“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2 KJV)
Ethel Mae was a sweet 92-year-old woman with cancer that had spread to just about everywhere. Her pain on any day was horrific, but Ethel Mae refused anything more than a Tylenol, and the only time she was not smiling was when the thermometer was in her mouth. When I teased her about that, she was determined to try to smile with it in her mouth, which was not difficult at all for this joy-filled woman to do.
Professionals in white coats and foreign accents came in and very clinically tried to talk to Ethel Mae regarding her “code status,” using a vocabulary very unfamiliar to a 92-year-old woman from the south. Her life-long career had been that of a mother, wife, homemaker, broken heart mender. Home-made recipes, encouraging words saturated with love, advice only a mother or grandmother could give were words she was familiar with. But, “vasopressors, anti-arrhythmics, and chest compressions” were not words she understood. I watched silently as the one-sided conversation took place, and listened as Ethel Mae said “no” to “palliative care,” another word she did not understand.
I cared for Ethel Mae for three days. She had two daughters and a son who were followers of Christ. She had raised them well. They loved her, and took turns being at her side. Many times when I would come into the room, she would be reciting scripture aloud, with her eyes closed, and a huge smile on her face. On my third day she asked me, “What is today?” When I replied that it was Sunday, Ethel Mae, in her sweet, sweet, southern accent, said, “Girl! We need some praise music in here!”
I turned my phone on and played, “How Great Thou Art,” and gave Ethel Mae a bath while the song played over and over. She sang as loud as she could, tears running down her face, even through the pain as another gal and I turned her over to wash her back. Afterwards, she was still so full of the Holy Spirit, that she could not stop crying and smiling and repeating over and over, “Oh, Thou art SO GREAT! How GREAT Thou art!!!” Even hours later, she would put the call light on, and I would go in the room and Ethel Mae would say, “Rita! GOD IS SOOO GREAT!!” and I would laugh with her and say, “Yes, He is, Ethel Mae, He really, really is!”
Ethel Mae then told me, “You know, I’m going home soon, and the Lord has prepared a beautiful mansion for me!” I laughed and smiled with her and said, “I know, Ethel Mae, and I hope when I get there, that we are neighbors!” She then told me that her mansion would have a great big kitchen to can fruit and cook for all of her family members. I told her mine would have a wrap-around porch. She then said, “Well, you are going to need two rocking chairs on that porch, girl! Because I am going to come over and we are going to sit on your porch and sing “HOW GREAT THOU ART!” And at this point, Ethel Mae had ME in tears!
We hugged, and we talked about letting go, and what a good job she had done raising her children, and how comforting it must be to know that they will all be in heaven with her some day. Ethel Mae then asked me if maybe I could tell the doctors she would like to stop fighting and just “go home.”
Just then, a coworker came into the room and I introduced her to my sweet patient. Ethel Mae took her hand, looked her in the eyes, and asked her if she knew Jesus. When my friend smiled and said, “Yes!” Ethel Mae then looked at me and said, “Girl, we are going to need ANOTHER rocking chair on that porch!”
Later that night, Ethel Mae’s daughter came in to sit by her side. During that time, she must have shared with her about the song she heard and the story about our mansions, the wrap-around porch and the rocking chairs, because as the daughter was leaving, she came and found my friend and I, leaned over the counter at the nurse’s desk, and whispered to us, “I’m leaving for the evening now, but I just wanted to tell you girls that I’ll be seeing you on the porch some day! Yeah, that’s right. We are going to need ANOTHER rocking chair, because I’m coming to sing too!”
Ethel Mae went to hospice the following day and went to be with the Lord that evening. I will ALWAYS remember her, and I will ALWAYS look forward to the day when I get to sit on the porch with Ethel Mae, hold her hand, and sing, “HOW GREAT THOU ART!”
“Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise Him!” (Psalm 147:1 NIV)