Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death – Psalm 23

I want  to tell you how the Lord drew close and comforted me when my Mam died. Just remembering it now, three years on, brings tears to my eyes; a mixture of lingering grief and awe at our great and loving Father in heaven. At the time, I hadn’t really experienced the death of a close loved one. When I was a child, my worst nightmare was of my Mam or Dad dying and I would wake with a jolt sweating profusely. People tell you that you don’t know what it is like until it happens to you, and they are right, but for me the Lord kept his promise in Psalm 23 and He was there for me and for my Mam.
You see, my Mam had a stroke at aged 44 (due to smoking most of her life since her teens) and that was really traumatic for me and my family. She hadn’t been feeling well for a while, but thought it was the change of life. On the day she had her stroke, she had gone to her room for a rest. When she didn’t come down for a while, my brother thought she must haven been tired and left her. It was only when my Dad came home from work and went up to their room, that he found her slumped unconsious behind the door in a pool of cold urine. No one knows how long she had been there, but she was rushed to West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, after being placed on a stretcher like a rag doll.
When she regained consciousness, she didn’t seem to recognise anyone and had been left incontinent. Over the next seven weeks, she slowly started to greet us again as though we were familiar to her, and the hospital staff trained her to walk, to go to the toilet and look after herself again. The stroke left her disabled with little use of her right arm and leg.
At the time, it felt like part of my Mam had died. She had always been my best friend and suddenly part of her was gone. Her personality was never really the same after her stroke. She lost the sparkle in her eye and her joie de vivre. She had always been the life and soul of the party and suddenly she was awkward and demanding and burst into tears for no apparent reason. A common  symptom of many people after they’ve had a stroke, so we were told. I remember crying myself to sleep, as I did again 22 years later when she died.
By today’s standards, 66 is a young age to die. After her stroke, she made the best recovery she could under the circumstances. She would knit, hang washing out and garden.
Twelve years later, she had to go into hospital for an angioplasty, where a balloon is blown up in a blood vessel, to unblock an artery in her leg.  She had been suffering problems with it for some time, so she had gone for tests which identified her diagnosis. The surgeon had wanted to carry out the treatment straight away after the tests, but trying to get the needle into her, to insert the dye, had proven to be a problem because her blood vessels had narrowed due to smoking. She told them she didn’t want the treatment that day, but would come back. It was the worry that killed her.
When she got home, her foot was still swollen from the blockage, so she she sat in a chair and put on lots of weight. Suddenly after Christmas, she started losing weight rapidly. Living 350 miles away, I had to rely on my brothers who lived with her to keep me informed and to call GP to find out what was wrong. When the doctor went to see her, she insisted on seeing him on her own and told him she was alright.
It was Easter before I got to visit again and I was shocked when I saw her. She was very frail and what mobility she had previously had, had dramatically diminished. I took her for an outing to the local factory shop, which had almost everything you could want in one place. Her whole body shook with the effort of trying to get into our Kia Sedona. Her skin had shrivelled around her gaunt cheeks like a prune. I told her my concerns about her appearance and condition and she burst into tears saying, “I don’t think I’ll be here much longer.”
“Don’t be silly Mam,” I had tried to reassure her. “When I get home I am going to contact your GP and tell him to pay you a visit and get your operation done.”
I must confess, that as I kissed her goodbye at her door, I wondered if I would ever see her alive again.
Once home, I sent a letter to her GP expressing my concerns about her weight loss and weakened condition.
I had just picked my boys up from school and was putting them in the car when I got a call from my brother to say our Mam had been rushed into hospital after he found her on the sofa covered in blood. Tests quickly ascertained that she had a stomach ulcer that had burst. I think my Mam thought she had cancer, so this didn’t seem so bad. My Aunt who looked after my Mam’s affairs said the doctors were keeping her in hospital to do more tests and to stabilise her condition. As I was at a busy time at work and my eldest son was doing his Stats at school, I decided to wait until the weekend before going to see her.
A couple of days later, I got a very concerned phone call from my other brother, who didn’t live with my Mam. He told me our mother’s condition had worsened and she wasn’t able to hold a conversation very easily. He had expressed his concerns that she had suffered another stroke to the medical staff, but they didn’t seem concerned. I said I would go to see her as soon as I could.
As I waved good bye to my husband and three sons at Euston Station, I wondered what was awaiting me. How would my Mam look now? She had seemed so frail the last time I had seen her. Could her slight frame take much more? Panic and fear were trying to set in, but my faith in the Lord, wouldn’t let me accept them. I prayed all the way to Cumbria, not knowing what to expect.
It makes me weep now thinking of how my Mam had become a shadow of her former self. She was covered by a thin blanket which failed to hide her skeletal frame. The little strength which she had appeared to have the last time I had seen her, had vanished. Her head was slumped back in a pillow. A look of recognition lit her eye, as I stooped to kiss her, holding back the tears. I tried to converse with her, but she seemed incoherent and when she did speak she would start a sentence, but was unable to finish it. “You know,” she kept repeating. My alarm bells started ringing. I told the staff on duty my concerns.
Even in this weakened state, my Mam seemed the life and soul of the ward. She seemed to have struck up a friendship with some of the other patients, who were laughing at her as though she was stupid. I told them she had previously had a stroke and this wasn’t like her.
I spent a precious day with her. The staff put her in a wheelchair and I wheeled her around, taking her away from the claustrophobic atmosphere. We talked about how she was and I asked her if she would like me to ask my old Pastor to visit her and she agreed.
The next morning, my Mam seemed weaker than the day before and I felt guilty for having taken her out in the wheelchair. I had to leave late morning to get the train back to London. Looking back I realise I should have stayed, but who would take my boys to school? Who would do my job? My husband had an important job and couldn’t possibly take time off work, I convinced myself.
My friends had offered to help out, but I didn’t want to inconvenience them and I wasn’t sure if they meant it. I told my Mam I would come back to visit the following weekend. I recited to her Psalm 23. I had led her in a sinner’s prayer a couple of years before and I wanted to reassure her that the Lord was there for her. As I left the hospital, I bumped into Pastor John Perkins who was on his way up to see her at my request. He later told me that she had expressed her faith in the Lord and knew He would take care of her.
As the train dragged me over Shap and down through the lower valleys beyond, I watched ewes running away with their lambs from the rattling rails and Psalm 23 came to mind. The Lord seemed to say, “Don’t worry Sally, I’ll look after your Mam. I am the good shepherd and I will take care of her.” Further on I noticed the heavily ladened grasses which reminded me of the verses in Psalm 103.
I buried my head in my work, half hoping this was all a nightmare which would go away when I awoke. Some will criticise me for not staying by My Mam’s bedside, but those who have worked since leaving school will understand better the work ethos which drove me on. Somehow I could cope better doing what I knew best. And anyway, the Lord had told me he would take care of her.
My aunt rang rang me when I was sitting on a bench by the river having my lunch.  “Your Mam is dying. You better come quickly.”
Her words chilled me to the bone and burst the dam, holding back the floodwaters. The worst thing I could ever imagine was happening. I vaguely remember calling my husband and telling him to come home because we had to go to Cumbria immediately. I recollect going into my bosses office to tell her my news. I could just see the road through the tears as I drove to my sons’s school. When I burst into great sobs in the school reception, the Bursar took me into the sick bay. I told my sons their Nana was dying and we were going to see her before she went to heaven.
I wandered around in a daze packing things to take with us, not knowing how long we would be away. While in the shower, I had a vision of my Mam being escorted by angels up some stairs, that made me rush to the telephone to call the hospital. I called my Mam’s sister and she held her mobile to my Mam’s ear. I asked her if she knew what was happening and she groaned an affirmative. I told her I was on my way and would be there as soon as I could. I read her Psalm 23 and told her I loved her. Those were the last words I ever said to her. My aunt later told me my Mam had understood what I had said, as at that point she had burst into tears.
As we were driving along the A120 there was a beautiful sunset, with wispy clouds like an angel cavalcade escorting us on our way to Cumbria. I’ve always loved sunsets. To me they are the Lord’s signature and a sign of His presence. As I looked at this fantastic sight, I had this irresistible urge to praise God and started singing all of the praise songs I could remember the words for: “Strength Will Rise (Everlasting God)”, “Blessed Be Your Name”, “From The Rising Of The Sun”, “All My Days (Beautiful Saviour)”, “I Will Sing (King of Love)” and many more. Singing them made me feel strong and reassured me that the Lord was in control.
It was just after we turned onto the M11, that I started to feel a very strange sensation. All of my senses felt heightened and I told my husband I felt like I was on drugs. I felt completely at peace, cosseted in the presence of the Lord. He seemed very close and said, “I am taking your dear Mam home to glory now.”
Twenty minutes later my brother rang to say my Mam had died at the time I had felt the Lord close by. He said she had died in her sleep.
We decided to continue on our journey to Cumbria, but stopped overnight at a motel on the M6. As I went through the door, the Lord gave me a vision of my Mam in heaven. She was well; she was fully fit. She looked like she had before ever having a stroke. She was smiling and happy. This vision was a great comfort to me and I was able to share the fact that I knew my Mam was in heaven with everyone who attended her funeral a week later.
Most people loose someone special at sometime in their lives but everyone’s experience is different. I hope this will be a comfort to anyone who reads this who has lost a loved one and if you know someone who is grieving, please recommend this to them because “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted,” Matthew 5:4.

7 thoughts on “Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death – Psalm 23

  1. I cannot express what this article meant to me, but the tears are flowing – thank you for sharing that part of your life with us, especially for me now.

  2. Thanks Sally, but that is the way things were in our family, No mention of “love” matters etc.
    As for hugs never really happened, so the contact with others was so unusual when I first
    found Jesus and that was in a Baptist Church. I know my mother was rather upset when she
    heard that I was being baptised by full emersion. Cof E was the only way, guess I’ve said
    enough. I would not want to upset more people,

  3. We are all different Keith. God created us just the way we are. Feeling deeply hurts. Maybe you were hurt once and didn’t want to be hurt anymore or maybe you have a soldier’s instinct that won’t allow you to feel so deeply so you can carry on with life. Pray for a revelation. God bless.

  4. Dear Sally. Do you realise just how lucky you have been in your
    relationship with your parents? I never felt any pain when my
    father died age 58 from lung cancer, I was 19 at the time 1956.
    My mother died just a few years ago aged 91, I can’t even remember her funneral. My sister died a little after that with a heart attack most likley due to the strain of looking after mother.
    You talk about your mother crying for no apparent reason after her
    stroke this I understand only to well. How come! I had a stroke in
    2004. I was a lucky one as it made little difference except for…..
    crying uncontrolably at certain music. How deep the Fathers Love…. Dear lord and Father of Mankind. Also Sloppy films with a
    perfect ending make my toes curleup with holding back the tears.
    I’m sure you are thankful for your experience.

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