My mother died the Saturday following 9-11. She had been suffering terribly with emphysema for many years. The emphysema and the steroids had reduced her to being housebound and capable only of the merest of physical efforts. The horrific images of the Towers falling in New York City, I believe, signaled to her that the tremendous effort of will living required from her was no longer worth it with such evil loosed in the world.
My stepfather called to say she was in the hospital again, so my son and I went to visit her. Though we had just been there for her birthday and I was broke, we made the 220 mile trip anyway. Thanks to my stepfather's care, Mom was able to stay comfortably at home and live as normally as possible under the circumstances. At rather infrequent intervals she would be hospitalized for a day or two, and that had always greatly helped her. We all expected it to be the same with this hospital stay.
Normally Mom and I talked and gossiped and worried about the rest of the family, but that last day was different. I felt a great quiet within my spirit, a calm and unbreakable centering. I should have known but at the time it was merely an unusual internal state I observed about myself - another tiny mystery in a lifetime of mysteries.
I was alone with Mom for a while that morning. I felt as if I wanted to only listen to her and not speak - totally out of character for me! When she would doze, I was content to simply sit quietly in her room, my normally noisy mind strangely calm and silent. When my son and stepfather came to get me for lunch, the four of us chatted and joked a little. When we left, Mom was fine and expecting to see us in about an hour. However, left alone in the hospital room, Mom fell, hitting her head a tremendous blow.
Returning after lunch, the hospital staff caught my unsuspecting son and me at the door to warn that she had fallen, and to let us know that she was actually dying. There were only a few moments left to hold Mom's hand as she struggled with those last final breaths.
As she slipped from that ruined body, an unmistakable truth came into my being. "Of course my mother still exists!" The tremendous joy in her freed spirit was palpable in that sunny hospital room. I knew beyond a doubt that she was marveling at how easy it had been after all. It was her final gift to me.
Mom and I had a complicated relationship. We did not know how to be best friends, how to just simply enjoy one another. We each did our best by the other and now that is how it stands. No more chances to do differently, at least in this lifetime. I hope it was good enough for her. It was for me.
Mom was not happy when I bought a Harley. She was not happy when I rode it. She was not happy when she found out I had a tattoo. When I stopped at two and did not cover myself with Navy and Harley art the way my brother did, I am guessing that made her happy. She was not happy when I dropped out of college to hang with a coven of long-haired anarchists. She was right about them, of course. They were all worthless. She was not happy when I was pregnant at eighteen and divorced at 22. She was not happy when I brought home that New Jersey Italian guy. He charmed her as he did all women but she could see through him. There was not much I had ever done in my life she was happy about - except the most important thing.
I had missed a fairly important family event in order to make sure my son got to a big game, and to be there to cheer him on. My stepfather made it a point to criticize me later in front of my mother. But my mother firmly defended me. She said I had been right where I should have been, and pointed to my son.
My mother's entire adult life had been dedicated to her family and her home. That was what she did the best. She was a homemaker. She was a mother. And that is what came out of my heart, unbidden, unrehearsed, as she lay dying. "You were a good mother! You were a good mother!" Those were my words of farewell to her. I hope she heard them and knew, as I know, that all the other stuff never mattered between us. She taught me what was most important. Best of all, she knew that I recognized her most important lesson and took it to heart.