When I was younger and my mother’s death was an imaginary event in the far away future, I told her, “When you die I’m going to be a total disaster. I’ll be making a scene at your funeral. The boys are going to have to haul me away, kicking and screaming. I may need medication.”
“Like hell you will,” she laughed. “I raised you better than that. You’re going to hold it together and be like Jackie Kennedy.”
The final week of her life, when she privately asked each of her children for permission to go, I held her hand and kissed her forehead and I told her that I loved her and that of course, she was free to go; that she didn’t owe me or my brothers her life. Because as painful as it was to lose her, what she was enduring to keep herself alive was unbearable for her. I understood this. I accepted it. So, I told her she had my blessing to leave. Just like I was Jackie Kennedy.
She went directly on hospice at the hospital where she had been receiving treatment. All the tubes and cords and IVs were removed and she went on “comfort care.” My brothers and I stayed with her day and night, making sure that at least one of us was with her at all times. Family and friends stopped by to visit her and she casually chatted with them, sometimes joking around, almost as if we were all seeing her off at the train station before she embarked on a journey in which she’d return. Being cheerfully medicated, she wasn’t in any pain and didn’t seem particularly sad about leaving.
“Is there anything you’d like to tell me,” I asked her when I got a moment alone with her.
“About what?” she asked. “Do we have anything left unsaid?”
“About my father,” I replied.
“I told you everything I remember, honey, ” she replied.
“Okay,” I replied as I took her hand and held it against my face.
“He’s a nice man, Laurie,” she said. “And you’re a wonderful daughter. You’re his daughter, too. He should know you.”
“I’m going to keep searching until I find him,” I said.
“Oh, I know you will,” she smiled. “And I’ll be cheering you on from Heaven. But, if he’s already passed, when I see him, I’ll tell him all about you.”
“I forgive you,” I said, “for not telling me there was a possibility that Fred wasn’t my dad. I’ve been so angry about it all. I still am. But I do forgive you. I want you to know that.”
“Good,” she said. “Forgiveness is a gift for you; get yourself off that hook you so can move on. I’ve thought a lot about my own dad lately. I was too hard on him. I’ve spent my life being angry about my parent’s divorce and I blamed him for all of it. I was wrong to do that; all that being angry and filled with unforgiveness. Your Grammy wasn’t the easiest person to live with and he tried harder than I ever gave him credit for. He missed meeting you but he loved the boys and Joanne’s kids, too. He was a good man. I think most people are good and they do the best they can with what they have to work with at the time, you know? So, I forgive myself for not understanding all of this sooner, too.”
That was the last meaningful conversation we had. I lost track of the days as they tumbled by. Monday turned into Wednesday…or was it now Thursday? I didn’t know. My mom began slipping into and out of consciousness. My brothers and I held onto each other for support. I was struck by how tender each of them were with her; the way they looked in her eyes when they spoke to her. There’s something special in the relationship between mothers and sons. A something that my relationship with my mom didn’t have. A kind of loving admiration? I don’t know. I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but I was glad she had it in each of my brothers.
My mom used to joke, “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” God was kind and she got her wish. She passed away while sleeping, just as she had always hoped to do. My brother Steve had been sitting with her, listening to a church sermon on his iPhone and suddenly, he felt a strange kind of quiet envelope the room and he knew she was gone. He checked her pulse and got the nurse. I had been home, grabbing a couple of hours of sleep before heading back to the hospital when he called to tell me. I told my daughters that their Nana had passed and they hopped in their car to head to the hospital. I got in my car alone and went to Starbucks. I ordered my coffee and stood there waiting, watching everyone in the room enjoy a perfectly humdrum, forgettable day; another one for them, so much like any other. I hadn’t seen regular, ordinary life taking place in a while and needed to see it before I said goodbye to my mother. I needed to be reminded that life goes on and it would for me as well. I picked up my coffee and headed to the hospital, one last time.
My family met me in the waiting room. They all had time to say goodbye to our mom and thought the girls and I should have some private time alone with her. The three of us walked into her room, quietly, almost tiptoeing as if we’d wake her. She was lying on her back under a blanket, eyes closed. Peaceful. You’d think she was sleeping if you didn’t know that she never slept on her back. We stroked her forehead and kissed her face and we said goodbye. “You were a good mom,” I whispered in her ear. “The best. Thank you for everything, mommy.”
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.