27: Approved

27: Approved

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!


A true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

~Elizabeth Gilbert

My mother’s illness had started about five years after my father died, the doctor pronouncing that she was in “no immediate danger.” I allowed this statement to comfort me, which wasn’t difficult, because my mother continued to produce marvelous textile designs, go out with friends, phone relatives, and have her hair colored.

Over time, though, her rare blood disease caught up to her. In our weekly phone calls, she confessed she had to stay in bed most of the time.

As my mother got sicker, my life was improving. I’d gotten a divorce after twenty years of marriage, but during my mother’s final days, I met the man I knew was absolutely right.

By the time my relationship blossomed, my mother had been moved to the hospital. She refused to see friends and relatives, but I insisted on visiting. I tried not to look at the thin white hair she was no longer coloring. She always exclaimed how good I looked with my shiny bob haircut and trendy outfits.

At every visit, I adjusted her pillows, filled her water pitcher, and pulled up the chair beside her bed. She brushed away my questions about her health or the latest procedures and asked about me. We joked about my life A.D. — After Divorce. She saw my glow beneath the make-up, and, before I told her anything, asked who my new man was.

I gushed about Matt’s dark good looks, sense of humor, fiery positive attitude and poetic gentleness, and especially his encouragement of my lifelong writing aspirations. She nodded, and I beamed, blushed, and kept talking.

It felt like high school. Most mothers and daughters coexist in frosty tolerance or outright war during adolescent angst, but we’d been like girlfriends. I’d admit my latest crushes, describe friends’ constant re-pairings, and report the teacher gossip.

During those years, despite all the demands on my mother — family, household, and textile design assignments — she’d always made room for our talks. With a platter of her superb brownies before us, we’d suspend all diet resolutions and groan, giggle, and analyze everything.

In college, when I’d just met Franklin, the man I’d marry, I told her everything, and we planned my wedding down to the smallest detail.

Many years later, with trepidation, I announced my decision to divorce Franklin. She didn’t gasp, lecture, or try to dissuade me. Instead, over a batch of fresh brownies, she supported me.

Now, as I told her about Matt, she was just as keenly interested, although emaciated and weak. Always the mother, she was putting others first. Surely she’d be justified in talking about her condition. Yet she dismissed my concerned questions with a casual wave of her hand and asked more about Matt.

Then, one day, I took her home, armed with instructions and medication. Later that week, she reported proudly that she didn’t need to sleep as much and even went out a few times with her friends.

A month later, Matt asked me to go away for the weekend to a picturesque country inn. Thrilled and nervous, I immediately phoned my mother. We squealed, laughed, and started planning my wardrobe. The next day, I left a card on her kitchen table with the inn’s phone number and ordered her to call day or night.

The weekend was glorious. When Matt and I had a little fight, we resolved it quickly, unlike the long icy sulks of my former days with Franklin. Instead, I apologized first, Matt hugged me, and we went for ice cream.

As we packed late Sunday night, my mother’s call came through the inn phone. She said she’d fallen and blacked out.

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“Yesterday morning.”

“What! Why didn’t you call then?”

She said, “I didn’t want to spoil your weekend.”

I shouted, “I’m coming right over.”

Matt drove me directly to her apartment. I helped her dress and took her back to the hospital. In the cab, even as she gasped in pain, she asked about my weekend.

The doctor stabilized her and then motioned me out in the hall. When he shook his head, I couldn’t bring myself to ask how long she had.

I knew that now she had to meet Matt. She’d always put it off, likely believing she might embarrass me by her looks.

This time she agreed, and two days later, Matt came with me to the hospital. She was lying on four pillows, her hair combed. He leaned over the bed, put his hand gently on her arm, and kissed her cheek. I could see her eyes brighten as he talked.

I tiptoed out to the visitors’ lounge across the hall. Fifteen minutes later, he came in and said my mother was asking for me.

I sat down beside her. Her eyes were glowing and tearing at once. “Yes, darling,” she sighed. “He’s the one.” Exhausted, she fell asleep.

I kissed her on the forehead and tucked the covers tighter, trying not to let sorrow engulf me. Then I went to Matt in the lounge. We left the hospital, and I knew he could feel my joy at their finally meeting and the grief I couldn’t stem. He steered me to a nearby café.

“I felt a chemistry,” he said. “Her eyes were clear and she spoke distinctly. She seemed to have an urgency to get out what she wanted to say.”

I nodded, my throat constricting.

“She looked square at me, right into me.”

I’d confided a lot about Matt, but I had no doubt she had seen even more than I had told her.

He took my hand. “She looked so happy and then whispered — I’ll never forget — ‘Take care of her, Matt. Love her as I was never loved. I want to die knowing she has this.’ ”

I couldn’t stop the tears.

A week later, at my daily visit, she looked even thinner, and her skin had a translucent glow. The pillows were stacked on the floor, and she lay flat in the bed.

Breathing with difficulty, she spoke quickly. “Your father and I were never really happy. I thought my love could cure his frustrations with his life. I did my best, acting like the silent good wife and suppressing my art, but it was a constant trial.” She tried to sit up, and I calmed her back down.

She insisted, leaning on one arm. “Franklin was a fine man, but he didn’t want you to be who you could be and grow in your writing. Matt — he’s not afraid. I see how much he loves you. You deserve a real relationship, sweetheart.”

She fell back. I kissed her and smoothed her hair. Three days later she died.

Now, married to Matt for many years, I discover daily his ever-deepening love. I wish my mother could know this man who believes in me, rejoices in my publications, and loves me despite a few more pounds and not so random acts of selfishness. I see her often in my mind, finding the strength to raise herself up in the hospital bed as she delivered her prophetic, precious legacy: “Matt’s the one. Yes, darling, you deserve him.”

~Noelle Sterne

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