Yesterday Hospice advised my siblings and me that we might want to gather around our mother. Yesterday was also two years to the day after my mother, in the hospital for surgery and refusing to eat, asked me, “What day is it?”
“It’s Tuesday, Mom,” I responded.
“No, I mean what date is it?” she’d asked, looking over her smudged glasses that she insisted on wearing even as she slept. She had one good eye, and even as she had decided to die, she still wanted to know she could see the world if she opened that eye.
“It’s October 25th, Mama.”
Glaring at me, she seemed annoyed, and for a moment I was taken back to my childhood, when that mother’s stare was enough to stop me from committing whatever transgression I had been contemplating.
But then I realized she was staring down the Grim Reaper, who had been waving his scythe over her bed in the days since the surgery.
“I have no intention of dying on the day Mommy died!” she declared. And she sat up in bed, asking for her lunch tray and eating every bite of the liquid diet the aide staff had brought to her room.
Two days later she had a debilitating stroke that left her unable to talk intelligibly. It seemed a cruel blow for a woman whose chief enjoyment in life was chattering about everything and nothing to the people she loves. Where once I’d been irritated that I couldn’t watch a television show with her that she didn’t interrupt with constant stories she’d just remembered, now I long to be able to understand her garbled string of chatter.
When my sister called with the news yesterday, both of us were certain our mother had changed her mind about that long ago October date. She lost her mother when I was just sixteen months old, and each year on October 25th, she has reminded my sister, the only one of her children who remembers Mommie Bell, of the significance of that date.
Fully expecting Mom’s demise yesterday, I refused to leave her bedside last night, until my husband gently persuaded me that I might need rest for the days ahead. I relented and this morning found my mother awake when I returned to her room.
Taking no chances that she might be confused about who I was, I hugged her and said, “I’m Estelene, Mama.”
She gently tugged me to her and repeatedly kissed my cheek—the one sign that ensures my sister and me that she hasn’t confused us with the nursing home staff. I laughed in delight and pulled back to say, “Yes, you know me, don’t you!”
In a rare burst of clarity, she mouthed as best she could, “I love you.”
“I know you love me, Mama. And I love you, too,” I said.
Sure that I had understood her, she drifted peacefully to sleep. I sit at bedside, watching to see if she’s breathing, just as she did countless times during my childhood, when I awoke to see her hovering, a cold cloth in her hand for my fevered forehead.
I’m reminded that none of us fully understand the Breath of Heaven—the way it brings us into the world and then takes us back to God. For now I’ll be grateful for the privilege of sitting at her side as she has so often sat at mine. And, most of all, I’ll be thankful for the blessing of another “I love you” whispered from her lips.
Tell me your stories of the Breath of Life.