I remember well the last Mother’s Day with my mother. I had come home to Houston to be with her, as per usual, on my day off from the show I was doing in Illinois. It being Mother’s Day, I wanted to bring her a present.
It is odd when you are trying to pick a gift for someone who has been told that they are, in essence, dying. Certain gifts seem ridiculous, and some seem insensitive: a purse or some piece of clothing or jewelry. At this point, my mom didn’t leave the house, or have outside visitors, so such things seemed unimportant and unnecessary.
“Things” in general had long since become less important, unless they could somehow bring joy or add quality to my Mom’s life.
After wracking my brain, I settled for some kind of flowers or plant. I stopped off at a florist on the way to my parents’ house and picked a blue hydrangea plant in a blue and white ceramic bowl. She loved the color blue, I loved hydrangea, and I loved her, so it seemed the best fit under the circumstances. I figured it was at least something pretty to look at.
We had a particularly intense visit.
My mother had just reached the point where she and my father had to admit that they needed a nurse to come in: she could no longer get herself up out of a chair or sit up in bed unassisted. I had been noticing her failing body strength the last few visits.
But it had been a delicate subject to broach with them. As had other such conversations that had become necessary as her disease progressed.
First had been concern that the three steps up from their bedroom sitting area to the bed area had become a danger for her. I had become secretly terrified she’d fall and break her neck. So I very carefully brought it up to my parents, trying to seem casual so as not to belie the quiet hysteria I felt deep inside.
Such conversations with your parents are so surreal: to be both the child and the adult in the situation at once is strange.
They ended up moving the bed down into the bedroom sitting area, which was a great solution until even that was too much for her.
She eventually moved into Ground Zero – the open kitchen living room area. A hospital bed replaced the couch. She was in the center of things there.
Each new shift in her physical condition had required carefully approached conversations. I’d sense a hope in my parents that was a kind of invisible protective veneer surrounding them, one that colored their perspective of what was actually happening. It seemed to make them a beat or two behind in seeing the changes that were occurring.
Intuitively, I knew I had to take care not to puncture it. I had to ever-so-gently lead them to the realizations. They could not be forced upon them, or rushed.
This most recent concession that my mother’s physical freedom had become so altered was a particularly tough one for both of them. This Mother’s Day fell in the final few days of their time on their own in their home before a full-time hospice care person entered the picture.
As was true of our other weekly visits, we mainly spent our time together talking. Being together.
My mother talked of her life on those visits, and asked me about mine. There were times the conversation went to very serious subjects. Intimate information was exchanged. Old wounds were healed. Our relationship returned to what I can only describe as what I imagine to be the pure essential love between an infant and its mother.
And we laughed. A lot. And talked of lighter things. But throughout all of our talks, there was a subtle rhythm to them that I now realize she was orchestrating. Bits and pieces of those talks, that seemed so casual at times, come back to me as my life progresses. It turns out, she had been implanting motherly wisdoms all along. Mothering me until the very end.
And while I felt our beautiful closeness at this particular visit, I also felt a distance, too. She was moving through an internal process that was singular and private: it was something that neither my father nor I could be a part of.
When I left, I said what I had taken to saying every time: I love you. You know that, right? You hang in there and I’ll see you next week, OK? She hugged me and gave my cheek a little pat. I hated leaving her. It was always hard.
This particular time, for some reason I have never since been able to fathom, I wasn’t particularly afraid I wouldn’t see her again. I let my guard down for a moment. It wasn’t in the forefront of my mind that it might be my last time to see her.
I don’t know why I dropped that awareness. I’ve replayed that last goodbye over in my mind a hundred times. Berating myself for not having said more profound things. The truth was, we’d already said the truly crucial things we needed to say to each other, and for that I am truly grateful. I don’t know what it is I think I could have said at that last goodbye. I just know it still comes back to circle my mind at times. I guess it is all a part of the way the mind deals with grief, those senseless replays and circles.
The next time I visited my parents’ house, the hydrangea was still there. But my Mom was gone forever.