We had been holding vigil over her frail and failing body for nearly fifty straight hours. With every rise and fall of her chest, we held our breath with anticipation that this would be her last. Death began to consume her body inch by inch as the pinkish, oxygen-rich colors began to dim into dull grays.

Our immediate family of seven (including three in-laws) had walked through various difficulties together, but this was the most hallowed ground we had ever walked hand-in-hand. Undoubtedly, our souls would never be the same because of this journey.

Cause of Death: Alzheimer’s

Eight years earlier, the first signs of the disease’s intrusion began to seep into my mom’s daily life. She was a dental hygienist, and her boss began noticing that parts of patients’ mouths were unclean after she had cleaned them. In the most gentle and respectful way, he let my Mama resign from her position. Even as her family, we were surprised and unaware of the intensity of her struggle. But we soon became painfully aware as the disease began to steal the familiar.

SLittlejohn and mom

She stopped being able to cook, because the linear process of preparing a meal was overwhelming and frustrating. She reluctantly turned in her car keys, because her brain could not juggle all the moving parts of a vehicle. She stopped using first names and started avoiding crowds, because all the faces that were supposed to be etched on her soul were fading.

When the disease became more apparent, and less likely to be cured or delayed, we started down the slow and heartbreaking road of saying goodbye. After having busied herself with caring for others for a lifetime—her husband, her five children, her friends and a congregation of people—it was time for us to care for her. It was time to focus on helping Mama cross the finish line of the race she had been called to run.

How Sweet the Sound

When planning Mom’s memorial service and all the details, it was no surprise to me that my parents had decided long before the time came that she would have the words of “Amazing Grace” penned on her grave stone. Amazing Grace. It was the very melody my mom danced to year after year, before and after she was diagnosed.

Amazing grace enabled Mom to stare down the terminal sentence and live her life with every ounce of gumption she could. Amazing grace lit up her eyes as she would tell story after story, because the past was less fuzzier than the present. Amazing grace kept us laughing as a family when despair knocked on our door. Amazing grace allowed us to wrestle with our anger and deep struggle, while still seeing the goodness of our God.

When Mama’s body required assistance at every turn of the day, it was amazing grace that softened the awkwardness of feeding her, bathing her, dressing her, and helping her in the bathroom. It was amazing grace that enlarged our capacity to love and care for her in ways we never planned on. And it was amazing grace that granted Mom the wisdom to proclaim at every turn of the journey, “if this disease is touching me, it has come through the hands of my Jesus first!”

His Grace is Enough

Second Corinthians 12:9 says, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.”

The very name of our God in Hebrew, El Shaddai, means sufficient. I am here to testify that the grace our mighty Savior poured out on us as we walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” was more than sufficient; it was abundant. His grace sustained us while the baseline of our journey welled with grief.

Nearly two years ago at my mom’s deathbed, I witnessed the great exchange. It appeared as if all mom had to offer was a diseased, broken body and mind, but when the sickness was pulled back and her soul was lifted up, a heart that believed in Jesus Christ and was fully consumed by Him was revealed. In exchange, she received an inheritance fit for a queen, bought by the precious blood of the Lamb. A crowd of saints, legions upon legions, who had gone before her, erupted in loud applause as her King ushered her into her eternal home. And a small crowd of a dozen, were left on this side of glory with a small taste of eternity spread all over their hearts.

Grace, she takes the blame.
She covers the shame, removes the stain.
It could be her name.
Grace. It’s the name for a girl.
It’s also a thought that changed the world.
And when she walks on the street, you can hear the strings.
Grace finds goodness in everything.
Grace finds beauty in everything.

“Grace” by U2

[Image via Marshall Chavez]