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It's Been a Year

Contributed by Deb Clarke

July 31, 2023

It has been a year since Mom “answered the call.” What euphemisms we have for death and dying, as if by tip-toeing around the topic, it will hurt less or, even better, not exist. The fact is Mom died. We expected it; we watched it unfold throughout her last day. But if a day when your mom dies can be regarded as, well not perfect of course, but at least one that was not consumed with desperate last-minute attempts at prolonging life, then that was the day we had. There were moments of joy and bouts of laughter. Mom held court that morning and entertained us with her wit, even as she showed signs of weakening. She was in charge of her life right up to the moment of her death. Mom was always going to face it square in the eye, as she faced every challenge. There was no need for whispered conversations about admitting her to hospice care; she was in on the decision and signed the papers herself. In a final tender moment with the doctor she trusted the most, her kidney doctor, she refused the offer to go back on dialysis. My sister Terry was witness to that conversation when Mom told him she was done with all that. Our scrappy little mom was coming face to face with her mortality, her resilience and tenacity finally tapping out.

By that afternoon, Mom was being tended to by the dedicated nurses in the hospice center. Family members drifted in and out, keeping a mostly silent vigil. Worried about Dad, I watched him closely trying to determine when I should intervene and try to coax him into going home. He was emotionally, physically, and psychologically exhausted. Finally, he squeezed her hand, told her he loved her and that he would see her tomorrow. Terry stayed so Mom was not alone. The saddest thing of all for me in those moments was the long slow walk down the hall to the elevator. Dad could barely walk. He wanted desperately to stay, but knew he physically couldn’t take much more. He tried to convince himself that he would see her the next day. With both of us in tears, we looked at each other and I had to say, “Daddy, you know that’s not going to happen.” I will never forget his look of resignation and sorrow when he simply replied, “I know.” By the time we got home and he was settling into his chair, Terry called. . .

In the days approaching this anniversary, I read my journal from last summer. I wrote sporadically about the days I spent with Mom. And there is one entry from June 22 that reflects on a very simple statement Mom made while I was sitting with her in the hospital. This is what I wrote:

“Yesterday, Mom said, ‘I can’t leave my kids.’ Sitting at her bedside where she has been for several days, suffering a combination of colitis and diverticulitis, weak from hunger and becoming ever more frail from the ravages of age and the endless crashes of her little body’s operating systems, I listened as she talked, not so much to me as to herself. Convinced she will rally and heal, Mom’s will to live, I’m convinced, comes from a deeply buried sense of abandonment he has carried in her heart since the day her own mother died. Mom was six years old.

This morning I was reading the last few pages of Anne Lamott’s book Dusk, Night, Dawn for the second time. In that pre-dawn hour, one particular passage brought it all home to me. In a chapter about love, Anne wrote: ‘Trust me on this: We are loved out of all sense of proportion. Yikes and hallelujah.’ Lying there on her bed, in her room in her beloved apartment, with tears streaming, it was like my heart got plugged in to hers and I felt the shock of understanding what keeps charging her dogged determination to keep on living. Beneath the seemingly uncomplicated veneer of this little woman is the complex soul of a mother fiercely protective of her offspring and completely devoted to loving them unconditionally.

‘I can’t leave my kids,’ reveals the essence of my mother’s great big heart, her capacity to love, her will to live. ‘I can’t leave my kids’ defines her, validates her, and perhaps even forgives her, for, despite the abundance of maternal love, losing a son she was helpless to save.”

That simple statement sums up who Mom was. Or should I say who Mom is. Her boundless love transcends all barriers.

This past year has held many moments of grief, as well as sweet and funny memories, for those of us who love Mom. And then when Dad died in early November, we were really derailed. But as time passes and we tend to our daily lives that are blessed with spouses, children, and grandchildren, we are more comfortable with understanding and acceptance. We don’t cry as often or as hard; we don’t retreat into self-pity; we don’t play the “if-only” card. Even as we mourn our loss, we celebrate our blessings.

In her honor, tonight for dinner, I’m having a Maryland crab cake. Here’s to you, Mom!


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