It snowed early this morning, but the dogs insisted on a walk anyway. We made the usual rounds in the neighborhood, sidestepping puddles and ice.
Sunshine glinting off pockets of snow peppered the distant mountains. Dark and light grey clouds hovered overhead. There was a chilly but invigorating breeze.
The scenery was peaceful, but my heart was troubled. I was thinking of my 87-year-old mother, fighting “the last good fight of her life.” I modified that line from a poem that appears in the Liam Neeson movie, ‘The Grey.’
“Once more into the fray…
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day…
Live and die on this day…”
One of the hospice nurses recently told me how much she admired my mother and her fighting spirit. Despite the ravages of advanced Parkinson’s disease, a nasty bout with pneumonia, and other bodily indignities, Mom is still with us.
I have no illusions about the landscape ahead. Mom’s decline is accelerating. Time is growing thin, which is why the serene morning breeze and snowcapped mountains would have to wait.
ALL THAT WE LOVED DEEPLY
I brought the dogs home, grabbed my car keys, and drove to my mother’s cozy apartment on the third floor of the assisted living center. Because she is in hospice, I am allowed to visit her despite the COVID restrictions.
Once cocooned in personal protective equipment, I took the elevator to the third floor and knocked on the entrance door. One of my Mom’s amazing caretakers opened the door.
“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” -Helen Keller
The last time I visited my Mom, her eyes were closed and she was somewhat comatose. “You’re in luck,” the caretaker told me, “Your Mom is awake and her eyes are open today.”
Our bodies may betray us with age, but our eyes forever shine with the spirit of our souls. As I pulled up a chair and gazed into my mother’s eyes, I could tell her spirit was tired, but still present.
HOW LUCKY I AM
Mom was unable to talk but could blink in response to my comments. I had arranged a phone call from my sister-in-law, who used to help care for my mother in the past.
When the call came through, I could see my mother’s eyes light up. To hear the voice of someone special, in the twilight of our lives, means everything.
After the phone call, I reminisced for a while. I spoke of the early years, and the special things Mom did. Driving me to tennis tournaments. Bringing me an apple fritter after school. So many special memories.
Then I held her hand, and put my other hand on her forehead. “If you’re tired Mom, sleep. Thanks to you, everyone is doing great. We’re all fine. What a blessed life we have,” I said softly.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” -Winnie The Pooh
I noticed her breathing become a bit more rhythmic. Her eyelids were a little heavy. She seemed relaxed.
It occurred to me that the two greatest gifts you can give a person are love and comfort. It felt good knowing that my presence and soothing words brought my mother love and comfort.
“Everyone here tells me how much they admire you. Your upbeat personality. Your wonderful spirit. I told them I agree,” I said to my mother. She closed her eyes. She was falling asleep.
WHAT IS EXCELLENT IN OTHERS
Outside, the clouds parted slightly, and the sun was streaming through the windows of Mom’s apartment. Everything was peaceful and still. It was a little magical.
“You rest now, Mom. You just take it easy. You’ve earned it. Everyone is fine. Rest, and enjoy your dreams. I’ll always be with you.” It was the last thing I said before leaving.
Outside, I thanked one of my Mom’s favorite caretakers. I told her how much I appreciated all she does for my mother. “My grandmother died when I was young,” the caretaker told me, adding, “Your Mom feels like a grandmother to me.”
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” -Voltaire
“I know this is hard for you too,” I said. “You see her more than I do. You have taken such wonderful care of her. Thank you.” She smiled back at me, and I entered the elevator.
BENEATH THE SKIES
I took off all my protective gear outside the lobby. The weather had changed and the clouds were darker now. The sun disappeared.
I got in my car, started to exit the parking lot, and gazed back at the assisted living center. I wondered if I would see my mother again.
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” -Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Driving away, the assisted living center grew smaller in my rear-view mirror. Despite the dark clouds, I didn’t feel sad.
I felt lucky to have had such a special visit and blessed to have such a loving mother. And I knew that, whatever happens, Mom will always be with me. In this world and the next.
Whatever the “next crazy venture beneath the skies,” I have known the love of an amazing mother, and was able to bring her love and comfort in the twilight of her life. And that will stay with me forever.