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Our time for goodbye

I’ve been trying to write about a moment between my mother and I, our last real time together.  I start then I stop, then I delete then I begin again repeating this cycle.  Try as I might to translate into words the memory, which is so clear in my mind, I fail.  Maybe I’m not ready to share that simple moment, and yet I want to tell my friends and family that this is how it went.  This is what she said, this is what I said and this is how it felt.  Maybe I’ll never be able to truly convey that moment, here’s one last try.

It was Monday afternoon three days before she died.  I had just taken her untouched lunch away, when she asked for help to the bathroom.  She could barely stand at this point without great effort and that four foot walk was grueling.  When we made it back to her bed she said she wanted to sit up for a bit.  I had started to kneel down to help lift her legs when she asked this.  So there I was kneeling by my mother’s bedside looking up at her.  A lot of  years had passed since I had to literally look up at my mom. She was very still, quiet with her eyes closed, I was worried that this was it.  That moment I’d been waiting, dreading was finally here.

But she looked at me and said, ‘give me a hug Jon’.  Boy did I ever, I wrapped my arms around her with my head buried in her chest.  I started to cry….no I began to wail like a child and for the last time my mother held me in her arms. I think she could feel it coming, death was creeping up on her, slowly stealing the life out of her.  She knew her time was slipping away so with that knowledge she did what all good mothers would do.  She reached out to give comfort to her child.

I’m not sure how long that hug lasted, it felt like an eternity.  But like all good things, she gently whispered ‘Jon let me go I can’t breathe’.  And with those words the strangest thing happened, we started laughing.  It was a good laughter, genuine from the heart.  I helped her lay back, held her hand for a while.  We smiled at each other. That was our time, our time to say goodbye.  It was done without ever saying the word; it was done by sharing what we both felt.

It’s been almost five years now since that day, that moment.  It has and will forever exist in my memory, my heart, my very core.  She gave me a gift, a wonderful loving gift.  She was my mother.

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I forgot…


I forgot.

For just a moment, I forgot.

In that moment, I saw something trivial

and I started to rise from my chair.

I was coming to tell you…you never seemed to mind

when I did. Even when you didn’t know

exactly what I was talking about.

In that fraction of a moment

everything was as it should be.

I’d forgotten, you see.

If only for just a second, I forgot.

Then I remembered.

Suddenly, sharply…painfully.

Strange how I don’t recall what

I was coming to share with you.

I remember now so I don’t get up,

there’s no need to.

I’m a bit sad right now

but the rest of the day will be better.

She would’ve reminded me not to forget that.

Its a good thing to remember.

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I started this project years ago, I thought it would help me cope with the abundant amount of emotions I felt but life continued to happen and it got set aside.  In an attempt to complete what I started here’s the first thing I wrote down about two weeks or so after my mother died.  Not sure why I never posted it here but here it is.




when i was young, home was a place

home was a house in North Carolina

home was an apt in Los Angeles

home was a house in Inglewood

but as transitory as it was

home was a place where i lived

i believed it was a building

now i’ve come to realize now that home

was never really a place

home was were my parents were

when my father died home was

where my mother was…

and now, now she too is gone

taking with her that home

and for the first time in my life

i find myself homeless

so where will home be now?

i guess it’ll be in my heart

so wherever i may find myself

there my home will be

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when all you can do is wait

September 26, 2009 would be the start of the longest, most difficult five and half days of my life.  These were the last days of my mother’s life, when all I could do was wait.  Like her, like everyone I suppose I’d been waiting since that afternoon in April when she returned home with the news that the cancer had returned.  I guess it’d been waiting too for its chance.

Saturday several friends stopped by as well as my cousin and aunt.  I could see she was tired and in pain but my mom didn’t complain.  She entertained, shared stories like it was any other day in her life, not like a person waiting for that inevitable moment.  Her strength, she’d tell you, came from Jehovah and his son Jesus.   She’d tell you that in a heartbeat,  along with her own mother of course, who in her own right was a very strong woman.

After everyone had left she seemed to deflate, she’d been waiting for them to leave.  In pain and exhausted she didn’t move but to reach over to me and say ‘hold my hand Jon’.  I held her hand waiting.  That Sunday she watched a football game with my sister and nephew full of energy and life.  Try as I might enjoy this, I found myself waiting quietly.

Though I brought her food (breakfast, lunch, etc) Saturday and Sunday she ate very little.  I was told by the hospice nurse to expect this, among other things.  The nurse had actually given me a pamphlet that described some things that might occur toward the end of life.  I was waiting for all of these things.  Some things never came but most did.  More waiting.

Monday she didn’t eat at all; it would be days later before I would realize that this was the day she and I said our goodbyes.  More waiting still, though for not much longer.  Early Tuesday about 3am or so she began to cry out in her sleep.  I didn’t realize she was asleep initially, unfortunately waking her wasn’t any better.  After a visit with the nurse and case manager (she was incredibly supportive) mom decided it was time to manage the pain.

Mom had waited for as long as she could bear the pain before making that decision.  How long she’d been in that sort of pain I don’t know, she didn’t complain but I’ll always remember that she waited for as long as she could, for us.  So for the next day and a half we followed her wishes and we waited.  Two elders from our congregation came to comfort and encourage us, I’ll always hold those brothers dear for that.  My cousin Rory came, it was very hard for him but he did.

She died Thursday afternoon surrounded by her children, sisters and friends.  The waiting was, sadly over.


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what things we leave behind

Everyone who has ever lived and eventually died has left things behind.  It’s almost impossible to imagine the billions of words and ideas left unexpressed, along with an equal amount of projects/deeds unfinished.  And that’s not even taking into consideration all the physical possessions they leave behind.  It’s huge.  I didn’t really think about this when my father died because taking care of his end of life ‘wrap up’ (for lack of a better phrase) wasn’t something I had to be concerned with.  This time, however is different, because I’m older and my mother left the task to me.

After she died there were so many things to do.  There were calls to be made, letters written, her memorial service planned and the disposition of her remains.  There seemed like an endless amount of things to be done and as I slowly made my way through them I found myself dreading eventually reaching the end.  All things end, even a list has to stop somewhere.

I think I felt that way because when that list ends she’s really gone.  There’ll be nothing left but a few mementos and memories.  And as precious as those things are, they don’t seem to be enough.  Maybe she knew I’d feel this way, maybe that’s why taking care of my nephew was last on the list.  Its a lifetime job with a list all its own.

And I wonder what things I’ll leave behind for my nephew.

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she always loved a good ‘whodunit’

Mother’s Day 2010 was on a Sunday and like most people whose mothers have died this day would evoke a certain amount of emotion.  For me, though,  it wasn’t the date it was what aired on TV that made me curl up under my blanket and cry.

When I was younger TV was watched in the living room, although my parents had a small set in their bedroom, we generally watched together in the living room.  I remember how I used jam myself into my dad’s chair (much to his annoyance) to watch with him.  I remember him constantly telling me to get out of his chair and the look he would give me when I didn’t.  It’s funny, I never realized that he didn’t actually try to make me move.

After he died I slowly began to sitting on the end of my mom’s bed to watch with her.   As it was with my father we enjoyed similar things although not science fiction; that’s a story for another time.   Murder mysteries, dramas and the police procedural.  From Ellery Queen to Mannix and Police Story.  Eight is Enough to St. Elsewhere with many stops in between.  Although my dad and I watched a lot science fiction, which by the way is still my favorite thing to watch, I enjoyed the time with my mom more.  I think it was because we talked about what we watched trying to piece together or comment on the character’s motives or whatever.  My dad and I never did that, I suppose its because I was too young.  I like to hope that we’d have gotten around to that.

But she always loved a good ‘whodunit’, we both did and with Mystery, Masterpiece Theater we had murder and drama galore.  In the last years from the BBC came Foyle’s War which was a police drama set in England during WWII and on CBS came the Jesse Stone movies starring Tom Selleck.  I was more of a fan of the former but I’d hang with mom and watch the latter, hey its Magnum.

So imagine discovering that these shows would be airing new episodes/movie of the week on Sunday which just happens to be Mother’s Day.  Who was I going to watch with?  Simple question even simpler answer.  I was going to watch them by myself, I was going to try fit the clues together to solve the crime…I was going to do what we’d done so many times before because she wouldn’t have it any other way.  I cried though, I really cried but I watched and I’ll continue to do so for years to come.  You see I’ve come to love a good ‘whodunit’ too.  Thanks Mom.


what more can i say

(I posted this on Facebook but I wanted to share it here too)

It was almost a month and a half before my 10th birthday when my father suddenly died. One moment I was saying goodnight and about thirty minutes later he was gone. I often wondered that if there had been any indication of what was going to happen, would I have said something different or perhaps said more than I did.

I guess it’s natural to think that way; that if we had advanced warning we’d do or say something different and more of it. And so for quite a long time I pondered that idea of having had the presence of mind to say something more than I did. But the fact remains that I was a child of nine years and what I did say was more than enough for my age to allow.

So here I am 30 years later and the circumstances are the exact opposite. I knew ahead of time that my mother was going to die and yet afterward a similar thought resonated in my mind…..”Did I say enough?” I like to believe I did, yet for a while I kind of wondered.

I’m much older now than I was, able to comprehend more and certainly more aware of what being terminally ill really means. My response to my mother’s death is markedly different from what it was to my father’s. It’s said that with time comes knowledge and with experience comes the wisdom to apply it.

So here it is as I see it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these experiences, one truth that I know, it’s this: We can never really say enough to the ones we love and there’s always always more to be said.

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one last calendar from mom

(I posted this on Facebook but I wanted to share it here too)

I took down the 2009 calendars last week without much thought to it. But over the last few days something began to nag at me and I didn’t realize what it was until today. It was the empty spaces where the calendars had been with no new ones bearing the new year.

I admit I don’t really use calendars all that much, I’m more apt to look at my phone or Outlook before I go to the picture calendar on the wall. But my Mom always had them and she always always bought an extra for us, just in case we’d want one.

So there I stood in the kitchen, a little melancholy, thinking that I’d need to go buy new ones for the apt. As I looked toward the microwave I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. It looked like a calendar (no way I’m thinking no way) but that’s what it was. A 2010 calendar my Mom must have bought and left there for the time when it’d be needed. I shouldn’t be surprised because that’s how she was about little things like that.

How long I stood there looking at that calendar before I hung it up I’m not sure but as I did a big smile came to my face and I said, “Thanks for one more calendar, Mom”

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no more tomorrows

Watching what I knew to be the final days of my mother’s life were the most emotionally turbulent I’ve ever experienced.  From moment to moment I was either drowned in sorrow, fixed in certainty of purpose, bathed in calmness or a dizzying host of other emotions.  The one I felt the most was a familiar one.  Fear.  Thirty years ago I was confront by that same fear, but this time it came as no surprise.

When my father died I felt the most incredible fear you can imagine.  Until that summer day in 1980 I didn’t realize how quickly a life, our lives, could change.  Tomorrow was so certain until that day,  and then suddenly, ‘tomorrow’ wasn’t as absolute as had I believed.  I guess it really never was.  The day my father died was the day I learned that tomorrow only exists as a possibility; a possibility that we may or may not experience.

I didn’t know when my father walked out of the door that Saturday night he wouldn’t have anymore tomorrows.  One thing is certain though, none of us know.  Our mortality is something we all live with, yet we don’t dwell on it because it’s morbid, depressing and certainly not good for positive mental health.  And yet, in the case of my mother there wasn’t much choice; she was running out of tomorrows and she knew it.  I knew it.

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a deafening silence

I think I was 8yrs when we moved to Inglewood, it was different for a lot of reasons mostly the noise of jet airliners flying overheard. I remember how much the noise bothered us and how we said we’d would never get used to it….and yet over time we did. The unconscious ability to either interrupt yourself while one goes by or to raise your voice to be heard took root. It’s kind of amazing what we can adapt to when we must.

Jump forward in time 18yrs and I myself in my first apt trying to unpack things and all the while something nagged at me, something i couldn’t put my finger on….the kind of thing that you pass off with a shrug. It wasn’t till I was ready for bed and having turned out the lights did I realize what was bothering me.  There was no sound of commercial aircraft flying overhead to LAX! In Inglewood we lived in one of the approach corridors so there was always throughout the day the sound of jets flying overhead. And there in my new apt it was suddenly oh so very quiet; that’s what had been bothering me. Needless to say I didn’t really sleep that night or any other night for quite some time and quite frankly it was a bit unnerving even in the daytime. So for a long time I went home to hang out a lot, ah the sounds of home!

Fast forward another 14yrs and I find that I’m straining to hear something that’s can’t & won’t be heard; I keep listening for my mother’s voice. The airplanes fly overhead, sirens blare down the street, the neighbors play their music too loud and yet the silence I experience is deafening and far more unnerving than their absence would be. From the moment a child develops hearing they learn to distinguish their mother’s voice, it’s one of the first things we hear. I would say that to hear our mothers voice is one of the first things we become accustomed to, and I think possibly one of the most difficult things to be accustomed to not hearing.

I talked with my mom practically every day, even when I had moved out I always called her to see what’s what. And living back at home with her I was used to hearing her talk on the phone to my aunts and to others that it was a sound that was just THERE. And now it’s not. Gone are stories of her childhood that used to always come up, and so many other repeated ones that I’d heard a thousand times before. Even when I’d say so she’d just tell me that’s alright, she’d just tell it again in case she’d left something out the other times.

I miss the conversations that she and I had especially the ones that we had repeatedly, how we’d reminisce about my Dad, my grandmother, and memories of her sisters & brothers. Mostly I didn’t realize how much of a comfort it was just to hear her talk.  It’s unnatural to have to accustom yourself to not hearing such a voice.

It’s such a deafening silence…