My Mother’s Eyes

My Mother’s Eyes

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

My Mother’s Eyes

I remember a period in my childhood when I was absolutely terrified that my mother was going to die. It was the worst thing I could imagine. I worried about it every day.

She seemed to be in good health, but I worried anyway.

My father was a very difficult alcoholic, and the thought of living alone with him was horrifying.

By the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I had grown more independent and the fear subsided. I was confident that I could take care of myself, and could find another place to live, away from my father. So I no longer worried.

And then, when I was eighteen, my mother died. She was only fifty-four. But ironically, her death taught me that sometimes the thing we fear most can turn out to be a blessing.

She had developed a fast-growing, malignant brain tumor that would take her life less than three months after we got the diagnosis. My father had searched frantically for the finest internists, surgeons and oncologists in the world. His wife, he said, would have nothing less than the best medical care money could buy.

But the verdict was unanimous—there was nothing to be done.

There were experimental tests and new chemotherapy treatments, but no one thought they would help. And they didn’t. What the doctors did try only made her more sick.

Six weeks before she died, her medical team announced that there was nothing further to do. Our family doctor suggested that she be moved to a nursing home. But she didn’t want to go to a nursing home. She wanted to be in her own home.

We agreed, and eventually we brought her home. It was frightening, because we had no idea what would happen to her and how it would affect us. And we didn’t have the communication tools we now have to deal with dying and grief.

So we had to rely on our intuition. And we had to trust in the universe. During those weeks, I experienced a peace deep inside me, something beyond my intellect. When I stood back from my fear, my mother’s dying began to feel like a natural process.

Years later, I heard someone say, “Dying is absolutely safe.” And that is what I instinctively felt during those weeks with my mother. Her body was changing and falling away. I don’t know why, but somehow I felt that she was safe.

She ultimately lost the ability to speak. So the house became very quiet as the rest of us spoke in soft, hushed tones. It almost took on the atmosphere of a temple or shrine.

She and her hospital bed and medications had moved into the guest room. There were nurses on duty around the clock. I sometimes avoided going in to see her because I didn’t know what to say. The trivial, contrived small talk we often fall into at such times now seemed profane. I gagged on the very thought of meaningless chatter in the face of the most awesome event I had ever witnessed.

One afternoon, I walked in and sat on the edge of her bed. My mother was an elegant, glamorous woman. She seemed so peaceful. . . .

She lay silent and looked at me. I looked at her. I took her hand in mine. She had no energy left, but I felt her squeeze my hand so subtly, so tenderly. I looked deep into her crystal blue eyes.

I kept looking, and as I looked, her eyes got deeper and deeper and deeper. Our eyes locked, and for the next thirty minutes we never diverted our gaze away from each other. We just sat there gazing. And I looked back and back and back, deeper and deeper into her soul.

It was like riding through a tunnel to the core of her soul. And suddenly, there, deep within the withered bulk of a body was the being I knew as my mother. Her love, her care, her nurturing and her compassion all shone through, more radiant than I had ever seen them before. All the barriers between us melted away in the brilliance of the light within her. I sensed that as her body withered, her soul had gained strength.

She squeezed my hand again. And as she did, she gently nodded her head two or three times. In that moment, though not a word had passed between us, I knew that we had said everything that needed to be said. It was okay. She was okay. We loved each other deeply. We honored each other completely. We were grateful for the love we had shared all these years. She would go on, and I would go on, and the place we had touched together would never disappear for either of us. Because somehow, there in her room that day, she and I had shared a glimpse of eternity.

I felt tears, but they were tears of awe more than sadness. And I knew that because I had been willing to go past my horror and fear, to look past her physical deformities and look deeply into her soul, that I had seen her more clearly and contacted her more intimately than ever before.

A few days later, she died. It was a beautiful, peaceful Sunday afternoon. A glorious sunset washed the house in brilliant golden hues, and a warm, gentle breeze soothed and caressed us. A profound aura of peace filled our home. My father, my two sisters and I all held hands around my mother’s bed and kissed her good-bye. Then we put our arms around each other and, probably for the first time ever, shared a family embrace. We put our heads together and all softly cried.

After a while, we silently moved outdoors. The sun had nearly set, but not quite. And as I looked at it, something occurred to me that I had never noticed before. The sun is most radiant when it’s setting. And though it disappears from view, it never dies.

I felt the same about my mother. Like the sun, she had faded from view. But I knew she’d always be with me, even in the darkest of hours.

I looked at my family and marveled at the sense of closeness and intimacy we all felt, at how this moment of wonder and sadness had melted away the walls of separation families often hide behind. For in that moment, the resentments, petty anger and judgments dissolved into the familial love we all shared. We were one consciousness, one heart. My mother, in giving up her own life, had brought the rest of the family together in a closeness and bond that we share to this day. Simultaneously, we felt profound sadness and profound joy.

John E. Welshons

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