This is my first Mother’s Day without Mom.
I’m 71. I’ve had seventy Mother’s Days with her, so I am ahead of the game, I guess.
And I don’t even particularly like Mother’s Day. There are too many women (and men) excluded from the celebration. Those whose mothers have died, or mothers whose children have died. Those who had hurtful relationships with their mothers. Those who wanted children but have been left out of motherhood.
I am in the last group. But now I am also in the first group.
So I don’t like Mother’s Day.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my mother’s death.
Only I didn’t, really. I wrote a bit about her life. I wanted to remember her life, not her death.
But today, I find the need to write about her death.
I was with her.
It was unintended. We knew that Mom’s time was drawing to a close, and we were spending more time by her side. But this day was not different from any of the other days of the previous weeks. It was just my fortune (both good and terrible) to be the one who was there.
I was almost not there. I intended to leave to attend my book club. It was my turn to lead the discussion, and the book was one of my favorites. I was very much looking forward to it. If I left by 2:00, I’d have plenty of time for the drive to the library.
One of my sisters was coming to take my place, but 2 o’clock came and she had not arrived. I thought it would be okay to leave anyway – my sister would arrive shortly.
So I got up to go, and as I leaned over to give Mom a kiss, I realized that she had changed. She had been sleeping, but now she was awake. But she was not looking at me. Her eyes were darting around the room, looking but not seeing. Looking for something not there.
So I stayed. I took her hand. I watched her shallow breathing and the way her eyes continued to search everywhere but not find me.
I said, invoking her children who were not there – “Christine loves you. Claudia loves you. Tommy loves you. I love you.”
I repeated that three times.
I had not called for a nurse. What would a nurse have done? Not save her. She didn’t need saving.
Maybe I needed saving. So it would not have been my fault.
But I know it was not.
I am haunted, though, by her distant searching. Who was she looking for?
I am comforted by knowing I was there for her. I am comforted knowing that her death seemed gentle.
But I am haunted by the thought that I was not who she wanted in those last moments. Was she seeking, wishing for someone else? Did she want a different child holding her hand?
Oh, I was a good daughter. I know that.
But what if I had called a nurse? Could the nurse have given Mom ten more minutes, so my sister could have arrived in time? Would Mom have stopped searching then? Could a nurse have given her another few hours so we all could have been there?
The truth is, I didn’t want anyone to save her.
I wanted her to decide. And she did.
I hope what she was searching for was her freedom.
I am searching for mine.