly in circles. Next she rotates her shoulders gently. She stretches her arms toward the ceiling. Eyes closed. Smile tacked to her face. Breathing in. Exhaling.

This woman is not afraid of anything. She imbues her strength to us all somehow. I don’t know how such a thing is possible, but she shares her bravery with us. She does this without fanfare or speeches or overbaked religious clichés.

This woman simply remains the silent pillar of her household, the same way she has been doing since she began this family. The same way she will continue doing long after the sun burns out and the stars cease to shine. Because this is what mothers do. And that’s what she will always be. Our lovely Mother Mary.

Just keep those milkshakes coming.

59 comments

  1. Gloria Rose - February 5, 2021 6:35 am

    It’s been more than five years since hospice helped my stepmother with her final two years. All of the caregivers became family and were a welcomed visitor. Her minister said he couldn’t handle visiting the ill in their homes so the chaplain was not only a source of spiritual comfort during his twice a month calls, but he actually talked to her and asked questions about her early life and how she had outlived two husbands. He spent so much time with her, we asked him to preach her funeral when the time came and he made it a true celebration of her life. The end did come as we all knew it must, but Rachel had 93 years, 2 months, and 14 days of service to her family and her God and one afternoon of unconsciousness but no pain. I will continue to thank God in my prayers for all the staff of Crater Community Hospice did to give her care, love, and a smile.

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  2. Nancy M - February 5, 2021 6:37 am

    Praying for Mother Mary, for Jamie, and for you, Sean. Many more chuckles and tender memories. ❤️

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  3. Christina - February 5, 2021 6:46 am

    Even from a distance, I love Mother Mary and her dry humor. It’s no wonder that she is so dear to you all. I’m sending a big hug and wish I can do yoga in the room with her… I’d slurp my own drink too!

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  4. Bob Assink - February 5, 2021 6:47 am

    I love reading your columns! Many years ago I lost a great deal of weight and was getting quite thin. When I saw my GP about the situation, he said I was working too hard (I think he probably was right.) He prescribed a malted milk each day for six months. The malt powder is important for weight gain. I followed his advice and regained my normal weight. I still love malted milks, but now need to avoid them when possible to keep my weight in check. I no longer have a problem with being too thin. Maybe changing Mary’s shakes to malts would help her gain back some of her lost weight. It’s worth a try–and every bit as delicious! ~~Bob

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  5. Maureen A - February 5, 2021 6:49 am

    Keeping you all in my prayers.

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  6. Linda Chapman - February 5, 2021 7:32 am

    God bless you, your wife and Mother Mary! Tell her she is my role model!

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  7. jeanhogan1248 - February 5, 2021 9:47 am

    Keep the hugs ready for Jaime when she needs them – no words necessary.

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  8. Ann - February 5, 2021 12:18 pm

    Living isn’t easy, but the wonderful hospice angels make living out one’s life peaceful and give comfort for those surrounding loved ones….they are a blessing and all wear wings…

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  9. Heidi - February 5, 2021 12:20 pm

    Mother Mary’s indelible spirit will keep you all going. Just enjoy the treasure she is and keep your arms open for Jamie whenever she needs them. This will be one of the hardest times you all ever go through but also the sweetest. We love you all.❤️

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  10. nebraskannie - February 5, 2021 12:36 pm

    We all inevitably go through this if we’re lucky. I’m almost there now, and I don’t have wonderful children like you guys to help me through it. I do have a great nursing home, but that wouldn’t have been my first choice. You and your wife are doing a wonderful thing, even though it’s hard. Our love to you all….

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  11. Sandi. - February 5, 2021 12:48 pm

    Sean, it’s apparent that you love, enjoy and respect your mother-in-law. Sending up prayers for Mother Mary at this time, as well as for you and Jamie..

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  12. Pamela Mills - February 5, 2021 12:57 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to your mother in law! You always write about her with such love, even in your humorous accounts! Thank you for being an encouraging lifeline each morning, especially during these strange, uncertain days! God bless you! Prayers for your family💗🙏🙏💗

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  13. KAY JENKINS - February 5, 2021 12:59 pm

    Your Mother Mary “speaks words of wisdom” even when she doesn’t speak. God bless her and your family as you travel this path.

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  14. Susan Forte - February 5, 2021 1:02 pm

    Love and prayers to you all🙏♥️!

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  15. Barbara - February 5, 2021 1:07 pm

    I’ve been there, that hospice situation with a beloved, and what a blessing they were. I was scared — they were brave; I was a wreck — they were strong. During a very sad time, they were the center of our world, and their presence helped us find peace.

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  16. John - February 5, 2021 1:11 pm

    Thank you. What you say about the hospice nurses is true. My wife was under their care before she passed away last Fall.

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  17. Courtney Jones - February 5, 2021 1:16 pm

    It’s a hard place to be in…your love and support for each other is a beautiful thing. Your words have been such a gift to us over the years that y’all just feel like family. Praying for all of you with love.

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  18. Bob Brenner - February 5, 2021 1:22 pm

    What a very touching tribute to a special woman in your lives! Bless her and her family 🙏 ❤️

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  19. Jan - February 5, 2021 1:30 pm

    A loving tribute not only to a strong, loving woman but to her strong, loving family. Both are a blessing for each person touched by their presence and even those of us who get to share the blessing from a distance.
    Thank you, Sean. Thank you Mother Mary!

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  20. Debbie g - February 5, 2021 1:33 pm

    Very well said Jan. “Ditto” from me. Love to all !!!!❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  21. Suzanne Moore - February 5, 2021 1:42 pm

    Mother Mary sounds like someone I would love to know. Thank you for sharing her and yourselves with us. I will hold you all in my heart and in my prayers.

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  22. Cindy - February 5, 2021 1:55 pm

    Bless you and bless Jamie for such a treasure!

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  23. Jennings Philip - February 5, 2021 2:10 pm

    Hospice Angels. They all have wings and halos we can’t see. Hospice caregivers are comforting souls who give dignity to life.
    Mother Mary sees the road in front of her and is embracing the trip. She is a living example of how to live.
    Enjoy every moment, she is showing us how.
    Thank you Sean.

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  24. Rhonda - February 5, 2021 2:14 pm

    Praying for Mother Mary and your family!❤

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  25. Patricia Nichols - February 5, 2021 2:25 pm

    In 2007, we had just lost my brother in law to cancer. My 52 year old husband was battling 4th stage lung cancer and we had just been told by my mother’s doctor that her cancer had advanced so that he recommended hospice care. On my way to the hospital to meet with my sisters and the hospice nurse in my mother’s room, I finally reached my breaking point. I pulled my car over to the side if the road and prayed through my sobs, Lord send me an angel to strengthen me please! I pulled myself together and went on my way. We were in my mother’s room when we heard a soft tap on the door. “Hello” the young woman said. “I am your hospice nurse. My name is Angel.” I knew everything would be ok.

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  26. Eddy - February 5, 2021 2:48 pm

    ✝️🙏♥️

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  27. Susan Parker - February 5, 2021 2:51 pm

    Remembering y’all in my prayers, Sean

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  28. Molly - February 5, 2021 3:01 pm

    Beautiful words! It’s hard to watch someone grow old, but it’s a blessing too! Prayers for Mary’s strength for all of us!🤗

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  29. Louise Cammack - February 5, 2021 3:12 pm

    Sean, thank you for that beautiful tribute to “Mother Mary.” I especially love your ability to convey reality
    In a soothing, non threatening way. Continue to take care of Jamie. She needs you in a different way now.

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  30. Judy - February 5, 2021 3:20 pm

    Oh Sean. I’ve had the same experience with my dear mother. There are three of us girls and we d at rayed with her for three months while she made her final journey. You will be such a blessing to Jamie biblove you both and am praying for you

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  31. Helen De Prima - February 5, 2021 3:22 pm

    Brings back heartbreaking memories — and fears for the future.

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    • Janet Mary Lee - February 5, 2021 4:38 pm

      Helen, we are never lost. I hope you take some comfort in God and Jesus. He loves us all. Give your hard memories and fears to him whenever you need. He will always listen to the closest feelings of your heart. I too had many bad memories and fear for my future also. But this is now and missing out on that is too much a waste. There is always something beautiful to be found in the smallest moment. If you cannot find it, try to give one to someone else. I am not Blessed with a family like Sean’s …but I am Blessed. Prayers and thinking of you…

      Reply
  32. sunshine4078 - February 5, 2021 3:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing this time with us. I have enjoyed all the stories about this fiesty lady we know as Mother Mary! Prayers for Mother Mary, Jamie and you.

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  33. Jane - February 5, 2021 3:31 pm

    Love to all as you travel through this.

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  34. Bob E - February 5, 2021 3:53 pm

    Mother Mary is indeed a special person whose sense of humor is endearing and frankly incredible.
    God bless her and the entire family.

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  35. Charaleen Wright - February 5, 2021 3:54 pm

    💖

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  36. Betty - February 5, 2021 3:56 pm

    I was living with my very elderly parents when I asked for hospice help with my mother. Although she wasn’t terminal, I found it difficult to manage her daily care due to her dementia and other issues. These ladies were wonderful, managing to get her bathed and shampooed, which I could never do, making sure we had the right meds and equipment, taking charge of oxygen delivery, etc. My mom had a wicked sense of humor and she kept it until a few days before her death. She entertained her hospice workers and they loved her. She looked forward to them coming as did I. After her death, I felt the loss of those ladies in my life as they had become extended family.

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  37. Sharon Brock - February 5, 2021 4:09 pm

    Prayers for Mother Mary and for Jamie and yourself. Hospice nurses are fantabulous.

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  38. Wanda Purcell - February 5, 2021 4:14 pm

    I became a hospice social worker after experiencing the care of hospice through my mom’s final days. Last year my dad died while under hospice care, just as Covid-19 was getting cranked up. It is one of the greatest privileges to assist families in the final season of life. Hearing the stories and traditions that the patient holds so dear and helping them to remember all the wonderful parts of their life, while helping them reconcile any heartaches so that they may have a peaceful passing, is one of the things gives my life meaning. I often suggest capturing your loved one on audio or video, because hearing their voice during times of grief can be very comforting. I also photograph their hands and give this to the family. It always amazes me at how powerful this gift affects the family. You and Jamie are in my prayers and will remain there. Thank you for sharing Mother Mary with us.

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  39. Janet Mary Lee - February 5, 2021 4:42 pm

    What a beautiful way to address what is happening. You all continue to take care of each other and continue to take comfort in your love for each other. Prayers ongoing for Mother Mary, you, and especially Jamie and also all your family. What a richness of Blessing you share! Love you people!!!

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  40. Peggy Kelly - February 5, 2021 5:26 pm

    We went through that with my 87 mama about a year ago. Hospice is heaven sent, truly. Mama, a forty rear diabetic, could now have whatever she wanted to eat, favorite of all was a Chick-fil-a vanilla ice cream cone. She left us on August 15, 2020. I miss her❤️

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  41. Linda Weeks - February 5, 2021 5:54 pm

    Mary was always her own one of a kind. Continue to enjoy your time with her. As the Hospice angels work with her.
    Prayers for you all.

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  42. elizabethroosje - February 5, 2021 6:16 pm

    What a beautifully written essay Sean. I have added you, Jamie and Mother Mary to our 3x/day prayer list (either before or after meals depending on if the meal is hot already). I am so glad you have these wonderful ones in your home. I’ve been thinking of you all since I read this a few hours ago and praying along side of you.

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  43. Linda Moon - February 5, 2021 6:59 pm

    So, Mother Mary didn’t mind you watching her as she did her chair yoga? Hmmm….I’m trying to wrap my head around that. But, good for her for doing the yoga and the milkshake. I like her and her humor with zingers. My heart skipped a beat as I read the word “hospice”, though. And I cried just now. My good daughter and I travelled 1,684 miles in 2004 and 2007 to take care of each other. Yes, Sean, mothers and daughters do that. Tell Mother Mary that I love her. And I love her daughter, too!

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  44. Adrienne Johnson - February 5, 2021 7:12 pm

    In tears. My mom died in July 2018 at 91 & 1/2. She had dementia, fairly healthy, but had lost any idea of what was going on. We were familiar to her but she once said to an aid that she wondered who this gang was in the hall by her. It was my siblings. She was in a assisted living place. Hospice came towards the end and they were the best people. Nice, smiling and helpful. The Hospice chaplain came and was so good. Hospice is the best!

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  45. Elaine K Dempsey - February 5, 2021 7:47 pm

    Please tell Mother Mary she is in my prayers as well as the family. Tell her to keep slurping the milkshakes, doing her yoga and keeping you guessing. I hope she knows how very blessed she is to have family who love her and want the best for her.

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  46. Chasity Davis Ritter. Your friend - February 5, 2021 8:56 pm

    Oh Sean… I’ve prayed for Jamie’s mother once before but I shall add her to my regular prayer list which right now do to life has become a little long and one more on it will be ok. Hospice is such a wonderful organization even if the word seems scary at times. They do so very much for our loved ones and the people that work for them truly are angels. I’m trying to get my words right.. I know Mother Mary is still here and I don’t want to imply or say the wrong thing or sound negative or just be spouting platitudes. We don’t know the time or the day or the reasons for things that happen in Gods time and plan. With my Dad I saw a sign on the wall of someone’s office one day that said Cancer is only a word, not a sentence. I took great comfort in that even if I did lose my Dad. Others I know have gotten it and not left this earth they’ve had recovery and I am thankful for that. My Dad was healed just not on this side. I don’t know why it is that older people drop that weight. What changes in their metabolism if it’s not a sickness or disease that is robbing their nutrients. God tells us in the Bible that the body is just a vessel we won’t need it anymore. Maybe it’s a way of lightening the load. We won’t be as heavy to carry one day. Maybe it’s just parts of our body heading back to dust before we do. The earths way to recycle and rejuvenate. Ok that last part sound dumb even to me but I’m not gonna hit the back space key. Maybe in the way you’ve taught me to see things differently it’s the fact that we give so much of ourselves away in love and prayers and hugs (back when we could) and thinking of others later in our lives that our body disappears as those pieces of us are distributed out. That sounds like the best example of mother Mary’s weight loss to me from what you’ve written about her over the years. As a daughter myself I understand how dear Jamie is feeling as she sees her mother as wasting away physically even if not mentally. My dad was sharp as a tack even until the last week and was not afraid for he too knew where his home was gonna be. I understand Jamie’s pain at needing the help to be there for her mom feeling she isn’t enough to do it on her own. We had more family than y’all do and we needed help too. God puts those angels on earth their to help us physically because although HE is always there for us the physical parts as He helps us with our every need he sends those trained hospice angels for. Yes I’ll be praying for Mother Mary daily and for dear Jamie and my friend Sean. Don’t forget your four legged angels. They’re good for the. Soul too. Nothing like a dog head in your lap for physical therapy too. Sluuuuurp!!!

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  47. Wanda Willis - February 5, 2021 8:56 pm

    You post came at the perfect time for me. My husband and I are in our second week of caring for my mom in our home. It’s been two weeks of major adjustments for all three of us. Mama has dementia and just since Christmas, congestive heart failure. She’s had to move from her home of 40 plus years and our carefree coming and going has screeched to a halt. But it is an honor for us to care for her because she has always taken care of her family. I only hope when my turn comes to need help, it will be there for me.

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    • CherylW. - February 6, 2021 1:30 pm

      Wanda, please contact a recommended hospice. Many people don’t realize hospice offers paliative care also. They are wonderful angels with an overflowing heart for caring. We were able to have a non-profit hospice come in to my mother’s assisted living to care for her after she had a fall. She loved the daily contact. Please meet with hospice to see how they can help your mother AND you.

      Reply
  48. AlaRedClayGirl - February 5, 2021 9:02 pm

    Long live Mother Mary! You will never regret this time spent together even though it is difficult now. May Our Lord bless all you of and give you His strength.

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  49. Christopher Spencer - February 5, 2021 11:15 pm

    My heartfelt and sincere prayers for you all. I know God will be right beside each of you in this time. I pray He will comfort and strengthen each of you because all of you need His strength and comfort just as much as Mother Mary does.

    May God bless you all with His peace of heart, mind and soul. May you all know that the very moment that each of us who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior takes our last breath in this sinful world, we will wake up in His presence in Heaven and be there for eternity.

    Where there is no more illness, no more suffering, no more pain, no more tears of sorrow. Only endless joy and happiness and beauty unlike anything we have ever seen in this word.
    I love you all,
    Chris Spencer
    Echola, Alabama

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  50. Mary - February 6, 2021 1:44 am

    My father was in hospice for 3 years! It was a hard decision to make, but the right one. Hospice workers are angels sent by God to make this transition easier no matter how long it takes.

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  51. Ann Marie Bouchet - February 6, 2021 8:04 am

    Sean as a retired hospice nurse, thank you so much for your sweet words. Prayers for strength for.Mary and Jamie. Hospice.really will make things easier. Love.to.all.of you!

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  52. Patricia Gibson - February 6, 2021 4:06 pm

    Prayers for you all and what a blessing to have Mother Mary🙏❤️

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  53. johnallenberry - February 6, 2021 9:36 pm

    Praying for Mother Mary, and for Jamie, and for you, bud. God be with you.

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  54. Christopher Spencer - February 7, 2021 12:41 am

    Sean’s post kind of gives new meaning to the words from an old song. Jamie Martin Dietrich my love and prayers to you all sweet lady.
    Chris

    When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
    Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
    And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
    Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

    Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
    Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

    And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
    There will be an answer, let it be

    For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
    There will be an answer, let it be

    Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
    There will be an answer, let it be

    Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
    Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

    Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
    Whisper words of wisdom, let it be, be

    And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
    Shinin’ until tomorrow, let it be

    I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
    Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

    And let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
    Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

    And let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
    Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

    Source: Musixmatch

    Songwriters: Paul Mccartney / John Lennon

    Reply
  55. Blake - February 8, 2021 4:48 pm

    I have a soft spot in my heart for ladies like your Mary. Praying for her and your family.

    Reply
  56. Julie - February 15, 2021 10:28 pm

    Death can be Beautiful. That is what Hospice Nurses do, and they do it very well💙😇💙

    Reply

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