My Last Words with Mom

Writing is just a way to make sure I don’t forget things. Whether it’s a to-do list, a funny quote on a post-it note, a prayer, or a conversation–there are things I’ll forget if it’s not written down.

I’ve had an orange post-it note in my wallet for months with a few notes on it for when I finally felt ready to write this post you are reading now. I wrote it in pencil and overtime, the pencil markings have been softened from being smooshed under cash and receipts and other random things in my wallet. I’m afraid if I wait any longer the words will be erased and my memory will go with it. What’s worse is one day I’m afraid I will no longer hear Mom’s voice when I replay these conversations in my head.

When my mother called in mid-July to tell me they were driving to Mentone to help Pop get Mom to the hospital, my gut knew she would never return to her earthly home. My mom, dad, aunt, and uncle took turns spending time at the hospital as doctors went from pneumonia treatment to the realization of the return of her cancer. The discussions and decisions became about where she’d spend her last days. The goal was to move Mom to palliative care in Birmingham, but it was a matter of waiting on an available bed. The longer the wait the more we worried she’d even survive the transport.

One day in particular, no one was able to be at the hospital with my grandfather. My mom called and asked me to spend the day with him because she didn’t want him to be alone when Mom died and she didn’t know how much longer Mom had. I gladly said yes and made quick arrangements for the kids.

That day was a rushing flood of emotions. Mom did not know yet that she wasn’t just facing pneumonia. She didn’t know she wasn’t leaving the hospital. She didn’t know yet that very soon she’d meet her Savior face to face. Pop wanted a certain doctor to be the one to explain reality to Mom and he wanted my mom and uncle to be present, so we were waiting for the perfect circumstances to occur.

Mom was in and out of sleep but she was still able to have conversations. Because she didn’t know all the facts, we had to keep conversation light and be general in our answers when she asked questions. We had to reserve our serious conversations for the hallway behind the curtain.

At one point I was at the nurses station discussing when other family members would be at the hospital. The nursing staff wanted to be sure as many people as possible could be present when she passed. They wanted to honor Pop’s wishes in how and when Mom was told but I also sensed an urgency in speeding up the delivery of this news and it wrecked me. I cried on the nurse’s shoulder, I cried in Pop’s arms. I felt a weight of communicating hard things and making decisions that I wasn’t necessarily expecting that day. Pop and I made phone calls and by late afternoon family was back at the hospital, there was a shift change, and circumstances were as Pop wished.

We sat in the waiting room while the doctor told Mom the news of her declining health. Shortly after, I had a quiet moment in her room with just the two of us. The odd beauty in knowing someone is dying is the opportunity to have intentional conversations you wouldn’t have otherwise. Feeling like I could discuss reality, I debated on what to say, what to ask, what to bring up. I fought tears walking into her room. Every memory my brain has stored of her was replaying like a reflection scene in a movie. I was walking into a last with her. The one who always brought Saltines and Ginger Ale when I was sick. The one who made me potato soup whenever I requested. The one who just 14 months before stayed with me for over a week when doctors discovered my kidney disease and I hadn’t left the bed in two weeks and Brent was out of town for two months. The one who took me out on fancy lunch dates to P.F. Changs in high school. The one who gave us both the gift of horseback riding lessons in 6th grade. The one I rode to school with in Kindergarten through second grade and always gave me 50 cents for a coke from the teacher’s lounge after school. The one who was always concerned about my thyroid when I told her how tired I was. The one who called multiple times during flu season to see if the kids had their shot yet. The one who bought me a Roomba because she was concerned I didn’t have time to vacuum and be a full-time working mom. The one who always sent money at the end of the summer with a note that said, “I figured you need a little spending money for clothes.” The one who taught me to iron, even though I refuse to do it. The one who surprised me on the first day of my first year of teaching with pot roast and fresh vegetables for dinner and also did my laundry because she noticed the basket was overflowing. The one who always gave me her Clinique free gift. The hip grandmother who bought the Kavu bag I still wear, even though she thought it was really ugly (but the print reminded her of me, so what shall I think of that?). The one I named my third child after. The one who constantly showed utmost love and care for the kids, Brent, and me. I was about to not have her around anymore. I was about to speak to her and hear her voice for possibly the very last time. I felt such relief that she knew what was going on, but man did I feel the heaviness of what was about to occur.

I sat on her bed, kissed her forehead, held her hands softened by years of using Curel and Eucerin lotions, and I said, “How do you feel?”

I did not want to know how she physically felt. Her pain and discomfort was obvious. I wanted to know how she felt in her soul–to be so close to seeing Jesus. I wanted to know what that must feel like.

“Relieved,” she said, “relieved to know why I’ve been feeling so bad.”

I looked away, completely choked for more words, with tears steadily falling down my cheeks. Then, still holding her hand, I said the only words I had in me,

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too. I always have” she said in her deep voice that she cleared mid-way.

Then she proceeded to reflect on the blessing of having a loving family. She talked about how everyone knew the Lord and everyone was raised in a Christian home, even those who married into the family. In that moment, she seemed to not only have relief but a peaceful realization that her influence over the younger generations in her family were nearing the end and she looked back with a thankful heart for what God had done in her and through her.


Then she said to me, “I want to see the kids.”

All three of my kids were too young to be in the ICU, but the nursing staff graciously allowed them to come see Mom the next day. They let Scott bring in his big trucks and Ruby showed up in all her spunk.




I brought them in to see Mom and she beamed a beautiful smile through her oxygen mask. Lily, Scott, and Ruby sat on her bed and the nurse brought popsicles for them to enjoy with Mom. I didn’t take a picture. I wish I had. I pray that image never leaves me–the oldest and the youngest generations enjoying the simplest of earthly pleasures, a cold popsicle on a hot summer day.

That was the last day Mom was with us mentally. She was successfully moved later that evening to a palliative care facility and was in a continuous state of sleep for nearly 72 hours.

We drove down the next day to visit her. At any moment she would take her last breath, so our moments were mixed with solemnness and sarcasm, because a good dose of laughter is necessary. I’m not sure my family knows how to grieve without an inappropriate comment here and there.

Mom was not expected to live through the night on Saturday, so we all individually said our final goodbyes with her in the room before we left for the night. She couldn’t respond and I wasn’t sure what all she’d be able to hear and comprehend, if anything. If she could hear me, I wanted to be sure I said what I was really thinking. I knelt down on the side of her bed and simply and tearfully said “Thank you” repeatedly. There were no other words. I was abundantly thankful for her life, wisdom, love, influence, care, prayers, and legacy. I knew she would be deeply missed but I also knew this was the course of life. Letting go, saying goodbye–it was all inevitable, and it was time.

As it turns out, she held on all night long. Of course she did, I thought, now we all have to do this difficult final goodbye thing again. Part of me got tickled and imagined she heard all of our heartfelt words on Saturday night and she enjoyed it so much, she wanted to hear how much we loved her on Sunday night too.  So, we did it all over again. Final Goodbye Take 2. This time with scripture reading and singing. My dad and I read Psalm 23, 37, Philippians 4, and Revelations 4 and followed by singing “In the Garden”.


I left that Sunday night to drive home knowing that really was my final goodbye. She passed around 6:30 pm Monday night, July 30, 2018. Brent, the kids, and I had just finished up soccer try outs and we were eating dinner in the round corner booth at Zaxbys. My mom called and said that she took her last breath and Pop was able to be in the room with her. Pop was probably gazing at his beautiful bride when she left, then he peacefully stepped out into the hallway and said to my mom and the nurses, “I think she took her last breath.”

When my mom told me this news, I immediately had a flashback to 7th grade when Pop’s dad died. Granddaddy had been in a nursing home. Just like Mom, his last breath was expected at any moment. Mom and Pop had been with Granddaddy for a while at his bedside. As my memory serves, Mom and Pop left to go get dinner. My mom, aunt, and myself stayed with Granddaddy while they were gone. Granddaddy passed while we were with him. I was sitting on his bed, holding his hand. I will never forget the sorrow on Pop’s face when he returned to the nursing home. I’m not sure if he wished he hadn’t left or if reality was too much to bear. I’m guessing it was a mixture of both. The image of Pop’s sorrowful face was etched forever into my memory that day, and I was so thankful he didn’t miss Mom’s final breath.

Last words are awkward. You don’t know the right thing to say. You’re worried you’ll say the wrong thing. Simple phrases are all you can coherently say. These conversations are rare. Many times we don’t know it’s the last words we will exchange with another. But when we are fortunate enough to know, I think it’s a gift from God to let the Spirit lead you with those hard words so the moment can be seized. You’ll never regret saying the hard last words, but you will regret ignoring the Spirit’s nudges to speak them.

Redeem the time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:16


A Place to Write

“Give me a place to write, ” I told him. I didn’t mean a comfy chair or a room with a nice view. I needed the literal space where I write words.

Nearly eleven years ago I sat on a white couch on Captiva Island on our honeymoon and started a blog. Then I deleted it. A couple years later I started another one and stuck with it consistently for many years and enjoyed the heck out of writing about whatever I felt needed to be said. At some point I became extremely sporadic. I once blamed having children for my lack of writing, and while that is a huge part of it, Read more

Love Ya World’s Full

I remember sitting in the living room with the doctor on speaker phone, hearing the details of the diagnosis and potential protocol for my father-in-law’s cancer. Brent took notes. We were hopeful to hear there was a good plan for more time with Mike, but heartbroken by the news. 

I remember meeting Mike and Teresa for dinner at Taziki’s two days after the diagnosis. He felt sick and barely touched his food. As we left the parking lot, he hugged me. I told him I loved him and he said, “I love you too. You just don’t know how much I love you, Brittany.” I think he was more aware than any of us how quickly things were unfolding. Those were the last coherent words I heard him speak to me. 

I remember sitting alone in the parking lot at church, eight days after the diagnosis when things seemed to be getting more and more complicated, begging God to heal Mike. 

I remember Brent sitting in the living room on the phone with his mother sixteen days after the diagnosis, hearing the news that there was nothing more that could be done and his dad was coming home on hospice the next day. Brent’s usual calm demeanor changed instantly. After he hung up, he threw the phone, punched the air, wiped his face, and went to our bedroom. What he knew was coming, but hoped otherwise, was relentlessly on its way.

I remember the overnight phone call from Brent waking me from my sleep, exactly three weeks after the diagnosis. My father-in-law drew his last breath on earth on April 13, 2021. 

A Double Blessing

There isn’t much I love more, in the writing sense, than to write about the people I love. It’s an honor for me and it gives me the opportunity to communicate wholly. I wouldn’t ever be able to speak the words that I write. I would fumble around and my deepest thoughts would only be spoken as incomplete phrases mixed with salty tears. Writing gives me time to process and perfect what the deepest crevices of my heart want to say. Writing is a major part of my grieving. Writing about loss is uncomfortably comfortable for me. 

I’ve written after the death of several of my loved ones. On March 23, 2021, when we received the diagnosis, I made the decision that I was going to write before death this time. I was determined that Mike would read, or at least hear, my words. However, from diagnosis to death, there were only three weeks. Time was not on my side. Though I couldn’t read to him my own words, I had the opportunity to read over him the very words of God hours before he left our presence, and that was certainly a greater joy to behold. 

Alas, I still write. I write for him, to honor his life, though he’ll never know these words. I write for Teresa, Brent, Katie, and Ryan, as a gift to them, because there’s no gift more vulnerable and meaningful for me to give than my written words. They come from a place that spoken words can’t find. I write for Lily, Scott, Ruby, Harper, Bowen, and future VK grandchildren, so they can remember him. I write for myself, because sometimes exposing my heart heals my soul. And, I write for those who did not know him, hoping they will feel they did.    

I grieve for Teresa, for navigating life without her steadfast companion at her side. 

I grieve for Brent, Katie, and Ryan, for navigating life without the guidance, security, and present love of their earthly father. 

I grieve for his grandchildren, for navigating life without his delight in them. 

My grief has made me feel foolish at times. The enemy has loudly said to me many times, “He was just your father-in-law,” as if I don’t deserve the right to deeply feel the loss of him. It has angered me when I’ve known it to be a lie, and it has made me feel like a fool when I’ve believed the lie. 

I’ve never felt as though he was just a father-in-law. He quickly became like a second father to me in my late teen years. God has doubly blessed me with a loving father and father-in-law who both point me to Christ. I felt like I belonged in the VK family long before I could claim the name.

I Must Tell Jesus

Mike had such a gladness about him when it came to his family. He was proud of us and he made sure everyone knew it. There are countless people walking this earth right now that know where we all live and work, what activities we’re involved in, what our hobbies are, what our accomplishments are, what cars we drive, where we go to church, and what color the floors and kitchen cabinets are at his house. We discovered that last bit after he passed. Every one of his work and church friends that visited commented on the recent changes to my in-law’s house. It was obvious Mike had shared in detail the options in paint colors and flooring he and Teresa were considering. It became a point of laughter for us. I don’t think he met anyone that didn’t leave without some amount of knowledge about us. 

When I envision what it must look like for the Lord to rejoice over his children, to take great delight in us, to sing over us, I think of Mike. He was an earthly picture of God’s delight in us. We brought him increasing joy, but that did not come close to the joy he had in his Savior. Most of the time, that joy came out in singing and usually some energetic, loud clapping. 

I partially blame Mike for my love of hymns and for my own delight in worshiping the Lord through song. His joy in singing aloud to God was always contagious, and I’m thankful I didn’t just know him as someone who worshipped God. I knew him as someone who led me to worship God. Long before I knew him as father-in-law, I knew him as the worship leader at my church. 

One memory I cherish, which is actually a string of several years of memories, is of Mike leading the congregation at Philadelphia Baptist Church, where I grew up and where I met and married Brent. “I Must Tell Jesus” is a hymn that stands out. I’m not sure if he led that one frequently, or if the memory of that song just sticks with me. Merely leading the congregation to sing was never his style. He was declaring to us, worshipping with us, encouraging us, boldly proclaiming that Jesus alone can help us. His left hand holding the Baptist hymnal, his right hand keeping time, and his face beaming as he turned from the choir to the congregation and back again, because he delighted to sing the promises and truths of God with the saints. The same can be said if he was sitting at his computer playing Solitaire, listening to gospel hymns on YouTube and singing and clapping so loud the whole house could hear. There was no doubt his heart loved to worship his King.

Dear Mike,

First of all, calling you Mike has never felt natural. You’re more to me than the father of my husband. You loved me as your daughter for nearly twenty years. 

Because of your love, I felt secure. 

Because of your Godly wisdom, my path was clearer. 

Because of your faith in Christ, I was encouraged in my faith. 

Because of your hospitality, I always felt included. 

Because you humbly owned your shortcomings, I have courage to do the same. 

Because of your love for coffee, I never turn down a cup. 

Because you took us camping just once, we bought a camper. 

Because you loved a good gospel hymn, the sound of them is my comfort. 

Because you loved me well, I miss you deeply. 

Thank you seems to be the only fitting words to tell you on this anniversary of your death, but those words seem so empty and not quite enough at the same time. But grateful is what I am. It seems to be the theme of any grief I have. The root of it all is utter thankfulness. I grieve because I have loved and been loved, but lost. Underneath the love is deep thankfulness and humbleness that I’ve had to the chance to love and be loved. It’s not just gratitude for you, it’s ultimately gratitude to God for the grace He’s shown me through knowing you. 

The reality of your absence is met with profound sorrow. The grief comes at times we expect, like today, and at other times it seems to come as a surprise. Either way, the grief hits hard when it comes. But God. Grieving is not the end. There is abundant joy waiting for all of those who are in Christ. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Though it feels like there is no end to our sorrow, we know we will never see the end of God’s goodness. 

But for now, we miss you because you loved us world’s full.

An Open Letter to My Children at the End of a Weird School Year


We made the official decision to move on July 4, 2019.

We spent the month of July rapidly packing up our entire house, the only home two of you have ever known. That month was spent in utter chaos painting and doing repairs to get the house ready to sell. Most of the month Daddy was either out of town or learning the ropes of his new job that was moving us away.



We left a city we loved with deep friendships and community for all of us.

You didn’t really have time for proper goodbyes with your friends. Everything was sudden and rushed.

A New Norm

We moved in with your grandparents on August 2.

You started a new school on August 8, not even a week after moving to a new home in a new city. And not just a new school, a public school, when all you’ve known prior to this is a private Christian school.


We moved again in November into our home.

New city, new home (twice), new school, new church, new friends, new community.
Everything was fresh and unknown.

Your friendly and kind character allowed you to quickly make friends at school and church.

Just when you were getting settled and beginning to develop friendships, a pandemic hit. Your new world as you knew it shut down. No school, no church gatherings, no sports, no social gatherings of any sort. Only social distancing for the foreseeable future.

You quickly adjusted to virtual learning and accomplished all school tasks and communication from a computer screen.

Any budding friendships were halted.

You were stuck at home with each other, having very little communication with anyone else other than your family and neighbors.

At times, you drove each other absolutely nuts. You argued. You fought. You disagreed. You suffered the consequences of your poor actions and words.

You’ve been lonely, anxious, and tired. It has shown itself in tears, complaints, anger, yelling, and frustration.

At other times, you played well together with imagination and creativity, filling our home with laughter and joy. You enjoyed the rewards of family bonding in quarantine.


You finished a super strange school year on May 15, 2020 without proper goodbyes or closure.

Your 2019-2020 school year has seen more change than I wish you had to deal with. You began without goodbyes and you ended without goodbyes.


I’m sorry.

You carry this change and loss so well it’s easy for me to forget you experience the same emotions as I do about the past ten months.

I wish things had started and ended differently, but I’m not in control. I’m just here to help you navigate the path God puts before us.

God has used and will use this difficult season to refine and sanctify you. It will shape you into more of who He created you to be.

Things have been weird and memorable, no doubt. May this always be a season of your life you reflect on with fondness and laughter.


I am so proud of you. You are resilient, you are strong, you are my heroes.

I love you! You three are amazing!



Less Questions, More Jumping



The very best thing I did in 2019.

Had I done this in any other year it would not hold the meaning that it does. It would just be a really fun and memorable experience with my brother. 


I jumped out of a plane in June. Two months prior, I did a different kind of jump. Brent and I were on the brink of change. We felt it but we didn’t know what it looked like. We had an idea, one that came as a result of prayer and seeking wisdom from others. We had a goal in mind, but it required a decision on my part. Before we could commit to that decision, we had a checklist of a few areas we needed to see God move. We approached Him with bold humility and consistency, specifically requesting Him to handle these few items first. It didn’t matter if these items had a yes or a no. We just wanted answers before moving forward. I thought answers from God would produce the faith I needed. A few others knew about these things we were waiting on and they prayed with us as we navigated what was to come.  

But, we weren’t getting answers. We didn’t have a yes. We didn’t have a no. We had silence. 

A good friend who was praying with me and knew all the ins and outs of our lives at the time said it–

“Maybe it’s time to jump. Even if you jump in fear.” 

So I did. The very next day, I did the thing I was afraid to do without all the answers. I didn’t need answers. I just needed to obey the thing God had long been commanding me to do. 

What followed was disappointment at first, then confusion, then pure anger and frustration. Things went completely opposite of our expectations. Our ideas of how our lives looked after this decision were off. Big time. We thought we were headed in one direction, and these discouraging circumstances were quickly turning us from that direction. 

Before jumping out of a plane, I was tempted to do some research. Watch some YouTube videos. Read some reviews. But I knew if I had all of that information, I would never get out of the plane. I would build up fear that glued my feet to the ground. I would know just enough information to convince me that skydiving is risky and unnecessary. 

Likewise, had I known all the answers to the questions I was asking God, I would know just enough information to keep me from jumping. It would have seemed risky and unnecessary. I would have glued my feet down and remained steadfast to what was comfortable and predictable, and actually quite good. But not best. And not what He was asking of us. Jumping without answers meant obeying in faith. 

The days leading up to skydiving I just hoped to tolerate the jump and be able to breathe. I did not want pee in my pants (or poop–you know a good shart of nervous gas is possible at 15,000 feet). At the very least, dear God, please just make sure the chute comes out. 


It was time to jump, even if I jumped in fear. As I stood on the edge of that plane, a moment I fully expected to bow out, I was utterly surprised with complete peace. There was no ounce of fear to be found in me. Looking out at the horizon of God’s creation at sunset was breathtaking. Every moment of the experience was far more than I imagined it could be. I was merely hoping to survive without embarrassment. Instead, I received a highlight of my life that can’t be forgotten. 


I want to go again, yes, and I will; but I would rather relive this first jump because of what it symbolizes for me. A free fall surrender into grace with no answers, fully entrusting my care and releasing all control to someone else, only to discover some truly wonderful and praise-worthy things to come. Things that are so, so good I’d never think to ask for them. 

After the anger and frustration subsided, we began to understand the ways God was moving. He was physically moving us to another city and 4,592 things had to fall into place quickly for it to all work out. I remember my dad encouraging me at the onset of our overwhelming circumstances that I’m not responsible for making sure all the dominoes fall just right. My responsibility is to watch them fall and go with it. Because God does abundantly more than we ask or imagine, all the things fell into place in ways far better than we expected. 


The checklist of things we asked him to do before I jumped? Zero percent of those things happened. Our lives now are not even remotely close to what we were asking God to do. We were asking the wrong questions with expectations much too low. Maybe that’s why God was not answering. He’s not silent because He delights in causing confusion. He’s not silent because He doesn’t care. Maybe, just maybe, His silence is His protection, provision, and guidance for what’s ahead. He would rather be silent in order to make me trust Him and discover His immeasurable goodness, than to answer no because I was asking the wrong questions. And I can say now it’s easier to move forward trusting Him with the unknown, than it is to move forward with all the answers you don’t want to hear because you were requesting things that weren’t going to happen. 

Maybe sometimes there should be less question-asking and more free-fall jumping. 


2019 you were a weird one. Full of a whirlwind of unexpected events. Events that made me kick and scream and weep, resisting God and His ways. I didn’t want this. I didn’t ask for this. But I also didn’t ask to jump out of a plane because I didn’t know I wanted to. It was a gift that I couldn’t turn down. We can’t ask for things we don’t know we want. This jump into grace, this free-fall trust in God, this surrender to His better ways, is an irresistible gift that I could not turn down. God continues to be immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.



Ben, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for giving me this gift for my birthday and in this particular year. You didn’t really know what it would mean for me. Neither did I. But this was truly a wonderful gift and I’m deeply grateful.