19: By My Side

19: By My Side

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

By My Side

A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take.

~Cardinal Mermillod

After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my mother chose to go home to die. Family and friends helped my brother and me give her round-the-clock attention so she could remain there until the end. That time gave each of us the opportunity to talk candidly with her, and we used it gratefully.

About two weeks before Mom passed away, I sat quietly by her bedside watching her sleep. I thought of all the things she had done for me over my lifetime, and I began to cry. She woke and saw the tears streaming down my face. Her immediate reaction was to comfort me. For just that fleeting moment, I felt like a small child again. She took my hand and said, “Oh, honey, don’t cry for me. I’ve had a wonderful, full life, and I have no regrets.”

I sobbed, “Mom, I’m not crying for you; I’m crying for me. I don’t know how to go on without you. You’re my mother, my friend, and my partner, and I’m scared to live without you.” I felt selfish and embarrassed.

She squeezed my hand with the little strength she had and reassured me in a soft voice, “You’re the strongest woman I know. It is I who have been leaning on you these past years. You’ll be just fine.”

Several years earlier, my husband had died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving me alone to raise our two young children. At the same time, my father was suffering from terminal cancer. I remember my mom saying that never in a million years did she think I would be a widow before her. She became one a year later, and she relied on me heavily for a while, until she learned to live alone as I had.

The two of us fell into a new relationship. We were already mother and daughter and best friends; we now became partners in the raising of my children. She was always available to drive or pick up one of them from sports or dance class. She attended school concerts, dance recitals, and hockey games. When someone was sick, they stayed home with her. There was nothing I couldn’t count on her to do for us, and helping us gave her life new meaning.

We spent a lot of holiday time together as well. Sometimes, it was just long weekends at the cottage. My kids always took a carload of friends along for the fun. My mom and I cooked them huge meals and kept a lid on their shenanigans. This routine carried on well into their teenage years. Occasionally, we travelled out of the country. Mom was always there to back me up, and my kids came to think of her as their other parent.

My mother was also my voice of reason. I remember one instance when my son was in tenth grade. He had done something he knew I would not approve of, so instead of coming home, he went to his grandmother for backup. She brought him home and came in the door first. I will never forget the words she whispered quietly, “I know you are not going to be happy, but just remember, it’s only hair. Pick your battles carefully.” She opened the door, and there stood my son sporting a huge mohawk. I was horrified at first, but I realized she was right. There were more important issues in life than a hairstyle.

Several weeks later, we were having coffee together, and I asked her why she had been so relaxed about her grandson’s haircut. I said, “I remember when I wanted to get my ears pierced in high school, and you almost had a fit. You said they were your ears until I was sixteen, and you didn’t want holes in them. It seems like a very similar situation to the hair.”

“You’re absolutely right,” she said, “and do you remember what happened?”

I thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I told you I hated you, and you were mean. We stopped speaking for weeks, and a friend at school pierced my ears for me anyway.”

“That’s right,” she said quietly. “Your words and silence hurt me more than you could ever know, and I realized you were only trying to be in style. Every generation has their thing. I had to admit to myself that I had overreacted.”

I smiled knowingly. “I guess we do learn from our own mistakes. Thanks for not letting me make one.”

At Mom’s funeral, her four grandchildren spoke about her. They each had their own little secrets about things she had let them do when they were younger. We laughed at these tales that could now be told. I could see her in my mind, laughing loudest of all, knowing there was nothing anyone could do about it now.

Mom was cremated just as she had wished, and the beautiful urn decorated in flowers and butterflies that held her ashes was lowered into the ground above my dad’s casket. I remember her stating adamantly before she died that we should not come to the cemetery to talk to her. She declared bluntly, “I will not be there, but I will be with each of you every day, wherever you are.” She was right. I still feel her by my side.

~Penny Fedorczenko

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