It was just before sunset on a warm summer day as I stepped inside. Remnants of freshly cut grass still held to my tennis shoes. I shut the door, and heard the polite tinkling of the bell chiming from the bedroom at the end of the hall.
I was sixteen, and she was fifty-seven.
She needed something. I hesitated to take a deep breath and wondered, Where is Dad? A growing sense of dread rose up in me with each step, and I tried to push away the emotions as I walked into her bedroom.
Shadows of stirring leaves filtered in through the sliding glass door to make their display upon the bed. Propped up on pillows, she appeared more sunken than I had left her.
I tried to sound cheerful.Hi mom. Do you need something?
With a glimmer of gladness, she gave a tired smile. "Hi honey, she said, then cleared her throat. "Could you get me a cup of coffee?"
"Sure mom, be right back."
I ducked back down the hallway and into the kitchen, poured the coffee with cream and sugar, and slowly treaded back to her bedroom.
I walked to her and gingerly placed the cup in her bony outstretched hands. She placed the steaming cup to her lips and took a careful sip, wrinkling her eyes.
"Too hot?" I asked.
She pulled the cup away from her mouth, shaking her head. "No, it's good. Thank you."
She took another sip."Have a seat."
I sat down at the foot of the bed sideways to face her. "Did you read the book you had me buy for you yet?"
She nodded. "Yep."
"Well, what did you think?"
She breathed a long sigh. "Well, I thought it was very good." She paused. "But, it had a rotten plot."
I smiled at her and shook my head, relieved by the uncanny humor she managed to hold on to. The book was entitled Death and Dying.
She nodded her head sideways gesturing to the space on the bed beside her. "Come on up here. How was your time at the park?"
I pulled my way up on the bed to lie beside her, on my side to face her, supporting my head with my fist to my cheek. "It was fun. We played Frisbee for a couple of hours, and then hung out with my friends. Kelly and I are getting really good at it."
"That does sound like fun. I'm glad you and your sister are getting out like that." She sighed wistfully. "I wish I had been more athletic." She took another sip, appearing deep in thought, and then turned to me, slightly tilting her head with a thoughtful expression. With tender intensity, she looked me in the eye. "You know Francie, if I had it to do all over again, I'd want to be you." She continued her gaze at me a moment, then looked back down at the cup.
Her words perplexed me. I never knew. With quiet sincerity, she had given me a precious gift, like a warm blanket wrapped around my heart.
She coughed, and I saw the panic as she frantically placed the cup on the table beside her, and then hurriedly pulled out a tissue from the box on her lap. I sensed the embarrassment as she wiped her mouth. Another cough and another tissue. With apparent angry disgust, she threw them both into the paper sack on the floor beside the bed. She grabbed another tissue and wiped her eyes.
"Mom, are you hungry? You want some Ensure?"
"No, I don't think I could keep it down right now." She took a labored breath then blew her nose into another tissue.
I pushed my tears down into my throat. How much longer will she be here suffering? I anguished. With helpless uncertainty, I leaned closer and kissed her cheek. "I love you mom."
"I love you too honey."
"You sure I can't get you anything else?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"Okay, I'll be right down the hall if you do."
"Okay." She smiled.
I climbed out of the bed and grieved in my thoughts as I journeyed down the hall away from her. Yet, there was great comfort in the sweet revelation she had shared. She cherished me far more than I had ever imagined, and to me, it was her lasting stamp of approval.