My mother died on this day – December 10, 2006. It has been 8 years now, but it’s still a sad day. I find myself close to tears several times throughout the day as I remember, and I do my best to replace the sadness with happy memories of her, and there are many, many happy memories to choose from.
For the last two weeks of her life, she was at home, receiving hospice support. I was there caring for her, along with various other family members who came and went and some professional care givers, as well. But I was the one who was there 24 hours a day.
I had the chance to talk with my mother a lot during those final weeks, especially the first week, while she was still fully lucid and alert. We shared our honest and heartfelt thoughts during the wee hours of the morning when no one else was there or awake and I had the chance to say everything I wanted and needed to say to her, She did, too.
We did a lot of laughing during those two weeks, too. We watched her favorite movies. I introduced her to Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte and laughed when she took a sip, looked at the cardboard cup and said, “Where have you been all my life?” I made sure she got her favorite foods, whether they were “allowed” by my stepfather or not, and we enjoyed feeling like we had pulled something over on everyone when she enjoyed them.
My mother was well loved by many. Her final weeks were filled with phone calls, letters, emails, and visits from people – some traveling for hundreds of miles – telling her how much she meant to them and what a difference she made in their lives. She was able to experience that love while she was alive, rather than die alone and have everyone just speak well of her at her funeral. I am still grateful for that. There were times when some said we needed to limit the visitors but I didn’t understand that. If she wanted to see them and they were there to express their gratitude and share a few final moments with her, who were we to stand in the way? So I didn’t. Even though she was fading fast, she lit up when she saw friends, both recent ones and friends from decades past, arrive to hold her hand and tell her they loved her and would miss her.
She died the way I wish we all could, surrounded by love. In fact, one of my favorite memories from her last week was when she called me and my younger brother over to her bedside. She reached up and put one hand on each of our faces, looked us in the eyes and said slowly with faltering voice, “I love you.” She knew she’d be going soon and she had to say goodbye her way. Her way was filled with love. Expressing that love was the most important thing.
Her final days were’t perfect, though. There were people she desperately wanted to see who either couldn’t or wouldn’t make the trip. It was hard to hear her call for them knowing that they weren’t coming. If I could have brought them to her, I would have. I wanted her to have everything she wanted. What she wanted most, though, was to stay with us, but we all knew none of us could give her that.
There were other people she did not want around, but I was powerless to stop them from being there for a variety of reasons. All I could do was stay with her, make her comfortable, help manage her pain, and love her. It never felt like enough, but it was. Love is always enough.
Like her final days, my mother wasn’t perfect, either. I see many of her faults in myself, especially as I age. When I think about them, I don’t push them away in an effort to remember her as a saint; I embrace them so I can remember her as the whole, unique human being that she was, and I try to learn from them. As for the wrongs, real and imagined, that she committed against me and I against her, we forgave each other on the last night we were alone together, so she could let go without guilt and resentment and I could keep living without them in my life.
Still, my heart is breaking today because I miss her. Christmas is approaching and that was her favorite time of year. As you might expect, it’s mine, too, but it’s not quite as magical without her. Our family is spread all over the country and we don’t come together for holidays like we did when Mom was alive. She was the glue, wrapping paper, and ribbon that held us all together. My brothers and I struggle, and often fail, to keep in touch as I know my mother would have liked. I don’t quite understand why.
Mom will still be gone tomorrow and the day after that, but her absence won’t sting like it does today. On Christmas, my memories will be filled with all the perfect and joyful Christmas days I shared with her, and these will mix with my efforts to make Christmas just as special for my own children.
We all die. It will happen once for each of us and the memories will reverberate through the lives of those who loved us. But we get to live every day. I won’t let the sadness of today steal a moment of life and love from me and my family as I love today. I’ll let it season it a bit so we don’t forget my mother and the ordinary yet extraordinary person she was. I’ll feel life more fully today. I know that’s how my mother would want it.