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Archive for October, 2004

My mother died a little over a month ago and with her ended the first half of my life. Why do I say that? Well, I’m 44, and it’s not a leap of logic to assume I’ll not live much more than 44 more years. But still, that’s not the full reason for my statement.

Our lives were inextricably united through the bonds of the mother/daughter relationship. For better or worse, I could not shed her influence–or the annoying way she had of drawing out my former name to its ultimate artificially-increased syllabic resonance. Accepting me has meant accepting her with all her faults and embracing the fact of my upbringing under her care.

It sounds like she was horrible. Not so. She was human. Faulted, as we all are, but a creature of God, nonetheless. Her last years were pockmarked with terrible errors in judgment, and the ravages of old age: crankiness and childishness. I was not ready for that. When I’d left home at 18, she was still relatively young (60) and with opportunities before her that seemed, at least on the face of things, promising.

When did she get old? She went from 60 to 87 in such a short span of time (the time it took me to get from 18 to 44) that I didn’t notice it. I turned around and someone replaced my caretaker with one for whom care was needed. I have four children of my own, but I was still her child, and I could look to her as “Momma”.

The last two years of our mutual lives were eventful. Life and death struggles. We shared a common moment of revelation; she of a reoccurrence of her cancer, and I of my unexpected, but welcomed, fourth pregnancy. On Tuesday it was cancer; Wednesday, the next baby. From that moment, the ensuing 20+ months brought unfathomable change. Surviving the pregnancy was tough on us both. But she not only survived, but lived to see John’s first birthday. Her delight was to rock him to sleep and to teach him to play peek-a-boo. Her pain was when she became too weak to tolerate his weight on her lap. The last full day of her life, she taught him to blow kisses, since she could not kiss him through the oxygen mask. Then, suddenly, the crisis came and the end came nearly as quickly as the beginning.

The mantle of matriarch passed between us quietly, with few words and no fanfare. She went on a respirator and I was making the decisions that would influence how her last hours would play out. I asked her for one final approval: Did I do the right thing? I’d placed her on the ventilator…that gave us only two or three extra hours in which to exchange glances, and ask “yes” or “no”. Then came coma, and shortly thereafter, death…I told her I’d wanted to give her every chance. And she shook her head “yes” and squeezed my hand with surprising strength.

Those final conscious hours were a gift, not for her as much as for me. I didn’t spend them reviewing the whole of our lives together or discussing the journey she faced. I held her hand, talked with the nurses, and assumed life would go on from this minute to the next. And that was the way she wanted it, I think. No talk of death. She wanted life to go on…for me, for my family. Death would care for itself, a bridge that would be crossed when it came time. She reached out for me as they were loading her into an ambulance to transfer from one hospital to another. I kissed her cheek. I promised I would be with her soon. She nodded, and let go of my hand only when they lifted her into the vehicle. In a moment, someone gave her an injection. Closing her eyes for the last time, she slipped into a deep sleep from which she never awakened.

The next day, after a moleben with Fr. Seraphim at the hospital, we gave her one last chance at consciousness, reducing some of the sedatives temporarily. She moved a finger ever so slightly once or twice, but that was all. She quietly stepped aside and it was time for me to make difficult decisions, to be the torch-bearer. Time to see what would come of the child she’d borne. We removed the life support and her frail body quickly gave up to the inevitable. I did not hold on to her, crying and begging for her to remain. I simply closed the door behind her and walked out to face a new world; a world where I would be “Momma”.

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