Mother had graciously accepted the fact she needed more care than I could now give her. Her eyes opened, and she looked up at me through a fog of pain-killing drugs. It took her a moment to focus and remember where she was. Her hands, absent their normal strength, stroked the stiff white sheet. It reminded me of how she had smoothed my sheets as she tucked me in so many, many years earlier.
“What time is it?” she asked, squinting at the clock next to her bed. Along with her other senses, her vision had diminished rapidly over the past months.
“About three,” I replied.
“Morning or afternoon?” she asked faintly.
“Afternoon,” I said. “Do you want me to open your curtains?”
“I’d like that,” she assured me.
As I drew back the curtains, I hoped she’d be able to enjoy the sunshine that came streaming in. It was a beautiful fall day. A few years ago, she’d have been tending her flowers on a day like this. But then cancer had changed her life.
“How’s that?” I asked as I bent to give her a kiss.
“Wonderful, Sweetie,” she said. Even now, she returned a smile. “It looks like you’re missing out on a beautiful day to be here.”
I stood by her bed, sunlight streaming in behind me. “It is pretty outside, but I can’t think of anywhere else I want to be right now,” I said and fought tears.
“Anything I can get for you?” I changed the subject, hoping there was something I could do for her. Getting her water or juice, adding a blanket, reading her mail to her--doing something---anything---would be good. It was the not being able to help that was torture.
She thought for a few seconds, and then said, “No…really there isn’t anything I need right now.”
“Would you like me to turn on the television?” I asked her.
“Today, I’d rather just be with you,” she replied.
“Okay.” Now, I felt pressure to keep the conversation light. Although her steady decline in health depressed me, I tried to converse on positive subjects. My mind was wandering, still searching for a positive topic when she said, “It’s all gone so fast.”
“What?” I asked.
“Life,” she said. “Life has gone so fast.”
I couldn’t think of a response, and she continued.
“70 years have just flown by,” she said with a sigh. “Sometimes, it’s just a blur.”
“It is hard to believe you’re 70,” Mom, I said trying to sound cheerful--as though she might still have many more years to come. But I knew, and she knew, that her remaining time on this Earth was now limited to days.
“I want you to know,” she began, and then hesitated, trying to find strength to say the words, “that I’ve had a wonderful life.”
My mind raced backward in time, recalling her devastation over divorce, her acceptance of taking on hard work, her struggle to be a good single parent, and now of cancer’s apparent victory. But, from the look on her face, she wasn’t focusing on those times. She was enjoying memories of good times.
I sent a quick prayer of thanksgiving to God.
“Most of the time, life was really, really good,” she said, and then repeated with emphasis, “but it’s just gone so fast. When I think back on everything, it seems like only yesterday that you children were all still little. Everyone we met thought you were just beautiful, too. You played so hard you just wore your dad and me out.” She smiled and her voice trailed off. Her eyelids fluttered as she once again drifted off to sleep.
I wanted to tell her that she’d been great, that I loved and appreciated her, that I hoped I had half her good qualities. But she was sleeping peacefully now. I whispered, “You’re still the best Mom ever.”
I sat by her bed till it was dark, letting her sleep, knowing she had little energy left for anything but breathing. I closed the curtains. As I left, I kissed her forehead and stroked her hand. Then, just as she’d done for me a thousand times, I smoothed her sheet, tucking her in for the night.
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