Easter is my favorite holiday. Usually spring has arrived bringing warm weather and blooming flowers.
Mom was born in spring and she told me her mother used to buy an egg-shaped cake for her birthday. When we celebrated Mom’s birthday or Easter together, which sometimes coincided, I would buy one of those cakes for her.
This year I enjoy a joyful celebration Mass at St. Peter’s. Jesus Christ is Risen Today is one of my favorite church songs! Mom was in choir for 50 years and sang every holiday. Throughout my childhood and whenever I visited Philly, I often joined her in the choir loft, sharing her music stand and singing beside her.
The last Easter I spent with Mom was 2014, the year she moved in with Arthur and me. We went to Mass together, then the 3 of us shared a simple ham and potatoes meal. We missed so many holidays together living in different states that having mom with us was special. I didn’t need a table full of people. I just needed Mom.
On Monday, I call the facility Mom is in to see how she’s doing. The caregiver said she wasn’t eating much; threw up what little breakfast she ate. I told her I was thinking of coming on Saturday, unless she thought I should be there sooner. “If you could be here by Saturday, that would be good.” It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it that changed my mind.
I let my boss know that I wouldn’t be in work on Tuesday. I want to see my Mom while she was still cogent. Arthur wants to come with me but I need to do this alone. Need to spend one-on-one time with her, maybe for the last time.
It’s a 2 hour drive so I want to leave early enough to be there by lunch. I gather some photographs of her wedding, her parents and our trip to Italy to share with her. Jog her memory. Keep her present. Then I go to bed both dreading and looking forward to visiting Mom.
Tuesday morning is rainy but the 2 hour drive is event-less, the ride quiet. I’m nervous, not knowing what to expect. When I arrive in her room, Mom is sleeping. I sit on the edge of her bed and she opens her eyes and smiles with recognition, happy to see me. I feel relief; she still knows me.
We sit quietly together for the afternoon, mom mostly resting. She sits up and says she has to go to the bathroom. As she stands, she is unstable and I put my arm out to help her as she walks. This is a new development, this unsteadiness. She shuffles, her head bent. In such a short time, she has deteriorated.
She says she’s hungry so we walk to the lunch room, but it’s closed. Did she eat before I arrived? I offer her a snack, she takes a bite, then spits it out, her body rejecting food.
I try to engage her with the photos I brought, Who is that? I ask pointing to her mother. She recognizes her, my dad, then loses interest. She wants to sleep.
I stay for about 2 hours, just grateful to be in the same space as she is. I am able to catch a quick video of her telling me how her mother used to cut patterns from dresses and make her own clothes.
I tell her, “I love you. Thank you for being my mom.” She smiles. I long to hear her say my name. Long to hear her silly self. I start a familiar refrain, “You always said you wanted a daughter!” And she replies, “And look what I ended up with!” She remembers the game.
When someone is this close to the end, we want to hug not only the memories but we want to squeeze out as many precious moments as we can. We want to hear them tell their stories one last time, call our name out loud, sing the songs they used to sing. On my last visit we sang the Our Father together. No songs today. I give her a hug and a kiss and tell her I love her. Leaving is hard. But I’m so glad I went.