Keeping Vigil

In my almost seventy years, I had never kept vigil. This month, I’ve done it twice, once with a friend and tonight with my mother-in-law. Lighting in her room is muted, medicine charts line the table, and the oxygen machine hums and hisses and crackles in a certain rhythm. From the bed comes the more uncertain whiffled breathing of my mother-in-law.

Otherwise, the room is hushed. Besides the rise and fall of her chest, my mother-in-law is unmoving—all of her, but most notably her hands. They lay by her sides, age spotted and veined, no longer gripping a cane or a hoe or the hand of a child, no longer shelling peas or writing letters, no longer holding a telephone to her ear.

 I wonder how many hours she listened. When we traveled from Ohio to visit her in Mt. Morris, Michigan, we’d sit in her kitchen and watch as the world seemed to call. People called her from prison cells, from across the street, from across the country, from sick beds, and from shoebox-sized rooms at the YMCA. We’d watch her wind her long phone cord through the kitchen, the receiver wedged between her shoulder and her ear, so she could chop and mix and sauté as she listened and sympathized and guided.

For most of her ninety-nine years, she lent an ear and gave a hand. And that’s why the stillness of this room is so striking. It doesn’t fit my mother-in-law. Nor does it fit me. I’m not given to such quietude. Keeping vigil, I am finding, is a time to stay in place, to pray and sing and touch and remember. In this room, a reverence seems to be rising. And in this sacred space, we wait.

3 Replies to “Keeping Vigil”

  1. Dear Phyllis, This hit home for me today. I’ve kept vigil with both of my parents, my brother, and most recently his wife, Jane. I assume you knew Jane has passed away last November. From the time of her diagnoses until death was less than a month. She had symptoms earlier, but no one diagnosed cancer, that dreaded word. Her daughters and son were amazingly strong through the whole time. And still are.

    May God bless you as you watch beside your dear mother-in-law.



  2. Thanks for sharing this, AnnaMae is such a great example of someone following Jesus’s teachings. I remember her hands, stained and rough from doing service for others, working in her garden, cooking, caring for children, praying.


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