To say that this weekend was interesting would be an understatement. It was a weekend of highs; it was a weekend of lows. New Year’s Eve was Sunday. New Year’s Day was Monday. The end of one year, the beginning of the next. And it was a weekend of beginnings and endings.
This weekend mirrored life perfectly. It began on Friday with calls from my mother-in-law’s care center and hospice saying that she was alternately doing very well or going to pass at any minute. We were going out of town for my nephew’s wedding. Adam was getting married in West Virginia, four hours from where we live, and Margaret resided at a senior living facility. Adam is beginning his marriage to his lovely wife, Emily.
My wife, Tywana, was wondering when she’d get the call that Margaret had transitioned: would her mother hang on over the weekend, or would she pass while we were out of town?
Tywana took care of Margaret over these past several years. When Margaret had to leave her home, we moved her close to us. Tywana has been faithful to her, just as she knows her mother would be to her. She and her brother, Tim, have handled Margaret’s affairs. And Tywana was there countless hours, caring for her physical needs. Margaret’s example was not lost on her children.
Meanwhile, my beloved Buckeyes were playing in the Cotton Bowl game, the consolation prize for not making the CFP playoffs, and laid a great big egg, looking terrible, nothing like the team that looked like all year long—the end of another disappointing season.
The wedding was a glorious affair, punctuated with calls from hospice, some saying she was doing well, some saying she wasn’t doing so well. Tywana had to leave the reception several times to take the calls. One minute, she was eating for the first time in days, and the next, they were putting her on 24-hour watch, with a worker there constantly making sure she did not die alone.
On Sunday, we returned home, Sunday being New Year’s Eve. Just as we were pulling into Cincinnati, coming around I-275, fifteen minutes from home, we got the call from hospice saying that Margaret was actively dying. Tywana rushed to her care facility to find her mother in the final stages of dying and spent the day there with her sister and brother, who came in from out of town to be with Margaret as she made the transition. They stayed with her for several hours. But it was apparent she would make it overnight. So her brother returned to his home. Tywana came home for a few hours of sleep, and her sister kept vigil.
The Bengals also lost, clinching that they would not make the playoffs this year, ending a disappointing season. For the first time, I was alone on New Year’s Eve at midnight, as my wife was with her family and her mother, anticipating her imminent passing.
I’ve known Margaret for nearly 40 years. She’s been my mother-in-law officially for 33 years. She’s a woman of great faith, and when I say faith, I don’t mean religious faith. I don’t mean just faith in the Bible or Christianity; I mean a woman of great faithfulness to her husband Felton, her six children in the physical, and her seventh child, who was in spirit for quite a while. Her children say she’s the best mother ever. She’s the best mother-in-law I could have hoped for. She’s as close to me as my mother, who birthed me.
Margaret has suffered from dementia for about a decade, and Margaret, while she was faithful to the Lord, would always ask why the Lord wanted her to stay here. She wanted nothing more than to be with her beloved husband. When Shayna passed, she couldn’t understand why God had taken Shayna and not her.
Frankly, over the years, as I’ve watched her deteriorate mentally from dementia and physically from the ravages of arthritis, I have wondered why. What’s the purpose? Why was she forced to stay in a body that was betraying her, being separated from most of her loved ones? Why couldn’t she go where she wanted to be? At age 86, many of us are preceded by our loved ones in spirit. But she always hung in there.
When I woke up this morning, I thought about the people of the facility she was in most recently. The workers and the residents alike adored Margaret despite the fact they never got to know the Margaret we’ve known for decades. While dementia had eaten away at her mind and arthritis at her body, her spirit remained untouched. They could see that. Lillie Margaret Smith, “Miss Lillie,” will be missed terribly in that house.
Margaret remained faithful to the end, her enduring spirit inspiring those around her. Finally, at 3 AM on January 1, 2024, as you were probably welcoming in a New Year, Margaret took her leave of the pains and tribulations of this world. She could finally fully join Felton, Shayna, Jeffrey (her son), her parents, and countless others waiting with open arms.
As we watched the funeral home attendants remove her body to prepare it for the trip back to her hometown of Springfield, KY, we remained mindful that while we have and will shed tears of sadness at the end of an era, just across the veil, there was another kind of New Year’s party happening, with Margaret as the belle of the ball.