3: A Last Request and a Lasting Lesson

3: A Last Request and a Lasting Lesson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

A Last Request and a Lasting Lesson

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~Kahlil Gibran

My mom died just before dawn on a miserably cold and rainy December morning. The dark clouds and constant drizzle over her Cape Cod neighborhood fit our somber moods as my brothers and sisters and I arranged with the local funeral home for Mom’s last departure from her beloved house on the edge of the tidal marsh.

All five of us were there, having been alerted earlier that week. As soon as we had gotten “The Call,” we had immediately flown or driven from our homes in California, Florida, Georgia and New York to the house on the marsh. We had left behind our sympathetic spouses, needy children, pending projects and full schedules. My husband bravely took over for me to support our nine-year-old son, who was nervously anticipating his first school-wide Geography Bee that week. In spite of their shared anxiety about the upcoming Bee, both of them understood that I needed to be with my mother and my brothers and sisters. They didn’t want me to worry about them, because I had more important things to worry about.

As I joined my brothers and sisters at the house on the Cape, I felt oddly peaceful. Though I dreaded losing my mother, I wasn’t anxious about the process. I knew that Mom had prepared well for her death. All we had to do was be present for her and each other during this final stage. She had done everything else.

Mom was a born teacher and a natural organizer. When she had received the diagnosis of incurable cancer that September, she had planned her death as pragmatically as she had planned her busy life as wife, mother and professional. She had asked all five of us to take turns being alone with her at the Cape for one week at a time, for as long as she needed us. When it was my turn for a “week with Mom” I flew up to the Cape gladly. It was an incredibly special time together. I managed her medications in partnership with the Hospice angels who kept her pain-free. Together Mom and I admired the ever-changing view of the tidal marsh, with its flocks of starlings and visits from deer and foxes. Mom discussed her burial wardrobe, funeral invitation list, and other practical details of dying. We gave each other our undivided attention and made precious memories of intimate moments together. It was a privilege to share her final experiences of gratitude, love, and forgiveness.

During those weeks Mom wanted only her children with her. We took turns protecting her from the outside world, fielding numerous phone calls and attempted visits from friends, relatives, and neighbors who valued her friendship so dearly. On Mom’s behalf, we asked them to understand her need to preserve her evaporating energy for the precious time with us. And we reassured them of her continuing love and respect, and appreciation for all their years of friendship.

Now, in the subdued gray light of the wintry morning, the funeral home station wagon rumbled slowly away with its precious burden. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and nestled close to each other in the dimly lit living room as the noise of the vehicle faded into the distance. I felt the tense energy of the morning’s activity gradually drain into peaceful stillness. For the moment, we could rest. Characteristically, Mom had seen to every detail: transportation back to her New York birthplace, funeral arrangements, even the florist who would provide the graveside floral arrangements. In a day or two we would travel together to New York. For now, as we sat watching the mist roll over the marsh, in a room fragrant with flowers from the well-wishers in the neighborhood, we had nothing to do.

Well, almost nothing. As a matter of fact, there was one more task to attend to, one more errand to run for Mom.

In spite of her shrinking horizons, Mom did think fondly of her neighbors and friends. Even though she had declined to share her remaining time with them, she wanted to acknowledge their friendly overtures and express her lasting affection for them. So Mom had asked my older sister to purchase, on her behalf, a case of splits of sparkling wine. The small bottles were to be decorated with ribbons and delivered by us in person, after Mom’s death, to those neighbors who had been her favorite local companions.

Accordingly, in the early afternoon, as the cold morning rain gave way to a watery blue sky, all five of us set out to walk through the neighborhood together, braving the chilly air and picking our way around the puddles. Taking turns carrying the heavy boxes, we visited every house. Together, we carried the news of her death, that final gift of beribboned bottles, and her instruction to her friends: “Please use this Champagne to toast to our friendship.”

We hugged, and cried, and laughed, with neighbor after neighbor. We gave each special person Mom’s last gift, a gift that reflected her unique flair for life and honored the strength of their mutual affection. And my mother the teacher taught me one more lesson. As I walked in her shoes and hugged in her place, I felt her love flow through me to each grieving friend. With it flowed my love for her and my heartbreak at her death. And, with each hug, an answering affection poured from each person. My breaking heart opened as I absorbed, through my sorrow, the joy of a life well lived and friends well loved.

As the five of us returned to the house with empty boxes and full hearts, we saw, against the backdrop of the gloomy sky, a breathtakingly beautiful rainbow. It made us all laugh. Obviously, Mom had orchestrated the whole thing from her new seat in the heavens. “Stop the rain so my children can deliver those bottles without getting wet,” she probably instructed. The storm clouds had obediently dispersed, just long enough for us to fulfill Mom’s last request and, in the process, learn one more lesson about whole-hearted love. Clearly, a rainbow that arched over the whole sky was the perfect way for Mom to express her approval.

~Judith Lavori Keiser

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