My Mother’s Final Gift

I walked into her room and saw her folding blankets again. In my moms decline into brain cancer what was left of her mind- loved to fold things.

The nurses said all the dying woman did it. It’s what they did with their lives, folding laundry, keeping busy hands, so it makes sense it would bring them comfort in their final days.

But the folding worried me.

She seemed agitated when she did it.

Just this morning she folded my four month old son up in a blanket like a perfectly wrapped samosa.

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He didn’t seem to mind- but I did, so when I saw her fidding again. I went to press the buzzer to call the nurse.

My mom’s decline was rapid.

A month ago she was driving.

Two months ago she was getting electrolysis for my wedding.

Now she doesn’t know who I am or where she is.

She is pleasant enough with this new reality and ironically our relationship is intimate and fulfilling in ways it could never be when she was here.

I tickle her and she giggles. We kiss each other on the mouth and pet each others faces and then she asks “when’s your shift over dear?”

What has been breaking my heart is the fact that I can’t remember the last lucid conversation my mother and I had.

Looking back there were glaring signs that warned us of the metastasis to the brain but we shrugged it off as stress and growing old.

She made a grilled cheese sandwich by grilling both sides of the bread and sticking the pieces of cold cheese between them to melt.

She drove through a dog park ripping up the sides of her car from chain link fence, and she didn’t even have a dog.

All these minor emergencies were brushed over by her on the phone and as we didn’t necessarily want to move into her basement to care for her full time- we believed her cheery voice and kept the visits to weekends.

Which takes me to one month later, lying beside my dying mother in hospice with a homemade quilt over us and an alarm attached to her shirt so if she tries to get up it will screech and send the nurses running because she is now a danger to herself.

I keen in the tub this morning trying to draw up the last conversation we had that made sense.

I want a last memory of my mom.

Now, as I go for the buzzer to call the nurse to bring her a sedative- she bolts. She runs across the room and snatches the buzzer from me and stuffs it down her shirt.

“No drugs in the daytime”

My mother said. My mother. Judy. She is here and all of a sudden she is clear.

“I understand you need to give me sleeping pills at night for my safety but I want to be here during the day. I only have a few days left and I want to experience them.”

I cry. She holds me and strokes me. “It’s okay my favourite girl. But if I want to dance naked on that lawn than let me do it!”

“Okay mama.”

Everything I wanted to ask but couldn’t because it was left too late came out in a tumble.

“Mom, are you scared of dying?”

“I’m not scared. I’m interested.”

“Where are you going?”

“Heaven”

“Will you see people you love that have died already?

“I don’t know I have never been there before.”

“Can I be with you when you die? “

“If you are here when I die then you can be with me when I die.”

“Mom, I’m going to miss you so much” I cried in her arms as she rocked me.

“You are my best girl” she said. Her strong arms held my back “and remember, no regrets…only now.”

I cried harder now. In relief and grief.

“Can you give me advice mom? Tell me what to do, how do I move forward?”

“I always wanted more children, I’m going to get pregnant now” she says, and puts the buzzer right down her pants.

She was gone again. Back to folding.

So I help her. And we fold everything we can find.

The next day we lay in the grass in the early winter sunshine and stare into each others eyes like lovers do. I sang her favourite hymns and she hums along. We dance the twist. Her feet don’t move but she still knows what to do with her hips.

I tell her over and over again how much I love her and how good she was and how lucky we are. I told her I was sorry for being shitty. I told her she mattered and she made a difference. And she bathed in my praise in a way she wouldn’t have allowed when she was well.

At night, she trips out on her hands in the shadows, whispering to herself for hours.

I crawl into bed with her and ask “Can I help you?”

“This is very personal” she says. “It’s to be done alone.”

But as I lay by myself in the bed next to her I heard her say…

“We are going on an adventure. They told me to wait for the signs. I’ll know the road when I see it. I have to gather my courage. I’ll pack my bags in the morning.”

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