The day my mother died is the day I really knew she loved me. A strange thing to say, I know, but my truth nevertheless. The understanding of all things from the beginning came with the ending.
I had crawled in bed with her waiting for her last organic breath in a sterile room. My nose irritated by the scents of alcohol and i.v. Her nose bloody from forcing oxygen. I tried to clean her face. Lotion even but tears would fall from her left eye. My strong mother didn’t cry. She “leaked” as we would call it. I didn’t want to take it away from her. Truth is, I didn’t want to lose them myself. If I wiped them, I would never again see the strength of her womanhood again.
She hadn’t spoken for 3 days. Not since she had given me some rather poetic instructions. Even now I laugh that she and I could never have a straight conversation. Always a movie script of some kind. Meaningful now, drama back then.
When the silence came, her heart monitor spoke for her. The number of beats would rise and fall as different voices entered the room and addressed her all with the same tone. “Sister?” “Ma’cia?” “Mama? Mama? MAMA!!”
I knew her 3 day rule. If she didn’t rise in the three days like Jesus did, then she didn’t want to be hooked to nothing that would change that. She was adamant about not being trapped in weakness.
But I punked out. I sang “He’s sweet I know” as if that were going to change her mind. She waved a few times. I never knew if she was raising her hands in worship or telling me to shut up.
I have always felt I failed my younger sister by allowing her to sign those dreaded papers. I remember the mix of sadness and anger in her eyes as she penned her name and then literally ran from the room. It would be days before I saw her again
I’m was not quite cognitive of where my older sister was in that moment. I knew she was there. I suspect she was no longer the Big Sister at that moment but too was again the child with the single pocahontas ponytail praying for Mama not to go. She, like Mama, would try hard to not show it, but vulnerability reveals itself even in stone.
I only found out today that they had their private moment at some point that I must have slipped away. There was a forgiveness time involved and a phone conversation with her best friend. I pray she will tell you all about that someday.
The youngest was barely a preteen. Sheltered in the room with the grandchildren. The “adults ” always feeling the need to protect them from the inevitable.
I too made that mistake. I had sent my two youngest kids to school that Monday. Not sure if I was shielding them from death or from seeing me in a child like desperation. Children need to know that their parents are human too.
The treatment of my eldest, I regret the most. I had him when I was 15. He was her baby. Her son that I birthed. She would laugh and say that I was just the “egg bearer.”
Through well meaning “it’s going to be okay” I neglected to talk to him about God’s Will and how a person’s will outweighs our tears. At the moment of her death, he comes flying in with a bouquet of get well balloons, not realizing that her version of getting well meant leaving us behind.
Let me correct that. She didn’t leave us behind. She left this world behind and we just happened to be still in it.
The room was full though. Sister’s sisters and Sister’s brothers (one on the phone was in New York). There were so many, 10 of them total. Being on the oldest end, she was a second caregiver to most of them. Missing completely was the youngest brother. He was her original baby boy and had been murdered by a robber a few short years before. Honestly, I believe that was the day she really died. Her broken heart never quite recovered and affected her body from that point forward.
Her mother, the rock of our family, had been in and out, wheeled in a chair. But I still can’t picture her in the room at that moment. I was told later how she drew close to her daughter and gently rubbed her forehead. A silent expression of love that is the hallmark for much of my family. This was the second child she had lost at too young of an age. The baby boy, Ronnie at 33 and my mom not quite 54. Her soul was hurting in ways I cannot and will not try to imagine.
Slowing beeps and tubes being removed, counting each deep draw and release. Five. The number of grace. A number I now have a love / hate relationship with. On Valentine’s Day no less. A day she has previously disliked and one I still avoid 21 years later.
I remember my pastor/godmother trying to pull me away and I screamed at her “she brought me in this world, I can go with her out.” I don’t think I ever apologized to Cat for that. Not sure I should, that pull almost took my mother’s love from me.
In that moment, holding fiercely to my mother’s arm, I felt her. Not just a shockingly strange amount of energy that only those who have held on to a transitioning person know.
But I felt her.
It should have been a peaceful moment. But I was 31 years old and wasn’t ready for her to go yet. I had questions only she could answer. I screamed. I cried. I prayed in tongues so strong and loud that Cat asked the nurse to give me a sedative.. Even now I believe my comical mother got a chuckle out of that.
But I felt her.
She was free. She was seeing her Savior. She saw that Ronnie was okay.. Everything that ever burdened her was being released.
But I felt her.
Though it was only mere minutes it felt like hours. Holding on to her arm, that ironically had no more strength or warmth, I believe I was selfishly trying to hold on to her. Hold on to her because I still needed her. I still wanted her.
But I felt her. And she was finally fierce.
Her love was intense. It was given. It was written. It was unspoken. It was taken for granted. It was appreciated. It was too much and not enough all at once. It hurt her. It hurt others. It healed her and she healed others.
And in that moment, I felt her. I felt her love and I didn’t cry for her again for one full year. My mother showed me she loved me when she let me feel her.
November 8, 2021. An excerpt from “My Mama’s Love Is Like …”