96: Hazelnut Coffee Sweetened with Faith

96: Hazelnut Coffee Sweetened with Faith

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Hazelnut Coffee Sweetened with Faith

If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.

~James O’Barr

“Your mother is dying,” the doctor said. “I doubt she has a month to live.” His words paralyzed me as it confirmed all of my mother’s suspicions that she had cancer. She was a knowledgeable, passionate nurse and a gifted diagnostician who knew the signs. She had complained for months that cancer was hiding in her body, but this was the first physician who proved her right.

While the doctor kept talking, I tuned out his voice and wondered why God chose this time, as there was no time left to try and save her. However, knowing my mom, if she had been told months ago, she would have subjected herself to every painful procedure imaginable and who knows if they would have worked anyway. My faith told me it was her time. God gave her no options. He wanted to take her home.

In her last job, she was the director of a nursing home, so she was very familiar with death and dying. While on her watch, no one ever died alone. She’d stay devotedly, holding their hands, whispering words of comfort and strength until their final breath was taken. She felt humbled to be at the closure of so many lives.

So, on that fateful Friday, I vowed to stay with her until the end. She was my treasured lifeline and now, I had to be hers.

She wanted to rest in her bed, a big, old Craftmatic that once gave a “rise” to three generations all snuggled in together when she first purchased it years ago. Upon its arrival, she, my young daughter and I sat like peas in a pod testing its ups and downs, vibrations, temperature controls, and all its features, hysterically laughing like kids on an amusement park ride. I reminded her of that day as I tucked her in. She laughed, but felt she didn’t have many more days to rest in her clunky adjustable bed. She had a gut feeling she was going to die soon. I had not shared the diagnosis or prognosis with her, but she was smart. She knew.

I left for a few moments to put on a pot of hazelnut-flavored coffee. As the scent circled its way to her room, it enticed her long-lost appetite. “What smells so delicious?” she asked.

“It’s my favorite coffee Mom. Hazelnut,” I answered.

She replied, “I’ve never tasted hazelnut coffee.”

“Well, we’ll take care of that tonight,” I responded. I prepared a tray for her as she did when one of her four children was ill. A beautiful china cup and saucer, a small pot, cloth napkin, cookies and a fresh flower in a vase accompanied the cup of hazelnut coffee.

I trotted eagerly upstairs. I loved pleasing her. I put a tape in the cassette; her favorite music began to play. I opened the window to let the warm, summer breeze drift in and took my place on my father’s side of the bed, which had been empty for twenty years.

She sipped the coffee slowly, savoring every drop, and then it began, five long hours of incredible, intense conversation, touching on subjects that lived deep in her soul, mind and heart. “How I love all of my babies,” she cried, calling each one by name. She identified all of our weaknesses and strengths as though it was important for me to note.

Then, this woman, who never missed a Sunday mass, who wore her rosary beads down to tiny nubs, whose bedside prayer book was so worn and torn from use, blurted out how weak her faith really was. She questioned God’s existence. She felt lost and frightened, wondering if Heaven existed and if she would be reunited with my dad and older brother.

She leaned against me, anxious, like a child afraid of the dark needing comfort from a parent. She knew my faith was much stronger than hers. It was a moment I will never forget. Now I had to find the words to give her strength, peace and comfort in her final hours.

“Mom,” I said, “my faith is strong because you openly shared your love of God in every part of your life. My gift of faith is your gift of love to me.” We cried and hugged. She made me promise that if anything happened to her, I would be there for the family. Coming from my mom, our matriarch, that was a surreal responsibility, but she assured me there was enough love in my heart to go around.

There was this long silence and then she spoke softly: “I’m dying. You don’t need to say it. I know. It’s something you feel. One day, when it’s your time, you will understand the knowing.” I didn’t validate her thoughts. I told her she mustn’t be afraid if it was God’s Will. I assured her that my father and older brother would be waiting to embrace her. I prayed silently that her foundation of faith wouldn’t fail her. She seemed more content, more trusting as she took her final sips of the hazelnut coffee.

“The coffee is sweet,” I said.

“Sweetened with faith,” she added with one of her radiant smiles. She rested her head comfortably on my shoulder like a tired, weathered sparrow whose wings had soared through many journeys but now accepted her final flight. I knew this was her moment of trust as she passed her matriarchal torch and was comfortable with its passing. My role was just beginning.

She died six days later, surrounded by family and friends, clutching her worn rosary beads. She only woke once, turning her head slightly, as though someone called her name. She opened her eyes, and then she shared a spark of life and a special smile reserved only for those she loved dearly. With her final breath she whispered my father and brother’s name and then she was gone.

I took the worn rosary from her hand. It now rests next to my bedside, wrapped around my weathered prayer book in front of a picture of three generations of strong women: my mom, my daughter and me. Many nights, as I pray from the knobby plastic beads, I sip my hazelnut coffee. I’m grateful for those last, faith-filled hours with my mom, feeling her love. Those last moments with her have strengthened my faith, knowing one day, I too, with a trusting heart, will need to accept my final time and pass the matriarchal torch to my daughter.

~Lainie Belcastro

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