Last Friday I heard from my brother that Mom would soon be heading home. It was good sad news.
Mom, by her own description, was at the gate in the airport with her standby ticket waiting for her boarding pass. Waiting. Dad had boarded and gone on a previous flight. So she waited--for seven years and six days.
This kind of waiting hardly feels productive. More like killing time. And time and life are so precious that it seems a shame to do so. Her life was spent on people and she spent time like she spent money: carefully. But by the end, others were spending on her--but she couldn’t take it in.
So I walked through the weekend doing what was on my calendar: wrapping Christmas gifts, attending a joyful wedding celebration complete with reception under sun umbrellas on the grass with singing and complimenting and best wishes so thick you could feel them in the breeze. Then we enjoyed a sparse church service on Sunday with manifold lengthy testimonies and a birthday party later in the day with cake and ice cream.
I did all this while she lay dying. She came to mind, but I know her so well. I knew she’d want me to carry on. And what else could I do? I’m on the other side of the world.
There is nothing I would rather have been doing last weekend than sitting by her bed holding her hand, and accompanying her to the end of her marathon. I had that privilege with Dad seven years ago. I held his hand. I heard him breathing more and more slowly. I saw the little heartbeat impulses get farther and farther apart. Then it went flat and he wasn’t there.
But what an honor to see him through. It is a huge journey and one we truly make alone. Something in me thinks that having family around you would be a lovely thing. Would make it not so intimidating or scary. We do things in community all our lives, but we truly die on our own.
So thinking of Mom, curled in her fetal position, dense with pain killers and unaware of whether I was holding her hand or not, I grieve that I wasn’t there for me. I am the one who lost out, but it feels like she missed something as well.
I don’t know what it was like when she passed over. And I wonder. Were there familiar faces to greet her, as I imagine it to be? Was Dad there, waiting? Or Uncle Dick? Or others she loved and cared for at the end? Guess I won’t know till it’s my turn and I pass alone into that wonderful place we anticipate vaguely and through a glass darkly.
Meanwhile, as she lay dying, I carried on with life, grateful for a loving mom. She was beset with self-doubt, depression and perfectionism. But she loved to get a good bargain and laugh and play scrabble. Me? I’m not so big on bargains, but I laugh and play scrabble every day.
Oh, and now Mom's home for Christmas with Dad.