One year ago tonight (Feb 28th) I said goodbye to my mother. She took her last breath in the wee hours of the morning of March 1st. This year, because of the Leap Year, there is a full day in between to mark the anniversary of her death. It is as if that short time span between when my mother and I had our last interaction and when she died has unexpectedly expanded into 24 hours.
I am not sure what to do about this. Ever since I read an article Sunday sent by the hospice on “marking the anniversary of your loved one’s death,” I have been wondering about this day.
They say “timing is everything” right? My mother’s timing was purposeful on the day she died. There was a white board on the wall at the foot of her bed which announced “Today is Feb 28” and a clock right above it. Mom struggled through that day, fading in and out of consciousness. People came to say goodbye, people came to pray. My brother and I and our family members took turns alone with her, telling her we would be okay, telling her we loved her, staying by her side. I struggled, too, as I watched the dying process, wondering how to do it, wondering what would make it better, wondering what would happen next. Mom waited until only my brother and I were in the room to take that final breath. She waited until she heard us say we were ready to let her go. And she waited until March 1st.
At first I thought this was Mom’s way of making sure we’d get just a little bit extra from social security in her inheritance. She was a very efficient, business savvy woman after all, and it seemed fitting that she would know about that detail. I am sure she knew exactly what the clock said somehow.
But now, a year later, I think perhaps there was a different reason for her timing. Maybe the transition between life and death is not so finite as we who are living can know. Maybe there is a space in-between that is more important than the timing of the goodbye, or the finality of the last breath. Perhaps my mother chose the time she did so that one year later we would be reminded that it wasn’t the 15 minutes into March 1st that made the real difference to her or to us, but it was the process of moving through that time together to the other side. Maybe being in that moment, helping her to die in the way she wanted, recognizing the connection we had with her and knowing that our love would continue… maybe that whole process was worth its own day, something too powerful and important for just one time stamp on a calendar.
All day today my brain has wrestled with these thoughts. And all day today my mother has been gently nudging me toward this realization. The swan I saw on the green outside the university as I drove to meet with Alex’s clinicians, the bluebird pin on the convenience store cashier’s sweater, the child’s “C” charm I found outside the door… little things, maybe random meaningless little things… all brought Mom to mind. They were things I would tell her, reminders of something we shared, little odd scenes of life that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the day. Kind of like clues pointing to all the things I don’t really know or have yet to learn about life.
Tomorrow I am going to pack up clothes to give to a cancer charity, then I’ll take time off my regular job to read aloud in my son’s classroom. I’ll eat lunch with some autism mom friends, have an important meeting at the residential treatment center and come home to hang shelves in my daughter’s room. After laundry and dinner and phone calls and emails, my daughter and I will have a “girls night” together in front of a movie on the couch and snuggle up. To any casual observer, my day will be busy and productive and all about juggling the many important responsibilities in my life. But to me, alone in my heart, tomorrow will be all about my mother.