The Final Conversation

As your face flickered onto my screen, I could see you looked tired. I had called you on Skype for Mother’s Day. You had just been talking with Jennifer, and Dad said you were very tired. But truth be told, you looked worse than tired. You looked like someone struggling to keep up with a conversation that had turned into a foreign language. Nods and occasional whispers were all you could muster. But it was Mother’s Day, and your son was calling.

Dad and I spent most of the time talking. You sat resting, your eyes occasionally fluttering open, but mostly I couldn’t even tell if you were even awake. Dad and I chatted about all the usual things: How school was going, what I had been up to, what the weather was like here and over there. All the while we danced around the biggest topic, the one that all of us knew concerned us most but for which there was nothing left to say. The tumour in your brain was at the helm now, and we were sailing the sea of inevitability toward an end no one wanted to reach. There was no turning back, no slowing down. There was only the time it would take, and no more. So what else was there to say?

By that point, moving was difficult for you. Speech was difficult. Even staying awake—just keeping attention on the world outside—was difficult. Before, you had been able to greet your nurses and visitors with a smile and kind words, but now—now you were just existing. Now the world moved around you, and you fought to keep focused on anything you could grasp onto. Dad was often the object of that focus as he stayed close by you as much as possible. It was clear that this extra burden was taking its toll on him, but there was no question that he would be by your side to the very end. Even close to the end you bickered back and forth as a loving married couple does—you giving marching orders from your hospital bed, and he trying his best to make preparations for the end while still wanting to believe there was any other way out. And those marching orders extended to everyone: When I visited, you gave me a list of chores you had carefully written down. You told me to organize a closet in your house that was already impeccably organized, just so you could be sure that Dad could find things if he needed them. (I didn’t actually organize it. I’m sorry. I didn’t even know how I could possibly improve it.) Even to the end, you kept a list of your visitors, so that Dad could thank them for their kindness. Everything, to the end, was organized and planned, even as the tumour robbed you of your abilities to arrange your life. It was slowly throwing switches, one by one, shutting down the power to your mind bit by bit.

You were, of course, stubborn at first. You could be no other way. It was difficult for you to accept the cards life had dealt you. As the doctors tried to prepare you for the end, you talked of wanting to walk again, to go home, to live life. And who could blame you? When death comes, how you choose to face it matters little. It still comes all the same. But later, it was clear that acceptance came. As the outside world faded from your eyes, as your connection to that world was severed bit by bit, even the stubbornness faded to a kind of peace. The world could no longer be organized to your specifications, and so expending your energy thrashing against the wind—even had you been able to—was not productive. So instead you made your peace.

On that Mother’s Day a year ago, you didn’t say much. But you didn’t have to. That peace was evident. We were nearing the end now, together, as a family, and that was what mattered. I told you I loved you. I don’t know if you heard me, but it didn’t matter—I know you knew it. You couldn’t say it back to me, but that didn’t matter either. I know you would have. You’ve told me so many times, and shown your love so many times more. That was not something any tumour could take away from you. No matter how dim the world became to you, your love was bursting forth apparent. No force but death itself could wrest that from you. Ours was a family full of love, and I will ever be grateful for that.

After saying goodbye to you that day, I ended the call, and I cried. You were always so full of life, so full of vitality, and to see you in this state was like seeing someone else inhabiting my mother’s body. It was always hard for you to hide anything—your happiness beamed forth through your smiles, your sadness evident through your tears. Your spirit was always on full display, and that honesty and sincerity showed everyone around you that even deep down, the very core of you was loving, genuinely focused on others. And as a mother, your focus was often on your kids. The thing I remember of you most is your face beaming with pride when one of us achieved something worthwhile. (Or even not so worthwhile. You were always proud of us all the same.) That was the face I saw most: A face exuding love and delight for your children. It was never insincere, never boastful, never self-serving—just pure love.

The image of that beaming face in my mind is now tinged with sadness, because the world has been made a little darker without you. Your love shone, not like a spotlight, but like a fire, spreading to those all around you—family, friends, and colleagues alike. The closer others got to you, the more they felt your warmth and your comfort. You were always ready to love, to listen, to serve, to share the burdens of others. Now I and the others you have touched in your life carry that flame inside us.

So I wrote this for you, Mom, on Mother’s Day, not because you are here to read it, but because I am here. I can speak to you even less today than I could last year, but what you needed to say to me you said throughout the time we had together. It was painful to see your connection to this world slowly slip away, but that connection still exists through me. My pride comes from understanding what a legacy was imparted to me from you and Dad. It is your love and support throughout all my life that have made me who I am, and it is your love that yet drives me to become even better. So thank you. I love you, Mom. And this Mother’s Day, I remember and honour your memory.

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