When a Loved One Dies During the Holidays
As the summer heat grew heavy, her health began to decline. I became her chauffeur to a number of medical facilities. At times, she appeared ready to die right in the waiting room. Her heart was failing and the doctors had run out of ideas, and medicine. This softened her in an unexpected way. Here was Mom, facing her end. All I could do was listen. I was hardly experienced in end-of-life fear. My gift: I kept my belligerent mouth shut, and proceeded to get to know her for the first time in my life.
As children, we expect our parents to dote on us. We expect to be the center of their universe. Our hearts break when we learn otherwise. Such is the sadness in growing up. There is a sudden moment in time when you transform into the parent, allowing your parent to rest and prepare to die.
One late lazy afternoon, we sat in the backyard. In a rare moment of rare vulnerability, she asked me to read the words to a religious song called, “Where do I Turn For Peace?” I sucked in a nervous, tense breath, worried the conversation was again headed for religion. Then my dear inner voice told me to get over it.
I read the poem with all my heart. My life changed in that second, just as dramatic as Helen Keller saying “water” for the first time. My stocked-full-of-lead backpack suddenly fell off my shoulder. The act of surrender massaged my back, one nearly broken from the weight of anger.
As I scanned the lyrics, I felt her looking at me, studying my face, as if for the first time. And I was giving her permission to do so without saying, “what are you looking at?” Perspiration gathered uncomfortably on my eyelids…and they fluttered with embarrassment. I could feel it. She was looking at me, loving me, regarding me as her precious creation. This raided my heart with near shock. It felt so Damn good, I took my sweet time reading the piece. I wanted to feel her heartfelt gaze. Was this the beginning? Could we finally “make peace?”
Back at home that night, I poured out my heart in two poems and sent them to her immediately. She called back, enthralled…because I hadn’t written poetry since I was a child, when I couldn’t really write and she, a typist, had been my scribe. Long ago in poetry we had found our peace pipe.
Our visits became more joyous, despite how terrible she felt. I suppose our newfound relationship may have encouraged her to live a little longer. But that was not to be.
Hospice was prescribed, and for two weeks she lay dying. I coaxed her through it with the most sincere effort I’ve ever pledged.
Now, Mother’s Day is deep-hearted. No sad memories for me. I made peace with Mom, and she with me.
And so, dear reader…work things out with your Mom. You’ll never regret it.
-by Linda Athis
The most loving embrace
I ever gave,
was over a toilet.
There sat my Mother
unable to speak,
pleading for response
from a body shutting down.
Our eyes met in fear.
We did not share
what we both knew.
Death whispered near.
I’m sorry she said,
as if she caused this,
had cruelly wished a curse
upon me, her caregiver.
In that second my heart split,
ripped raw by a mean and jagged knife.
My stronger, youthful arms reached out,
fiercely wrapped around her bony frame.
And there we paused
in a deep, strange embrace.
Resting, loving, weeping
for all things left unsaid.
Buy Forgiving Mom