My sister, two brothers and I are sitting at my mother’s side, as she goes through the awful process of dying. No movie or TV show I’ve ever seen has accurately portrayed this process. Death is ugly. Death is painful. And death takes its own darn time. My mother wants to be done with it, but her body isn’t yet in full agreement. It is not an easy time for us, but it’s an even more difficult time for her so I am attempting to deal with this without losing control. (Hospitals and I have never gotten along. It’s pretty funny, in a way, since my mother had me pegged as a nurse when I was young. I was even a candy striper!)
As I sit here watching mom, watching my family, watching death lurk, I know I have a camera in my bag and I know I could snap pictures (although I’m fairly certain my siblings would immediately snatch the camera out of my hands and throw it somewhere far away!). But I will not take photographs. My mother was always very image conscious and she would be horrified if I took a photo of her now. And I can hear her saying to me, from way back when I was in high school, “Pictures never lie!” She would hate a picture of her at this point in her journey, but she would also say that the photo was “true”.
But it is not. This is not the mother I know. This is not the mother I will remember.
So I will not take that picture.
I will remember my mother taking care of me when I was sick with mono, strep, and pneumonia (no, not all at once!). I will remember my mother teaching me about theft after I took a piece of Brach’s candy from the bin at the store and ate it. She told me stealing something that small was just as bad as stealing a washing machine! (Isn’t it like a mother of that generation to think of a washing machine as an example?!) I will remember my mother as she took me to the fabric store and helped my choose the fabric for my junior high school graduation dress. (I think of that fabric and that shopping trip and I remember the wonderful scent of the fabric store — I’m sure it was all sorts of bad chemicals I was smelling but I have very fond memories of it anyway). I will remember that that particular dress made me feel beautiful and I have not experienced that feeling very much in my lifetime. I remember walking home from high school wondering if I was going to come home to yet another new piece of clothing mom sewed for me. (I could go at least a full month without repeating the exact same combo of clothes. Yes, I kept track!) I never even had store bought clothing when I was growing up … mom sewed everything! I will remember going shopping with mom (and nearly running to keep up with our swiftly moving mother) and stopping for french fries and a coke as we so frequently did. In our high school years or later when she, Carolyn and I went to El Burro that meant we’d be stuffed, but not too stuffed to head on over to Swensen’s to have an ice cream sundae! I will remember the fight we had, too, over one of my recital dresses she was making when I was in college. I informed her I wasn’t going to wear a bra and, oh wow, how angry she got. It was a pretty big fight that ended with my mom laughing and saying, “I’ll just bet at some point I’ll be the bra-less one and you’ll be wearing the bra!” Who knew that would happen? But it has. I’ll remember her wallpapering … and wallpapering … and wallpapering … the bedroom Carolyn and I shared. I can’t remember the order, but we had a yellow bedroom, a pink bedroom, primary colors … and I know even more colors. I remember how frequently mom moved furniture around in the house. Mom did so love change! I’ll remember her in her backyard, enjoying the beauty of her hard work. I’ll remember her holding each of my children, and how she babysat them, played with them, read them books, and loved them so much. I’ll remember her and my Aunt Fern cleaning up our house after our remodel since I’d just had Jameson and wasn’t as able to do that. (Besides, they are just much better at cleaning than I ever was.) And I’ll remember mom nursing my dad as he was dying, giving him a kiss each time she was with him.
When mom had her first bout with breast cancer I was thinking I was a poet. (That phase has since passed.) I wrote a poem I never shared with anyone. It was only mine, and I’ve kept it hidden. But I think now I will share it. At the time I thought mom would die from that cancer. I was scared and sad. Turns out that particular cancer was not what is taking her now, but a second breast cancer — a much worse sort — is what is finally having its way with her. But with this poem I see my mom, back in her yard, doing what she loved to do so much. And while that poem talks about “”no promises made for resurrection or hope” she and I do share a hope in Christ, and I’m thankful for that.
My mother, with rusted spade
My mother, with rusted spade, removes the dead and useless plants. What once
were blooming rainbows, blessing the yard, show no promise, no future. For each
discarded form she brings new life, new color, to take its place. With age and
dirt-worn hands, ungloved, she shakes a plant free from its first home of confinement
and loosens the roots, preparing them for limitless growth. Placed gently into
a waiting space, she fills and pats dirt around the plant’s edges as if to say
“You’ll be okay now. Grow and live.”
When they dug into my mother, removing the threatening cells, they scooped
away her small breast. The pale flesh had shown no sign of decay or death, and so
it seemed that life had been brutally stolen, with no promises made for resurrection
or hope. Such a small mound, placed in a pan to be scrutinized and analyzed,
foretold her future. Or not. No replacement was made, no new growth provided,
no careful patting around edges of a hole, and no reassuring words to
encourage her, or us, that she would grow and live.
I love my mom. I am praying she is taken soon so she no longer has to suffer. And I will remember her and hold her in my heart forever.
I need to sort through photos and put some up of mom that are more recent, but look at how cute she was as a girl!