On Sunday 22 March 2020 – Mother’s Day – Carol wrote the following verses from Psalm 121 on the whiteboard in her mother’s room at Bethany Christian Home, Plymouth:
“The Lord will keep you from all harm –
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.”
Carol often wrote verses on the whiteboard to encourage her mother Margaret between visits. That Mother’s Day, with uncertainty around the coronavirus building, Psalm 121 came to mind. For her mother, a lifelong Christian with a passion for nature and outdoor adventure, this Psalm had special significance, with the Psalmist lifting his eyes to the hills and finding comfort in the protection of a loving Creator.
The next day came the announcement of the strict national lockdown by Boris Johnson via televised address. It was unclear when Carol might be able to visit her mother again.
Margaret had moved into Bethany Christian Home in August 2016 following a diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia shortly after her 90th birthday.
“Mum was very pragmatic about everything. We agreed that she would move down to a care home in Plymouth where she could be close to me,” says Carol.
“When we visited Bethany we knew instantly that we’d found the right place.”
Staff took the time to get to know Margaret, including giving her the opportunity to read the Bible out loud during devotion times and treating her to her favourite Lindt chocolates to encourage her to take her medication. As part of the settling in process, Bethany asks each resident and their family what they would like to happen in their final days, noting who they would like to be with, and what Bible passages and songs they would like shared.
Margaret had a happy time at the home. One of her favorite things to do was read her own mother’s memoirs detailing the family’s time in Kenya, where she had spent her early childhood.
“On one occasion staff phoned me at 11pm to say that Mum was still sitting up reading the memoirs and was reluctant to go to bed,” said Carol.
For Margaret, it was a great comfort to be able to relive these precious times.
Being so close to each other proved a blessing.
“For the first time in years, we could see each other whenever we wanted – I was only 10 minutes’ drive away,” says Carol.
“I’d visit every other day, sometimes taking her on drives through nearby Dartmoor, which she loved and brought back happy memories.”
However, when lockdown was announced, visiting became restricted. Carol phoned Margaret daily, often while out walking her dog in the woods so that her Mum could hear the birds singing in the trees. On Margaret’s 94th birthday, the home was able to arrange for Carol to see her mum through the open window. It was a special time that Carol will treasure forever.
“It was a lovely sunny day in April. I stood outside repotting her window boxes with summer bedding plants while we chatted, and staff helped her open presents and had made a delicious chocolate cake, her favorite!
“Mum didn’t notice anything amiss. She didn’t say anything like, ‘Why aren’t you in here with me?’ She spent the entire afternoon beaming from ear to ear. It was a wonderful few hours spent together.”
Then one day shortly afterwards, Margaret said she felt really whacked out and just wanted to stay in bed. Staff took her temperature and found that it was slightly raised. As it was before mass-testing came in, it was unclear whether or not she was suffering from coronavirus. Margaret did not have any of the other symptoms and her temperature soon returned to normal. But she remained very tired and stayed in bed.
As the days went by, staff recognized that she was approaching the end of her life. Carol was invited back in, clothed in PPE.
“It was terribly sad, but also incredibly special to be allowed to spend some time with Mum while she was still able to talk a little. We shared special memories, said the Lord’s Prayer together, and I read some favorite Bible verses to her.”
A couple of days later the home called to say that Margaret had died peacefully in her sleep.
Carol recognises the Lord’s timing.
“I’m really thankful that Mum didn’t have to endure what so many older people with dementia in care homes and their families have had to go through during this pandemic.
“Mum would have found it very difficult to go for months without seeing me, or only seeing me through the window and not being able to touch each other. I prayed to God for the end of her life to be peaceful and without pain, and that’s exactly what happened.”
When the funeral took place, restrictions meant that only Carol and her son could be there, with her other son and brother’s family taking part over FaceTime, and other relatives and friends watching via video link.
Carol chose two beautiful poems to be read – ‘I give them back to you dear Lord’ by William Penn and ‘Death is nothing at all’ by Henry Scott-Holland. The Bible passages chosen were verses from John 11, Romans 8 and Psalm 121.
The subsequent weeks and months have been hard for Carol and she misses her mother greatly. She made plans with her brother to hold a church service to celebrate Margaret’s life with relatives and friends, but this hasn’t been possible yet.
November 11 last year was a day of great poignancy, as Carol and her mother would have watched the Remembrance Day commemorations together. Christmas without her mother for the first time was also really difficult.
However, the gospel truth that Margaret lived and that Carol herself believes, brings her great comfort: “I’m know that Mum has eternal life and is now with the Lord. As He promises in Psalm 121, He watched over her coming and her going. I know that she is safe with Him now and that I will see her again.”