Dread forms a lump in my throat. Slowly I bring the phone to my ear and punch in the numbers from the note pad in front of me. Thoughts swirl in my head, but words…the right words…escape me. What do I say to the woman who gave me life, protected me, and taught me the meaning of love? There are no words that will make this right.
The phone rings on the other end and is quickly answered. I ask for the room number scribbled on my note pad.
“Just a moment please,” a cheerful woman says, and immediately the phone in room 233 begins to ring.
“Hello?” My sister answers.
“Hi. How’s Mom doing?” I try to sound upbeat, but my voice quavers.
“Okay, I think,” she replies. “She woke up a little while ago and was in a lot of pain. The nurse just gave her something. She should be doing better in a few minutes.”
Dorothy sounds tired and discouraged. I hate myself for not being there to help her carry this load. For a moment, I resent my children, my husband and his new business, and our current state of poverty…everything that has conspired to keep me from being there in that hospital room. Tears threaten and I blink them back. Crying won’t help.
A moment later I catch my breath as my mother’s voice, frail and weary beyond her sixty-eight years, fills my heart with anguish, and the tears are back, poised on the brink. Please God, don’t let her hear me cry.
“Hi, Mom. Are they taking good care of you?”
“Well, they’re trying, I guess.” Her words, dry and brittle, stir and then flitter away, like the last few dry leaves caught by a cold winter wind.
Tears flow freely down my face. Mom deserves better than this…this cancer that has stolen her health, her joy, her dignity, and now will take her life as well.
The silence lengthens. I have so many things I want to say…so much to thank her for. I don’t know how to begin. She’s my hero…the person I respect most in the world. Gracefully, she accepted the hard life she’d been given. With barely a grade school education, Mom was orphaned at sixteen, married young, and divorced soon after, in an era when divorce was scandalous. A few years later she watched her daughter from that marriage, a half-sister I’ve never met, turn her back and walk away. How hard that must have been for Mom. How her heart must have ached in the lonely hours of the night. Does she still think about her, and yearn for her forgiveness? Would my half-sister care that her mother is dying?
Eventually, Mom raised another family—my brother, Danny, Dorothy, and me. I doubt she could tell you when or how she taught us the difference between right and wrong, or the value of hard work and integrity…yet she did.
My world wasn’t always safe or secure. Daughter of an alcoholic father, I learned at an early age not to draw attention to myself, never to invite friends over, and that not all fathers have a line they won’t cross. I changed schools as often as my dad switched jobs. Money was often scarce, but I always knew Mom loved me.
Now, I wish I could take back every unkind word I ever spoke to her. I wish, just once, I had made do with a coat that was a little too small so Mom could buy something she needed, or that the last piece of pie would have been hers once in awhile, or that I’d cared as much about what she was got for Christmas as I did about my own gift. She made so many sacrifices and received so little appreciation.
Why hadn’t I ever told her how important she was to me, back when words might not have drowned in waves of grief or gone unspoken?
“Mom, I love you so much!” I choke out. I’m sure now she hears my sobs. I can no longer stop them.
She whispers, “I love you too, honey.”
“I wish I could be there with you,” I say.
“There’s nothing you could do.” She’s defeated. She’s fought this enemy for three brutally long years, and the cancer has won.
I ache for her. “Maybe just hold your hand.”
“Yes.” She sighs. “I think I need to rest now.”
“Okay, Mom.” Panic overwhelms me. “Don’t forget…I love you.”
“I won’t forget,” she says.
The connection is broken. Anguish crushes the breath from me as sobs rack my body, until finally nothing is left. I’m empty.
Later that night, my mother passed away, slipping silently from this world of suffering and pain into the peace and comfort of eternity. Dorothy told me a single tear slid down her worn cheek at the end, a tribute to her loved ones left behind.
After thirty years, I still feel the sting of ready tears when I think about that night. I still wish I could have spoken words that were world-changing for her or, at the very least, comforting. I’ve relived that call a thousand times, always hoping it might have ended differently. But it’s too late. The moment slipped away and I can’t get it back.
Time has dulled my grief and regret, and left a few snippets of wisdom in their place. I’ve finally stopped being angry with God, although I still don’t understand why my beautiful mother had to suffer so much. I hope to find the answer to that question some day. I’ve learned not to put things off until tomorrow, and to say what needs to be said today. Who knows what tomorrow may bring or if tomorrow, as we know it, will come at all.
So Mom, if you can hear me… I love you. I miss you, and I have so many things I want to share with you. I can’t wait to meet you again…on the other side.