I had promised to blog every week, but real life rudely interrupted my plans when my mother got very sick about eight weeks ago. Since then, my life has been a jumble of medical details and logistics that would challenge even the most organized person. (Meaning: Life was already messy, but now, it’s close to impossible.)
My mother and I have entered a territory known as the final mile. The last hurrah. The end of the road. Hospice.
We have talked about death and dying before, but never with the boldness that this arrangement provides. We have discussed what she’d wear, what I’d say (she fully expects a eulogy from her daughter, the writer), how I’d dress, what I’d do after she passes on, how I’d grieve, promises I’d keep, and how my life might be better/worse without her here, in my home, in the addition we had built especially for her eight summers ago.
For 11 years, mom has been with me, and it’s been a journey full of firsts, but none this monumental. None have had such purposeful introspection. None have had the calmness or the serenity, nor the frenzied worry which sometimes occurs simultaneously when you least expect it.
I know that my mother is going to die. I don’t know when, but I know it is coming. I’ve always known this, of course, even as a young child. Death happens to mothers. Death happens to everyone. I knew this in sixth-grade when a friend whose mother had passed on had released his birthday balloon to the heavens so his mother could participate in his celebration from above. I knew this as a teen, when my neighbor’s father passed away, and I had my first taste of seeing the loss of a parent through a close friend’s eyes. And I knew as a young woman, as I felt the loss of my father profoundly, and took up the mantle of caring for my mother after making a solemn promise to him as he peacefully passed away.
I know this is the beginning of the end, because I have spent a decade trying to prevent it. But now, we are poised to let it come. I know this is the first real acceptance of the inevitable because it is what my mother wants and needs. She wishes not to return to the hospital. She wants to stay home and let nature take its course. And we have agreed to be taken along with it because Mom has endured a lot of suffering. And while it’s true she has experienced a lot of happiness on my watch, she now has little energy left for the final leg of the journey, so we are coasting.
Meals are not rushed, but savored. We say “I love you” more often. We joke around more frequently, and I find myself brushing the hair from her eyes as I tuck her in at night, just as I did with my children when they were sick.
Even though I’ve been caring for my mother for 11 years, this is really the first time I have felt the profound role reversal that is often described when an aging parent relies on you for everything. Her dependence is defining our relationship, but there are still golden moments. There is so little left to offer me, but she provides her wisdom and her reassurance that I am doing everything right for her. There is so little left for her to finish on earth, because, she tells me, “I raised two good kids.”
That she sees me as part of her life’s work is jarring. This is a woman who had forsaken cuddles and trips to the carnival with me when I was a child. She worked tirelessly to build her business and left me on my own too often, for too long, and too many times to count. Growing up as her daughter meant always seeking her unspoken approval but never quite believing it when it came. So, at age 46, I still find myself striving to be that good child, that good daughter —and now, she says that I am.
Perhaps this is the first time she has spoken these words with such conviction. Or perhaps, as the sun sets on her life, it is the first time I am truly hearing her.