In Her Honor

We all return to work tomorrow…ah!—blessed routine! As a sort of send off to our time away from work, Brenda and I hit the mall this afternoon.

We are hardcore shoppers. The purpose was to find a specific item from Bath and Body Works. We are hardcore skincare, fragrance, beauty line freaks. Forty-five minutes and $200 later, we headed back through the mall, and made stops in this store in that. My last dive, as Bren purchased frilly things elsewhere, was into a department store with several racks herded beneath bright “CLEARENCE!” signs.

I knew time was tight. I knew Brenda could swipe that MasterCard of hers faster than Wyatt Earp could draw. With hiccuping breath and quick hands, I clawed through the flocks to find my size. Brenda came to me as my hair escaped strand-by-strand from my ponytail and my collected drool made the descent toward the floor. Frenzied and sounding very much like Scooby Doo, I marched to the cash registers and made my purchase. Three dress shirts. Twenty dollars. I saved $75.

Leaving the store, Brenda chuckled, “Your Mom’s up there loving this. You did her proud.” Now my mother! SHE was a hardcore shopper! Neither Brenda nor I could stand opposite to her skills of shopping prowess, and nothing thrilled her more than a good sale…well maybe a peanut m&m with the chocolate sucked off. This was indeed a tribute. The torch has been passed.

Getting into it, I punched my bag into the air with a power-to-the-people fist and cried, “I did it all for you, Momma!”

Celebrating a Life

Yesterday was Mom’s wake. I was touched by the volume of those who came to celebrate her life, and moved by the warmth they inspired on such a barren day. As many I spoke with mentioned, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for being a part of my mother’s life…I know she loved you all. I also wanted to thank those of you in cyberspace who sent flowers and cards…your generosity touched me, and I deeply inhaled the fragrance of life at your request.

Today, we have the funeral. Tomorrow, we get back to the business of living. I don’t know which will be more difficult. But for now, I leave you with this, the words that I will have read to Mom during the service today:

Oh, Mom…

I debated whether or not I wanted to formally write something to you for this day…we’ve exchanged so many words over the years, and I still left our conversations feeling that there was a little more to say. I guess there will always be a little more to say, won’t there?

You taught me love, Mom. You taught me nurturing, and I was honored to have the opportunity to care for you during your illness. I didn’t know real love until our roles were reversed, and I was your guardian, your caretaker, and your protector. I didn’t know that love could hurt so sharply, and then reverse on you, cradling you in plushy warmth.

You’ve been my best friend. My husband left me last year…you know; you were there that day. We had just returned from the hospital to find a note. I was stunned, taciturn, and numb. You moved around me restlessly, organizing cupboards, folding laundry. “You have to tell me what you want me to do,” you directed. “I don’t know how to help. I don’t know what to do.” You felt just as destroyed as I felt. I think our hearts must be linked.

My sentiments were echoed in the last month. I didn’t know how to help you; I didn’t know what to do. You were stern on the subject of my witnessing your death. You didn’t want me to see you like that. You wanted me shielded until the very end; you wanted even your last breath to be spent protecting me. It was difficult, the forcing myself away, but I did it…for you, always for you. My memories of you are of joyful laughter and tearful affection, and they are vivid in the murky dark of your absence. One day they will illuminate my days and I will always have the sun at my side, blanketing my life with your warm light.

You called us “kindred spirits”…and I believe we were—are: spirits never die. I learned from your feelings, and you professed to learn from my philosophies. We were caught in a continual mutual admiration, and words were simply unnecessary. Yes, there was always a little more to say…but our hearts spoke the words. Few people can grasp our connection, for few are so blessed. My life was made golden with yours…precious and invaluable. Strength was something we learned together, built together, and wielded together. I still feel you. You are holding my hand, and you are not letting go. My strength will not fail with yours so near. I love you, and I am keeping you alive in me. Have peace, and know no pain.

The Next Turn

Last night, after four days of sleep deprivation, as well as physical and emotional fatigue, Hospice supplied us with “crisis care” for the twelve hours beginning at eight last evening. My mother’s sisters all returned to their homes after four days camped beside Mom. Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life…and in relation to the last six months in particular, that’s no small proclamation. It was 2:00 Tuesday morning when we awoke to what we thought was “the end”. I will save her some dignity by keeping the details elusive, but coffee was brewed and we began our day with about ninety minutes of sleep to our credit.

She seemed more lucid yesterday than all the days since she’s been home. She was responsive. The cadence of “I love you” was echoed. Our eyes met and I knew she was seeing me, not merely looking through me. It tugged at the binds of hope, this reemergence of the woman I know…but I know it isn’t in the cards. The hope hurts. She’s been adamant from the beginning that she doesn’t want people around here at the end. Last night, as her loving family relaxed into slumber, Mom slipped into a coma. No witnesses. Just as she wanted it to be.

She looks so lovely, so precious, as I gaze at her dear face. There is no pain etched there today. I nuzzled her nose with mine and shared her pillow while I cried. I wrapped my arms around her and held her close, embracing her body with life, maybe hoping I could daisy chain her to my own vitality. I was given a kingly gift in Mom…few have such fortune with their allotment of guardians. My mother and I live within one another. A part of her will always live in me…just as a part of me is dying right now. I cupped her head gently to my chest as I swayed to and fro. The ache made the air thick, the room blurry, and out of the silence, without plan, I sang. It was the song she sang to me as I fed on the nourishment of her love while I was so new and unfamiliar with this thing called life. The first two lines seemed to complete the circle of our relationship, and I will look for her waiting for me just inside the gates of Heaven.

Where are you going, my little one, little one?
Where are you going, my baby, my own?

And now, we wait for the angels.


They drove away from my dorm in LaCrosse that September morning, and Mom cried the entire way home. Dad comforted her as best he could, but she was inconsolable. It felt as though her baby was going away forever.

We drove from the hospital in Madison this afternoon, and I cried the entire way home. Dad comforted me as best he could, but I was inconsolable, and he joined me in my tears. It feels as though my momma is going away forever.

An ambulance is bringing Mom home tomorrow morning. Hospice is bringing by supplies tonight…setting up a hospital bed. She wants to be at home. She’s faded quickly this week. The pain is etched in her face. She struggles just to move her arm. The pain is making her cranky, a complete deviance from her normal demeanor. The shift in personality is perhaps the hardest for me.

But, as I left, I lightly brushed her arm, and said my goodbye. She opened those beautiful hazel eyes and smiled so sweetly…and I just wanted to cradle her and protect her from the world. I want to save her from the end, but ah…I’m meeting with the brick wall of my finite power.