It was the sort of awakening that occurs when a phone’s ring interrupts a deep sleep–the kind that if needed, propels one into motion, only there was no phone ringing, I simply felt called.
Less than 20 minutes later I was checking in with the night security guard at the hospital, as he handed me a visitor’s adhesive badge the expression in his eyes unveiled the reality I was headed toward, my mother was dying. “Be well.” He said as I placed the sticker above my heart, “Thank you, you too.” Seasoned in his job he knew better than to wish me a good day.
I found her peaceful, sleeping in a way that belied the truth of the pain she had suffered earlier. And for what felt like the first time since I had disembarked the airplane days before, I sat with her in the stillness, her hand in mine, cradled in the comfort of an understanding forged between us years before–there was nothing left but our unspoken love to share.
A little while later the nurses came to reposition her.
“Her hand is swelling…would you like me to slip her bracelet off?…”
Her signature bracelet.
With tears carving their way down my cheeks, I nodded yes, then watched as the hand cream released the gold band from my mother’s hand, and with it, the light jingling that for as long as I could remember, had given her whereabouts away.
As the bracelet passed over my own hand and joined the silver one given to me by my sister, I was struck by the first wave of grief, washing over me was the tide of emotion left over from previous loss and rising up with it was what now lay in front of me…a future that no longer included being someones child.
I cried as one does when you can’t risk being overheard.
Again I took her hand only this time I sang to her, songs she herself had taught me a lifetime ago. Songs that were the auditory landscape of my childhood; one rich with family love.
My relationship with my mother did not resemble those imbued with a sugary Hallmark sentiment, true to her World War II era she held each of us close with an open hand, which for me at times felt distant if not remote. Yet in the stillness of the morning, as the sky outside stretched the light of dawn across the dark of night, I felt a shift in my capacity to both see her and love her as she was–a woman–one who made her way in the world with courage, strength and resilience.
There we were each pregnant with permission to let the other go–one shepherding dying, the other living.
Just after 7:00AM my mother left her body behind, but I felt her, her spirit lingered as my heart opened up to the realization that what we shared would live on.
My mother knew love and gave love, hers was a life well lived, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
In memory of, Elinor Fairchild Stebbins, December 14, 1924-May 15, 2013