After a long six-year battle with lung cancer, my mother finally went to her resting place with the Lord on July 26, 2006 at about 10:05 in the morning. I was present in her hospital room when she passed; in fact, as she took those last “fish out of water” breaths, I stroked her hair and told her it was okay to go, that we all would be okay, that we would miss her. I believe in my heart that, while she suffered quite a bit, she passed in peace.
Since she has passed, I think about her so very often. But instead of thinking about the good and happy times, I think about her last weeks of life. I flew home to be with her and to help care for her. She was bedridden under home hospice care before she was readmitted to the hospital. She was very frail. But when I walked through her bedroom door, I could tell she had curled her hair for our (my daughter and me) arrival. She smiled and brightened up – she actually looked good under the circumstances. Yet and still, she wasn’t the Mommy I knew.
I reflect often on why I think so much about those final weeks. They were good in the sense that Mommy saw her granddaughter and got a chance to spend time with her before she left us. I got a chance to spend time with her in her bed, talking to her about how she was feeling and what she wanted. She had always said since her diagnosis in 2001 that she was ready to go. She had always felt she would go anytime. But by now, she was so very tired, both physically and emotionally. Though she never admitted it, she was in alot of pain. She had been through a lot. And I discovered as I read her journals (which she intended on being discovered) she suffered through much of her illness silently and alone, when she didn’t have to.
Mommy and I had a good relationship. We could talk about almost anything. But I chose not to talk to her about my marriage because my views on marriage were very different than hers. Mommy was a very independent woman; she did things on her own. When she wanted to buy some large ticket item, she’d save up the money for it and buy it. It didn’t matter what the cost; if she wanted it, she bought it. She bought my father’s clothes. When my brother and I were growing up, she sewed much of what we wore. In fact, when I was in high school, she made me several very cute dresses that I wore regularly. When she wanted to buy a house, she searched on her own. It was only after she found her house that she informed my father about it.
She was also very strong-willed. Don’t make her mad! She could hold a grudge – for long periods of time. I don’t mean days. Weeks! Wow! That used to amaze me, not in an admiring sense, but wondering how she could walk by her husband day after day and not say a word. But in spite of a hardened shell, Mommy was very generous and loving in her own way. She would do anything in the world for her friends and family. She would do anything in the world for me.
Her expression of love for me, though, was emotionally painful for her, me, and my husband toward the end of her life. Mommy didn’t agree with some of the decisions my husband had made, so she called him one day (when she knew I wasn’t at home) and blessed him out. She was on the outside looking in a window of circumstances she didn’t understand, circumstances that I didn’t feel I could talk to her about nor did I feel obligated to do so. She would have never understood my point of view because of the hurt and pain she endured in her marriage. I know what she would’ve advised me to do, so I chose not to share with her much of what was going on with me personally. I have been dealing with my own baggage in my marriage; I didn’t want to take more of hers on as well.
Because of what happened, then, I feel the dance my Mommy and I performed was a bit awkward toward the end. I still feel there is some unfinished business that will never get resolved. I want to tell her that everything is okay. I want to tell her that my husband is a wonderful provider and wants the best for me, that he is a great daddy and adores our little girl. But I can’t. And I feel sad and guilty about it at times.
I don’t pretend to speak for all women here, but I believe the dances we do with our mothers are sometimes fluid, sometimes graceful, though oftentimes stepping on one another’s toes, resulting in “ouches” along the way. We sometimes dance closely, sometimes far apart, but nevertheless, we dance. It reminds me of a book one of my female colleagues gave me after Mommy died entitled Mother Daughter Dance. The book is written by Jeannie Cochran DuBose who is recounting her experiences with her mother as she was growing up as well as her experiences with her own daughter now that she is a mother herself. Jeannie recalls her mother’s advice after she called her explaining how she had spoken harshly to her daughter. Her mother explained,
“This is only the beginning. You both have years of pushing and pulling ahead…It never ends.”
To which she says,
“I look back and remember my mother and me, brimming with tenderness and touch, tension and strain.”
Right now, I’m remembering the tension and strain. I pray that I can get to a point where I can consistently, when she is on my mind, remember the tenderness and love.