Tonight will be the 11th anniversary of my Moms death. At only 54 years old, and a new Grandma only 2 months, at 5:45 pm my Mom passed away at home with all of us around her. I remember the old Maple out front was still golden.
Enya was playing on the CD player, and Dad had just told Mom, finally, that he was ready to accept. It was fall, our favourite season.
You have to understand my parents back story. They had met in Southwestern Ontario in 1965. Mom was 19 and he was a 20 years old North Carolina tobacco worker, up from the south to work the summer. They met in the back kitchen of Mom’s childhood home. Our Home. My Home. Now my sister and her family’s Home. The ‘Homestead’ has been in our family now since around the turn of the century.
The day Mom and Dad met, it was a hot day in early summer of ’65 and Mom had just finished some final touches on a mural she’d painted on the inside wall, so she was covered in paint. I can’t remember who set them up, but Dad says he fell in love at first sight. Makes me smile to remember his face when he told me the story. He couldn’t believe a girl like her, pretty girl like her too, would think anything of him. Yet she did, and the next September in 1966 they were married.
Yup. Mighty short engagement. Grandma & Grandpa up here in Canada were not at first altogether “on board” with Mom’s choice or her moving down south, to that strange, unknown land. However, they respected her right to have the choice.
So, the night Mom died it felt like all this history had come to a pinnacle moment and so the veil thinned, Mom passed away and my soul was awakened. It felt like someone had taken something away, yet left something behind for me.
There had been a stretch of crazy days, beginning September 19th of that same year when she had her first major stroke.
I remember the very moment it all changed.
It was that moment when I walked through the ward, past the other 5 beds to the bed by the far window. As I walked through the curtain and saw my parents huddled together by her bed. Dad, I think had been helping her back into bed, as she had been sitting in the chair a moment earlier. The woman who looked back at me shocked me. Nothing of her was physically different. No facial paralysis blessed be small mercies. No, but the woman I had called ‘Mom’ had vanished.
Over the next few weeks, we learned the whole messy truth. It wasn’t just a stroke – It was a stroke brought on by cancerous tumours that had metastasized to her brain. We learned then that it was everywhere, and she didn’t have long to live. This was my first experience with palliative care. I was now Mom’s caregiver, and we brought her home, one last time.
That last day of Mom’s life, she remained in a semi-conscious state, she was hanging on by a thread. She had slipped into the final stages.
Dad had just got off the phone with his older brother in North Carolina. I don’t know what my Uncle said, but it changed everything. Dad came in and sat down by her bedside. He was ready he said, it was ok now, she could go. I was sitting in a big old armchair that had sat in that room forever.
At my feet were the 150-year wide-plank floors and the fieldstone fireplace was across the room, between two big double windows. The room was filled with the early evening sun going down, and the golden maple leaves illuminated the world outside. The CD had been playing Enya’s album, I can still remember the lyrics “One by one my leaves fall/One by one my tales are told”. Dad had just finished his goodbye, and all of a sudden there was this, this, noise/sense/feeling. It “felt” like a sack of cloth or something had landed between me and the fireplace. I felt the vibration in my gut, I heard the sound with my ears, but my eyes saw nothing. There was nothing there.
I asked Dad if he heard something, he said “maybe”, “just now”?
I said yes.
Then the moment was gone, and I got up and realized what had just happened. Realized we were not alone. It was so fleeting at the time, though. Quick. Like a gentle mist, then the atmosphere in the room changed, the world closed in and it was time to say what we needed to. Touch her and say we love her one last time. Then her eyes opened and two giant tears streamed down either cheek. A breath. A breath. She was gone.
“Go gently, ” I said. I almost felt her spirit go, so I looked up and said, “we did it Mom”.
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