“Life is short, life is precious. Don’t wait, do it now.”
My mother showed me in words and actions that the greatest gifts we give each other are our presence and appreciation. Here’s a story from my book, My Mother, My Friend to help keep that in mind and celebrate Mother’s Day.
Mom, You’re the Real Hero In The Family
The phone rang at 2:40 a.m. I heard Jeanne’s voice, “Mary? Mom’s free now. She just took her last breath.”
“I’ll be right there,” I said.
The ten-minute ride to the house was filled with thoughts of regret, guilt and sadness. I was exhausted and had left the house at ten o’clock, kissing my mother good-bye and saying, “I love you.” I thought I felt her squeeze my hand ever so lightly.
Why didn’t I stay? I was glad that Eileen and Jeanne were there with her but I wanted to be there too when she left her body. I’ve always felt strongly about not wanting to die alone and wanting someone I love to be holding my hand when I die. I wanted that experience with her and yet, I never asked her what she wanted.
The house was lit up when I got there. Mom was still warm, but beginning to cool. Her skin was this odd shade of cream with a glow that still shines in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t take my eyes off her and wondered if her spirit was hovering about.
After the hospice people had picked up my mother’s body, our family all sat around in the living room with these dazed looks of shock on our faces. No one knew what to say.
Jeanne spoke first, saying, “You know how Mom loved to shop. We should bury her with her Boston Store Charge card.” Eileen jumped in and said, “Yeah, now Mom will be able to shop forever.”
My father was standing in the hallway and through choked tears said, “How dare you talk about your mother that way after she’s just died. Show more respect for her!” We were all silent. The tension was high.
Once again Jeanne broke through and said, “Dad, sometimes you have to laugh because if you don’t you’ll cry and then you’ll never stop.” Dad said nothing, turned around, walked back into their bedroom and closed the door. “Do not disturb” was written all over his body.
The following day we made funeral arrangements. Months earlier I had heard that performing an “appreciation ritual” at the funeral service would help assuage our grief. Each family member places a treasured memento of the person who has died into the casket and says a few words about the meaning of the memento. I mentioned this idea while we were discussing the agenda for the wake and church service. Dad said nothing, but my siblings all thought it was a good idea and agreed to bring something.
Our extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins gathered the next morning at the funeral home for the closing of the casket and the funeral procession to the church and then to the grave site. As planned, Eileen, Paul, Jeanne, and I placed our mementos inside the casket.
Jeanne put a toy truck my mother had given to her infant son Michael and said, “Mom, thank you for being a loving grandmother to Michael and spoiling him rotten. We love you.”
Paul put in a picture of his new little boy Jimmy, who had been born the night after Mom died. He said, “Mom, I guess you met Jimmy on his way down here. Thanks for helping him arrive safely.”
I put a bottle of Mom’s favorite nail polish (I bit my nails beyond the quick until I was in my 20’s; when I finally stopped, she always told me how nice my hands looked) and an audiotape of one of my speeches and said, “Mom, thanks for always telling me I was beautiful inside and out. I dedicate the rest of my speaking career to you.”
Eileen gave Mom her Ironman medal and said, “Mom, this is for dying with dignity and grace. You’re the real hero in our family.”
As we turned around to leave, my father, who had been watching us, surprised us by walking up to the casket. He took something out of his pocket, slipped it into Mom’s hand and said, “Gracie, here’s your Boston Store Charge card. You always said, ‘Shop Until You Drop.’ Now you can do it forever. I love you.”
My father’s epiphany blessed our family with a moment of Grace – literally and figuratively. My mother’s presence even in death brought light and joy.
My only wish is that we had shared this appreciation with her when she was alive. If your Mother is still alive, you still have that opportunity. Take advantage of it. In the end, all that will matter is whom you loved and who loved you. Call your mother. Again. If she’s passed on, take a moment to say thank you. Again. She is a gift – and so are you! More…