Sonya Joy Mack has treated grief and illness for over fifteen years as a Physician Assistant in Family Medicine and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. In the grief of her mother’s passing, Sonya became ignited with a passion to bring joy and purpose to women everywhere. She created The LIVE JOY LIFE, an organization that empowers women through community, mindset, and God, to live in the joy God intended. Her debut book, This Changes Everything: When Death No Longer Has the Final Say, is a true story of hope for those who grieve. Sonya lives in Des Moines, Iowa with her husband and two spunky daughters, where she continues to advocate for a treatment and cure for ALS, the disease that took her mother’s life.
“Whish, whoosh, hum. Whish, whoosh, hum.”
The oxygen concentrator hummed in time with the ventilator’s mechanical breath—their sounds a heavy reminder of the life they afforded in the next room. For two years their rhythms filled my childhood home.
There was no need for the alarm I’d set. Sleep had evaded me most of the night. Sneaking out of bed, careful not to wake my husband, I crept up the stairs, needing one last moment with her before the others arrived. The coolness of the laminate kitchen floor jolted my already heightened senses. Even the warmth of the carpet as I crossed into the living room couldn’t soothe me today. The once ample area, now cluttered with medical equipment, resembled a hospital room rather than a family gathering space. The medicinal smell burned my nose.
Echoing her place in our family, Mom lay in the center of the room, sleeping peacefully on her hospital bed, thanks to a morphine drip. Her muted, pale skin hung loose over her atrophied muscles. The image forever imprinted in my mind.
I approached her quietly, fighting back tears as the gravity of what was coming fused with my soul. Slipping my cool fingers into her warm hand, I extended a small squeeze, one she could no longer return. Her eyelids fluttered open as the faintest smile parted her lips.
“Good morning Sunshine,” her voice, muffled and slurred by disease, was difficult to understand.
“Good morning beautiful.” My own words caught on the pain in my throat. “Can I lay with you for a bit?”
Her eyes had already closed, weighed down by the pull of the morphine. Lowering the bed rail, I snuggled into her. Placing her arm over my chest, I lay next to the woman who had been my whole world, my best friend for twenty-nine years and the reality of the day cracked my resolve. Tears I’d fought to contain landed in silent stains on her bedsheets.
Snuggling into her warmth, I drifted into a memory. I was nine years old, curled up on my mother’s lap, my head resting on her chest, the way I often did. Inhaling her sweet perfume that always reminded me of home, I pressed my ear against her and listened to the soft lub-dub of her heart as it pumped steadily.
It was there, nestled in her protective arms, I would imagine our future together. Even as a child, I knew she was more than my mother. She was my compass, the one thing that always led me back home. Lulled by the beat of her heart, I would envision her next to me when my children were born, and picture a day we could embark on adventures our modest lifestyle couldn’t afford.
”Where should we go today Mom? You want mountains, ocean, or maybe Disney?”
“You choose today Sunshine, just don’t forget the fun.” Her voice was barely audible, weakened by her tired, diseased body.
Leaning my head onto her, I whispered, “Okay, Mom, I’ll take you everywhere.”
We laid together in silence as I tried to soak up every bit of her memory before the remainder of my family began to wake.