Today is the first day I have had an opportunity to breathe…to come up to the surface for air.
I left off at Mom’s passing, but there is so much more I want to share about the experience. Mom took her last breath before midnight on New Years Eve, the same day her mother had passed 47 years earlier. The physician who pronounced her was very sweet. He checked for a pulse and listened to her heart, verifying that she was gone. He looked at me with sincerity in his eyes and said, “I am so sorry for your loss. I truly am.” This was an on-call physician, one who covers that floor of the hospital after hours. He didn’t know my mother. He didn’t know her journey, but there was genuine meaning in his condolence. It meant something to me.
The nurses who cared for Mom in her last days were wonderful. She was on the palliative care unit, which is for patients seeking comfort care. Prior to the funeral home’s arrival, the nurses needed to prepare her. Normally family leaves during this time, but I wanted to stay. I watched how careful they were when they removed her IV. How carefully they turned her body as they removed the tubes and wires. They treated her with such care and dignity.
Once Mom’ was ready to be transported to the funeral home, i decided to leave. I gathered my things and made my way through the hospital. Everything was so quiet. So serene. The only sound was from the click/clack of my clogs as I made my way to the exit. While walking through the empty halls, I made a decision to visit my father. He is back at a rehabilitation center for additional physical therapy. I knew I wouldn’t sleep at all, knowing he didn’t know about Mom. I called the center and let them know what had happened and that I was coming to tell him. They were very accommodating and met me at the door.
I walked in to his dark room and turned on his bedside lamp. I quietly woke him. At first, he didn’t realize it was me. He also didn’t realize that it was 2:00 am. I held his hand and said, “Daddy, Mom is gone. She passed tonight.” He didn’t seem to understand me at first. He began talking about his therapy and that he was going home in the next week. I repeated myself, “Daddy….Mom passed away tonight.”
He looked at me with a puzzled look and said, “My wife died?” And then the look on his face turned to one of panic. He began to cry as he said, “Oh no…I hope my daughter wasn’t there. I hope she wasn’t there alone. I hope she didn’t see her mother die.”
Because of his macular degeneration, he did not realize it was me, his daughter, sitting on the edge of his bed. The look of worry on his face was disturbing. He was so afraid I’d been there alone. It was as if I saw him morph back into his role as a parent…as a protector.
I spoke up a bit louder for him to hear, “Daddy, it’s me. I am here. And yes, I was with Mom when she passed. It’s okay. It is what I wanted. I am okay.” I squeezed his hand. He recognized me this time.
We talked and cried. I wonder what It must feel like to lose a spouse. What it must feel like to lose a companion? He was at a loss for words, as was I. I decided that the best thing for us both was to listen to their favorite song. So I played, “For the Good Times” one last time. We sat there holding each other’s hands…no words needed.
Mom’s service was Monday. She looked lovely. The flowers were perfect. The music was perfect. Everyone was wonderful. My dad did well. My oldest son did well. I managed to get through without losing it. To be honest, it hasn’t really hit me yet. I am still processing. In fact, Sunday evening, I started to call Mom, and realized that she was gone. I will never hear her voice again. I will never hug her again. I won’t be able to call her when I can’t remember a recipe.
She’s gone. It just seems so final.
And tonight, as I hold my baby girl in my arms, I am reminded of our journey together. How it began as mother and daughter. How she held me as a baby. How she listened to me tell her every detail of a book I’d read in school. How she waited up for me to come home from my dates. How she was there when I picked out my wedding dress. How she was there when I had all three of my children. How proud she was to be a grandmother.
And I reflect about how things shifted. How I prepared the holiday dinners for the last 10 years, because she wasn’t able to. How I took her to the doctor and held her hand as she used to hold mine. How I became her mother in these last years, holding her fragile life in my arms until the very end, when I handed her over to be with God.
And through all of this, I realize what they mean when they say, “full circle.”
It reminds me of the book, “Love you Forever.”
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”
Forever. For Always.