The aftermath of my mother’s recent funeral and the encroaching realization that I am now an orphan is settling into my bones.
In my morning time with God this week, I thanked Him for the celebratory funeral and the mass of people that attended; thanked Him for a renewed and respectful relationship with my brother and his wife as a result of sad collaborations; thanked Him for family traveling from great distances to be included in honoring my mother. I’ve thanked Him for everything I can think of, and I’m relieved that the funeral and burial are over, that she is finally at rest.
But this raw uncertainty, the gaping hole in my life – I’m grappling with it.
Perhaps there was the tiniest bit of hope that she’d recover. Even though she’d been diagnosed with late-term dementia, even though she’d become unresponsive, even though they were still adjusting her meds. After the initial diagnosis – a mere five months ago – she’d declared emphatically that she’d fight. She’d beat it, she’d said. There were ways, she’d insisted with an aggressive nod of her head. And she did. She fought until she had no breath left. She fought with every ounce of strength her frail, ninety-pound body could muster. She fought until her poor, tired, damaged brain simply gave up and she couldn’t even lift her head.
Fortunately, I’d flown cross-country to her facility four weeks prior to her death to visit, and she’d been somewhat cognizant of my presence. The caregiver and I brisked her around a small outer courtyard; wind blowing through her hair, hands gripping the arms of her wheelchair, eyes closed. She’d grimaced and exclaimed repeatedly, and I hoped that meant she enjoyed the stroll. I sang to her. I responded to every unintelligible utterance. For four days, I stifled tears as I hugged the tiny person that used to be my mom. We celebrated every bite she took, every swallow, every attempt at walking. I was not exactly sure that she knew who I was, but as I stroked her arm, her hand, her hair…I hoped.
The final day of my visit she seemed more alert than usual when I arrived. The caregivers had dressed her in bright colors and put a perky scarf around her neck. We took her into the cafeteria, where we spoon-fed her slowly. She loved dessert and whooped over each bite, a hint of feisty fun in her eyes. We laughed. We took her back to her room to rest. I hugged her good-bye. She clutched at my arm from her wheelchair, anxious eyes pinned to mine.
“I love you, Pan,” she said distinctly, attempting to say the name she has always called me: LeAnn.
“I love you too, Mom,” I said, tears flowing. No doubt she knew who I was. I did not realize those words would be her final good-bye to me. I cherish them with all my heart.
So I am left with sad memories of her rapid decline, happy memories of staying with my brother and his wife at his home when I went to visit Mom’s assisted living facility; sad memories of planning a funeral, happy memories of the way she was honored at the funeral, sad memories of my kids’ faces as they drew near to view her one last time, happy memories of my mother doting on them as they grew up. It is a curious paradox.
And I don’t know what to do with it.
For now, I think I should just let it…be.