This post is dedicated to the loving memory of my mother, Sandy.
It was a stifling June day. It was hot and sticky, the kind of day where your sneakers stick to the pavement. I was standing in front of my closet trying to decide what to wear. Not just because of the heat, but because whatever I chose to wear would have to get me through the most difficult day I would ever face in my 37 years on this planet. I thought about wearing shorts, but I had a big bruise on my thigh; I thought about a tee shirt, but that would only show my sweat stains more. I finally settled on a light, airy, cotton strapless sundress in pristine white.
Because I thought my mom might like it. My darling mother. My vibrant mother. My best friend who, at that very moment, was dying from Stage IV colon cancer.
I became Mom’s primary caregiver during the last weeks of her life. After my May graduation, I raced home to take over her care from my father, who could not bear to see her in so much pain. I met nurse after hospice nurse, each kindly showing me what I needed to do to attempt to alleviate my mother’s patent symptoms. I had to inject her four times a day, always making sure to rotate injection sites to not cause her more pain. I fed her the bright red popsicles that were the only sustenance she could tolerate. And when that damn liquid violently came back up, as it always did, scorching her throat with gray bile that smelled like death, I gently cleansed it from her hair, her face, her neck, her body, and dressed her in clean, dry clothes.
My mother’s pain was the worst of the worst. No painkiller ever made was strong enough to temper her agony. And even the powerful morphine doses bestowed by her oncologist only blunted the pain temporarily. Her pain, her ache, her hurt - it was always there. I began to give her higher doses of liquid morphine because I desperately yearned for her pain to cease, if only for one, tiny, brief moment. I had to squirt the morphine onto her tongue because, by that point, my darling mother could no longer swallow.
In between medications, I read to her. Funny stories, letters from dear friends and family members, stories in books about faraway places that I hoped would help her leave her pain behind for a bit. When that didn’t work, I told her our stories. Stories revolving around our own Mother-Daughter Love Story. Stories of my childhood, when I once ripped a pair of pants she had sewn and felt so badly about that I blamed it on the class bully; stories about Mom showing me how to swim in New Hampshire; stories of how she taught me there was “a rat” in “separate.” Stories about how she was always there for me during the dark times in my past. Stories of how I will always be there for her in the future. Stories of love. Stories of courage. Stories of remembrance. Stories of hope.
Stories about my mother.
But all the stories in the world could not prevent what was happening. She didn’t even look like my mother anymore, except for her eyes, and for the way she reached out her hand to grab mine because she could no longer talk. Stories or not, clinging to my hand on that last day was the dearest, precious, and most loving way she could have chosen to tell me she loved me. I knew she loved me, that she had loved me more than any mother had ever loved a child, just as I loved her more than any daughter could ever love a mother. That my mother was capable of conveying such love in this way, even on this day, a day filled with such tortuous pain, is something I will forever hold in my heart and cherish as long as I live.
The last movie my Mom and I saw together wove a beautiful Hawaiian lullaby into its theme:
“Mom, I love you, yes I do
Wait for my mom, be home real soon
I never knew how much you meant to me.
Now, that I’m so many miles away from you
Oh, let god know when and where we’ll meet again
to hold you in my arms, once more
to hear your voice, to see your smile
Oh god, do please keep my mom…”
When my darling mother lapsed into a coma later that evening, before succumbing at first light the following morning, I hummed this tune into her ear to help her find peace. I breathed the words into her heart to give her strength. And I whispered them to her body to give her hope. For I could find no truer, more heartfelt words than the simple plea, “Oh God, do please, keep my mom. Please keep my mom.”
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Kelly E. Connolly is a New England attorney who writes on the side about animals, nature, and life events. Kelly’s expertise has led to interviews on television and the radio, and with The New York Times, USA Today, and CNN.com. She shares her live with two elderly, amusing cats. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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